Can eating less sugar reduce cancer risks?
In a world where everything seems to have added sugars or high fructose corn syrup even while doctors, dietitians and others advise cutting down on your sugar intake, it can feel like an impossible balance. Plenty of information online suggests a link between sugar and cancer, but can eating less sugar reduce cancer risks?
Registered dietitian Finley Nadler explained that while the idea that sugar ‘causes’ cancer is just a myth, reducing your sugar intake can be helpful when looking to reduce cancer risks, as it helps to lessen the long-term impact of sugar on your body.
Is there a link between sugar and cancer cell growth?
“Sugar has no currently proven direct link to causing cancer,” said Nadler. “The sugar and cancer connection is actually related to ways the body processes and struggles with too much sugar intake over time.”
Since sugary foods and drinks add to daily calorie intake without providing much, if any, added nutrition, they are tied with increased weight gain and risk of obesity. Obesity is linked to a series of cancers, including pancreatic, colorectal, uterine and breast cancers after menopause.
When you eat something high in sugar, it also increases production of insulin, which the body releases to rebalance your blood sugars back down to normal levels after the sugar makes them spike. This continued cycle of blood sugar rising and falling creates insulin resistance in the body over time, making the development of Type 2 diabetes a greater risk. It also encourages growth within your cells, which can become an issue for cancer cell growth as well.
Don’t depend on the daily drive-thru
“For many people, a run through a drive-thru for breakfast, lunch or dinner is a normal part of their daily routine,” said Nadler. “And usually when we make that quick stop for fast food, we’re tempted to have a sugary beverage with our meal, or to order processed, high-sodium, high-fat foods.”
Nadler noted that the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends choosing not to eat junk food or processed food at all, if possible. Even savory foods like burgers or fries are often loaded with added sugars to preserve flavor.
Since those processed, high-fat foods tend to spike blood sugar and then lead to a crash later on, regular consumption of fast food can lead you feeling groggy and unpleasant, and it can make it more tempting to reach for that afternoon cup of coffee or sugary soda to get yourself motivated and energized again.
Save drive-thru meals for times you are traveling or for the occasional treat once a month.
Tips on reducing sugar intake to reduce cancer risks
“Our bodies don’t need the simple sugars we consume,” Nadler said. “What they need is a mix of vitamins, minerals, proteins and complex carbohydrates to fuel and provide essential nutrients.”
People who eat less sugar tend to be more active and have an easier time maintaining a healthy body weight for their body type. However, it can feel difficult to cut sugar from your diet when added sweeteners seem to be everywhere you look. Nadler offered a few tips on how to easily reduce your daily sugar intake without feeling deprived.
- Spread out carb consumption. Ideally, your plate should be one-quarter complex carbs, one quarter proteins, and half vegetables. Eating small amounts of carbohydrates through the day improves blood sugar regulation.
- Choose higher-quality carbs. Look for grains, cereal or pasta options with 3 grams of fiber or more per serving and check the label to make sure you choose options without added sugars.
- Replace your daily soda with carbonated or flavored water. Carbonated water offers the same feeling as a soda without the sugar rush and squeezing a little lemon and lime juice in adds a dash of natural sweetness. Try keeping a pitcher of water in the fridge with slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or other fruit or veggie options for a little flavor.
- Cut table sugars in half … and then in half again. Do you add sugar or honey to your coffee? Pour maple syrup over your pancakes? Try cutting your usual amount by half, eat that amount for a few weeks, and then cut in half again. You can slowly wean down to the minimum you need for the flavor, without the cloying sweetness.
- Easy baking swaps can make all the difference. Cut the recipe’s suggested sugar amount in half on your favorite cookie or cake or try adding in applesauce, vanilla extract or spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Don’t deprive yourself! You don’t have to give up your favorite treat. Just measure out the suggested portion size, so you still get that perfect brownie bite without overdoing it.
- Limit ‘diet sugars’ that don’t provide nutritional value. Many rely on no-calorie sweeteners like aspartame as part of their weight-loss journey, but these sweeteners have no nutrient value and often only make sugar cravings worse. Instead of relying on non-nutritive sweeteners, use smaller amounts of the real thing, or don’t use sweetener at all.
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