Back to Basics step 4: sugars continued

Thursday 03 May 2018


I am sure that for those who are interested in food and nutrition that the subject of sugar and the amount used in processed foods is the hot topic of discussion at the moment. I have put a few messages on the website about recent programmes and articles on this subject.

Step 4 in the Back to Basics is looking at sugar and is our next step after step 1 on fruits and vegetables in the diet step 2 looking at the type and amount of fat in your diet and step 3 on increasing fruit and veg in your diet.

I think we all know that deep down sugar Is not good for our health, even more so if you have cancer, in fact I have racked my brains to come up with one positive thing about it. Oh dear! A difficult one. I suppose that it is cheap and easily available but these are not really good enough reasons to include it in our diets, oh! and of course it is addictive.

First of all I would like to focus on the burning question about the connection between sugar and cancer and why so many people are told that sugar feeds cancer! Then I want to look at other reasons why it may be a good idea to keep sugar to a minimum and of course some practical alternatives for those who do have a sweet tooth or like the occasional sweet treat without sabotaging our health. This will be followed by a handy recipe.

So let’s get started.

Sugar and cancer

The facts about sugar and cancer are confusing. They are often presented in a way that is misleading and anxiety producing for people with cancer. However if you learn the science behind the connections between what we eat and cancer risk you can make wise nutritional choices for better health.

Does sugar feed cancer?? The concept that sugar feeds cancer is not useful because sugar feeds every cell in our body, including the cancer cells. It appears that it is not the sugar per se that is the problem but the insulin that we produce as a result of eating sugar which is the problem as far as cancer is concerned.

It is worth noting that there are 2 main types of sugar. (Sugar is also known as carbohydrate)

1. Simple sugars (or simple carbohydrates) which as the name implies are simple in structure and take very little digestion and are therefore absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. This promotes a rapid rise in insulin. The foods that are classed as simple sugars are the sugar in the bowl, refined foods like cakes, biscuits, puddings and confectionary and of course all the hidden sugar found in processed foods. For example a bottle of pasta sauce contains up to 13 tsps of sugar which is quite staggering.

2. Complex sugars which as the name suggests are more complex in their structure and take longer to digest and so are absorbed much more slowly into the bloodstream. This requires a slower release of insulin.

These foods are the fruits and vegetables, whole grain products like oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice, brown pasta and quinoa.

So a little about Insulin, it is a natural hormone made by the body. It has many functions.

• It helps to regulate the amount of sugar in our blood stream by carrying the sugar out of the blood when it gets too high and depositing it in our cells where it is either used as energy or stored as fat. If we eat a sweet or refined/processed food the insulin is quickly released and rises rapidly. So as you can see Insulin plays a vital role in blood sugar regulation.

• When insulin is released this is accompanied by the release of another molecule called insulin growth like factor or IGF-1. Babies, young children and teenagers naturally produce high levels of the insulin growth factor because they are growing. Once we reach adulthood the level that we produce falls, this is because we have grown and fully developed and no longer need the growth factor. However if we eat sugar regularly and therefore produce insulin regularly we are then introducing growth factor regularly whose role is to stimulate cell growth. So to introduce more insulin through the type of food that we choose to eat like refined sugars and grains does not seem a good idea.

• As a natural course of events the normal noncancerous cells in our body grow, divide and die (called apoptosis). HOWEVER cancer cells do not go through the natural apoptosis and continue to grow and multiply. This can be encouraged by the presence of IGF-1.

• Interestingly when blood sugar goes through wild fluctuations of highs and lows this creates internal stress and stress of any sort will stimulate the production of stress hormones namely Cortisol. When we have lots of cortisol present this can suppress the immune system and the way that it functions. So sugar indirectly affects our immune function.

Not all sugars are negative. Natural sugar that comes from our fruits, vegetables and whole grains can be viewed differently. These sugars are the more ‘complex sugars’ with the more complex structure. They are naturally accompanied by fibre that is also present in the food. The fibre slows down the absorption of the sugar into our bloodstream and consequently we do not produce the same level of insulin. So the inclusion of fibre with complex types of sugar can be positive.  Interestingly two other foods that can also slow down insulin production are protein foods and fats. Eating these foods encourages the body to process any sugar more slowly which means that your body does not over produce insulin.

As an example of how this works; The amount of insulin that your body makes after you have eaten a piece of fruit is much lower than the amount you would produce if you had fruit juice because the whole fruit contains fibre. But to improve the situation even more if you eat the whole fruit with a few nuts which contain protein and fat the whole scenario is better because of the presence of protein and fat will slow the production of insulin even more. I hope that makes sense.

So it appears that it is not the sugar but rather the insulin and its accompanying IGF-1 that may be the problem in spurring cancer growth.

The bottom line

• Always eat natural whole foods like fresh fruits vegetables and whole grains which contain natural sugar but always try to accompany these with some protein and or fat to slow the release and amount of insulin that is produced.

• Try to avoid the sugar bowl and foods that contain sugar like confectionary, cakes, biscuits, puddings and desserts and be aware of hidden sugar in convenience/processed foods.

• It is worth noting that when you read labels any ingredient that ends in OSE is a sugar. Ex. dextrOSE, maltOSE, galactOSE, fructOSE and lactOSE.

You may also be interested in the blog on artificial sweeteners and back to basics 3 part 1

Blog originally written by Caroline March 2014

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