How can sugar be bad? It grows on a cane, and makes the “medicine go down”!
If you haven’t heard all the hullabaloo about how bad sugar is, listen up, because the evidence is mounting. (Go ahead and eat those bon-bons now, because you may not want to after you read this.)
But first, a brief, (very brief) lesson about what sugar is and what happens to it in your body: When you consume foods containing carbohydrates and fats, they are broken down in your blood to form glucose. Glucose is sugar in your blood basically. Glucose triggers the pancreas to produce insulin, which is a hormone that allows the glucose to be used in all your cells so you can think, move around, go to work… basically “live”.
There are sugars that are present in fruits and vegetables and then there are “added sugars”. Added sugars are present in all processed foods: store-bought breads, cakes, cereals, granola bars…anything that was “made” by anything other than nature.
Added sugars are the problem. Cancer cells thrive on sugar and insulin. (In fact, a diabetes medicine is being studied because it’s suspected of reducing cancer risk)
Remember that pancreas I mentioned that produces insulin? That pancreas, which lies right next to it’s buddy and friend the liver, works hard every day responding to the food you eat. Foods that allow the blood sugar to rise slowly (vegetables, fruits, whole grains) give the pancreas ample time to produce insulin to effectively handle the sugar in your blood and get it into the cells so your body can function in a healthy way.
But eating added sweeteners like refined white or brown sugar, or man-made high fructose corn syrup, causes the blood sugar to rise very rapidly. Your system is flooded with such a large amount of glucose, that the pancreas has to work extra hard. That’s fine once in a while or for a short period of time, but like anything else, if you overwork something continuously for a long time, it will wear out.
When your pancreas wears out it is called “insulin resistance”. Simply put, it means your body can’t handle the amount of sugar you are shoveling into it, so because of the lack of insulin, your blood glucose I remains high. Chronic elevated blood sugar is the definition of diabetes and can lead to cancer.
When the pancreas is in trouble, it’s buddy, the liver, wants to help out. When there is a very rapid rise in blood sugar, like with the ingestion of refined sugary foods like a doughnut or a can of Coke, the liver metabolizes the “fructose” part of the sugar and it also takes some of that sugar and converts it into liver fat. It’s OK, the liver doesn’t have a complex about being fat because as soon as the blood sugar normalizes, and with a little exercise from your muscles to work off that stored sugar, the liver fat begins to go away. The problem occurs when the blood sugar doesn’t normalize and there is little or no exercise. The liver stays fat and gets fatter. Fat livers can occur even if the person the liver belongs to is thin.
Fat livers also go along with a combination of symptoms known as “metabolic syndrome” which is related to obesity (In particular, apple shaped folks), diabetes, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. It was also found that those with metabolic syndrome has increased serum C-reactive proteins which indicates inflammation (the root of most major chronic illnesses). It is widely accepted in medicine today that metabolic syndrome poses a risk for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, and maybe cancer among others.
Just like any chronic illness, this process takes time. One candy bar or ice cream float won’t send your pancreas and liver shouting for help. But over time, with higher and higher amounts of refined, added sugar and high fructose corn syrup foods, this condition will evolve. In the early 2000’s, with an explosion of high sugar soft drinks and energy bars, the USDA estimated that the average person consumed 500 calories a day of refined sugar. (We’re not counting the sugar that occurs in fruits and veggies here) The increase in sugar consumption went hand in hand with the rapid rise in the incidence of diabetes and obesity, from 6 million diabetics in 1980 to over 14 million ten years ago, to over 25 million today (and that’s not counting the 7 million that don’t even know they have it yet!) I dare you to try to find a label of a processed food that doesn’t have sugar listed on the ingredients. It’s very hard to do as sugar has found its way into peanut butter, bread, tomato sauce, ketchup, chips…the list is endless.
And the evidence is pointing to sugar as a risk factor for cancer.
That those with diabetes have an increase risk of cancer. (World Health Organization’s International Agency for research on Cancer) It all has to do with blood sugar and insulin. The more refined sugar there is in the blood, the faster the blood sugar rises, the more insulin must be produced to compensate. Tumors and many different kinds of cancers feed on insulin. Research is now shining a spotlight on the mechanism of this process in an attempt to prevent cancers.
One of the top researchers in this field is Dr. Craig Thompson, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, and one of the world leaders in cancer research. Current research shows that insulin (and an insulin-like hormone that follows it, IGF-1) acts as the green light that tells pre-cancerous cells to turn malignant. With more information comes more research. A huge Stand Up To Cancer grant was recently awarded to Dr. Lewis Cantley to head up a team to study the effect of an insulin signalling gene (PI3K) and its role in malignant women’s cancers, specifically breast, ovarian and endometrial.
Both Dr Thompson and Dr Cantley agree that if, indeed, excess sugar (and by sugar we mean added sugar) is the culprit to insulin resistance, then they can say, “sugar causes cancer”. The evidence is pointing that way, and it looks like it won’t be long before it’s proven.
Of an interesting note is that neither of these two brilliant scientists eats any refined sugar in their own diets. Dr Thompson told N.Y. Times author Gary Taubes, “I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer. Dr Cantley simply said “Sugar scares me.”
Where is added sugar? Manufacturers are getting very creative with their ingredient list. Sugar can sound so harmless and natural when it’s listed as “natural pure cane sugar” or “brown rice syrup”. But alas, added sugar is added sugar. Some other ways sugar can be listed are:
-fruit juice concentrate
-pretty much anything ending in –ose: dextrose, maltose, galactose, sucrose
A word about “natural sweeteners”: Included in this list of “sugars” is honey, maple syrup, molasses, and agave nectar. While these are less processed and contain additional nutritional value, they are still sugar and should be limited in your diet. Just because your cookie was made with maple syrup doesn’t mean it’s healthy to consume the entire box.
So what about high fructose corn syrup? it’s just corn, right?
It’s a pretty safe bet that if you see an ad on TV telling you that something is “safe”, it’s not only not safe, it’s harmful. The manufacturers and those that use HFCS in their products got together and bought some air time to let us know that HFCS is just “made from corn” and it’s “just like sugar”. One trip to their web site, and you’ll be singing the HFCS song! (of course the web site is sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association)
High Fructose Corn Syrup is just another highly processed sugar. But because of the insane flood of HFCS in our diets, we have been consuming much more sugar and not even been aware of it. There is some evidence that it effects the insulin level even more than sugar.
Because we have been eating foods containing HFCS for the past 40 years, we have lost our ability to know what “real” food is supposed to taste like. We have been programmed to crave the sweetness, so we buy foods that give our taste buds what they want.
Now that you know about sugar and its contribution to cancer risk, just be mindful of the foods you eat. It’s not the spoonful of honey in your herbal tea that you should eliminate…it’s the morning donut with your coffee. Simply eating more from the produce aisle and less from the bakery and cookie aisle will help with everything, as processed foods contain the most added sugar.
If you normally sprinkle sugar on your morning cereal, try berries instead. Just like salt, your taste buds actually develop a tolerance for sugar. The more you eat, the more sugar it takes to satisfy your sweet tooth. Make the effort to reduce the sugar by subbing out fruit or other flavorings like cinnamon and in about 6 weeks, your tolerance for the stuff will be much lower and you’ll be satisfied with less sweetness.
There are foods that don’t raise your blood sugar and still taste sweet, you just have to know what to choose. There is a number that is given to foods called the Glycemic Index. Looking at the glycemic index (GI) tells you how fast and how much the food will affect your blood sugar. The lower the score the better. Try to use sweeteners that have low scores in your foods.
Since glucose is the “sugar” that is in our blood the index uses that as a reference and gives it a score of 100. Please note that Maltodextrin is the sugar found in many processed foods and it’s GI is 110!! (Also don’t look up other foods like carrots and potatoes because the fiber in those foods needs to be factored in with a calculation to come up with an accurate reading)
So if 100 is as sweet as it gets in your blood, table sugar is 65 which is pretty high. Ideally you want a sweetener to be 0. Stevia and sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, etc) fit this criteria. Find stevia that is pure without added chemical sweeteners. The sugar alcohols can sometimes cause loose stools if you eat too much of them.
There are many others like yacon syrup and Lo Huan, but they have their uses and specifics too. I have used coconut brown sugar, coconut nectar, yacon, maple syrup, honey, xylitol, Lo Huan…it all depends on what I’m making. I try to use the lowest GI for whatever I cook or bake. I also find that combining sweeteneres is great because you can cut the amount your use in half or more by using a sweetener with a GI of zero.
For me personally, I like combining erythritol (I dissolve it in the liquid of the recipe) with coconut brown sugar or maple syrup for things that aren’t baked or heated, and honey or maple syrup with stevia for things that are. But I invite you to see for yourself and play around with these until you can use the least amount of sugar possible for you to be happy.
Artificial sweeteners are crap, so I’m not even going to discuss them. They mess with your entire system and cause changes that affect metabolism. Some are on the cancer-causing lists of many countries.