Lately, there have been a lot of questions and speculations concerning sugar consumption and cancer risk. While researchers are working on finding any such connection between the two, it is important to remember the role sugar plays in the body. Understanding sugar and following our healthy eating tips can serve as a spring tune-up for the body.
Carbohydrates and sugar break down into glucose, also known as blood sugar.
Carbohydrates come from foods such as fruits, starches, beans/peas, and vegetables. During times of low carbohydrate intake or intense exercise, glucose can also be made from fat and protein.
Glucose travels to the cells of the body where it is converted to energy and used to carry out various functions such as muscle contraction and temperature regulation. While some organs can also use protein and fat for energy, red blood cells and the brain exclusively use glucose for energy. This means a certain amount of carbohydrate intake is necessary for normal brain and bodily function.
Carbohydrate intake affects blood sugar levels. Simple carbohydrates are rapidly digested and increase blood sugar levels very quickly. These include:
- table sugar
- jams and jellies
- soft drinks
Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in foods such as:
- whole grains
- starchy or green vegetables
These foods take longer to digest and create a slow rise in blood glucose levels, which is preferable. A fast increase in blood sugar causes a rapid increase in insulin, which is the hormone responsible for allowing glucose to enter cells. High insulin levels cause glucose levels to quickly fall, which can then cause you to feel hungry again, prompting you to take in more calories.
Consistently high insulin levels can also cause cells to become resistant to insulin, meaning glucose levels stay higher for longer periods. High glucose levels, overweight/obesity, and inactivity can all increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease. Research has linked diabetes and obesity to cancers of the liver, pancreas, endometrium, colon and rectum, and bladder.
Healthy eating tips to reduce your risk of developing cancer
- Maintain a healthy weight: Limit excessive abdominal fat to reduce insulin resistance and risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Get up and MOVE! Exercise is a great way to decrease insulin resistance and, when paired with an overall healthy diet, can help you maintain a healthy weight. Go for a walk, go bike riding, mow the lawn – do something that gets your heart rate up!
- Balance total carbohydrate intake: Pair carbohydrates with lean protein to help increase satiety and control appetite. This also helps create a slow rise in blood glucose levels.
- Try to fill ½ your plate with vegetables and fruit, ¼ with starches (whole grains or potatoes), and ¼ with lean protein in order to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It is important to note that although fruits do contain natural sugar, they also come with added benefits of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which make them part of a healthy diet.
Take the next step:
- Decide for yourself if Sugar is Public Enemy No. 1
- Read more about healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight in Make Your Life Matter
- Visit the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Nutrition and Cancer Prevention page for more information about the connection between food and cancer.
- Learn more about healthy eating from the American Cancer Society.
Registered dietitians who are specially trained in the field of oncology nutrition provide cancer nutrition services at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. They focus on assessing the individual dietary and nutrition needs of each patient and providing practical, scientifically sound assistance.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.