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There seems to be a lot of misinformation on the internet and through word of mouth regarding cancer and how sugar and insulin interact with tumors. I've even heard bad information passed from health care providers on to cancer patients. When it comes to sugar, insulin and cancer you have to know the facts!

Insulin Basics

Insulin is a protein hormone produced in your body. After eating any kind of carbohydrate (found in desserts, sweetened drinks, fruits, milk, grains and starchy vegetables), the pancreas produces insulin to move glucose (blood sugar) from the blood into cells all over the body. Glucose is what gives our cells energy to work; they cannot function without it.

If the cells do not respond to insulin, then the pancreas compensates by making even more insulin in order to force the cells to respond. As time goes on, it can take more and more insulin for the cells to take in glucose. In many undiagnosed pre-diabetes cases, blood sugars can measure normal but insulin levels are high.

Some people will get their insulin levels checked to see if they are high. Sometimes that can be helpful in knowing if the blood sugars are normal because the body is functioning correctly or if it's because there is extra insulin being produced. However, it's unlikely that your doctor would check your insulin level unless you have a family history of diabetes or signs of blood sugar problems.

Sugar and Cancer

I've done topics on this before ('Does Sugar Feed Cancer Part I and Part II). But there is constantly new research coming out that can help us see the bigger picture. It is still true that sugar does not directly cause cancer and removing sugar from a person's diet won't prevent cancer.

The problem with sugar is when we eat the not so healthy sugar foods like sodas, sweet tea, cakes, cookies and fruit flavored drinks. High sugar foods are absorbed quickly and cause insulin to rise quickly. This 'spike' results in cells using the sugar for energy or storing it as fat.

When someone consumes excessive amounts of empty calories, the fat builds up and insulin resistance can occur which increases risk of pre-diabetes, diabetes and cancer.

Types of Sugar

The type of carbohydrate consumed makes a big difference when it comes to insulin response. By choosing healthy carbohydrates, like whole grains, low-fat milk, whole fruits and vegetables, you can avoid an insulin spike because these foods come with other nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that assist the body in metabolizing the food.

The Bottom Line

Your choices in carbohydrates and sugars can make a big difference in the health of your body. Switch to whole grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta along with eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. And when you choose a beverage, pick one that's not sweetened with any forms of sugar. Learn to appreciate the flavor of an unsweetened tea or plain old water!

Stay sweet!
- Julie

There are many people who have diabetes, pre-diabetes or insulin resistance. Blood sugars should be tightly managed with diet, exercise and medications, if necessary. I have done diabetes education in the past, and I know that managing blood sugars is not easy. For many people, they just don't bother. Even worse are the millions who have not been adequately educated on how to best manage blood sugars.

There are 41 million people (40% of Americans) who are thought to have prediabetes. Recent research shows that having diabetes or signs of insulin resistance may lead to an increased risk of certain cancers. If you or someone you know has problems with their blood sugars, this is another reason to get educated and figure out the best way to keep them under control. It's also that much more important to get regular cancer screenings!

What's the Link?

A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that women who had a diagnosis of diabetes had a 50% higher chance of developing colorectal cancer than women without the disease. This study shows a link with diabetes and cancer, however it's not clear why there was an increased risk.

One factor that is often common between risk for prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and cancer is high body fat. It is thought that the hormonal changes caused by high body fat may lead to increased risk for cancer and diabetes. It's unclear if high insulin levels add to this risk. We do know that tumors have insulin receptors, and that insulin plays a role in cancer. However, it doesn't seem to be a direct link.

Diabetic Cancer Survivors

There have also been studies on diabetic cancer survivors to see if their condition affects recurrence. one study looked at post-menopausal breast cancer patients. They found that the obese participants who had the highest insulin levels at diagnosis showed significantly increase risk of disease recurrence. Once again, it's not clear why there was increased risk.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease or just about any chronic disease, a health promoting diet, daily physical activity and low body fat is imperative. It's also important to know that just because someone is skinny, it doesn't mean they are healthy. There are many people who would fall into the correct weight for height but have excess body fat. If you are not physically active on a regular basis, it's likely that your body fat is too high.

Want to know what your body fat is? There are many ways to measure it, however the MOST reliable is to get someone who knows what they are doing to use calipers and measure your skin fold at various sites on your body.

Just another reason to eat healthy and be active!
- Julie

I can't believe how often I hear the statement that sugar feeds cancer! Just today, I heard it again. For more explanation on why this is a misleading statement, check out Part I.

Here we are at Part II. This post should answer some questions such as, how much sugar is too much?  And, what types should we be having? 

What Foods Have Sugar?

Strawberry There are many different types of sugar. I'm sure you've heard the term "simple sugar" and "complex carbohydrates".  Both simple sugar and complex carbohydrate fall under the macronutrient class "carbohydrate," or simply "carbs."  Grains, milk and yogurt, fruit, potatoes, corn and legumes (dried beans and peas) are all types of foods that provide your body with complex carbohydrates.

You also get carbs from white sugar, brown sugar, honey and syrups, which fall into the simple sugar category.  I often include regular sodas and fruit juices in this category.

Gummy_bears_4 When it comes to simple sugars, there is not much difference between them. Chemically speaking, simple sugars are mostly glucose and fructose in various combinations. High fructose corn syrup has become a dirty word in many health circles, but the bottom line is that it's not particularly worse than sugar or honey. Most people just eat too much of it. It's probably a good idea to pay attention to all the sugars in one's diet, rather than focusing on reducing just one.

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

Sugar itself is not bad. However, too much sugar, without balancing it with other foods can cause our bodies to make too much insulin. To prevent this, you shouldn't eat too much simple sugar in your diet.

The key is moderation. "Moderation" is probably the most popular but least listened-to word that comes out of a nutritionists mouth! So here are some guidelines to help you determine if you are having too much sugar in your diet:

  • Avoid concentrated sources of sugar, such as soda and fruit drinks. The concentrated sources of sugar are the kinds that tend to promote disease. I recommend no more than 6 oz. of 100 percent fruit juice a day, but I prefer that people eat their fruit rather than drink it. Eliminating sodas and sweetened drinks can make a big difference in sugar and calorie intake.
  • Limit your "treats," such as dessert, to 2-3 times each week.
  • Focus on whole, healthy, unprocessed food, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), nuts, and seeds. These are the carbs that protect your body from disease.
  • When you add sugar or other sweeteners to your food or drinks, use as little as you need. Many times we over-sweeten things out of habit, not because we need it for taste. 

I have probably left some unanswered questions, so feel free to leave a comment and I will respond.

Don't forget that carbs and sugars are only one part of your diet. It's important to look at your whole lifestyle to make sure that you are promoting wellness and the best quality of life.

For those of you who like some sarcastic humor, here is a link to a song that puts carb counting into perspective. It always makes me laugh!

Mr. Over the Top Carb Counter , click on the link to " Listen to Bud Light's Real Men of Genius "Mr. Over the Top Carb Counter".

- Julie

(Reference: Some information for this post came from Caring4Cancer.)


Sugar_cube Many people have heard the statement that "sugar feeds cancer". I have had patients whose friends, family or other source told them to completely avoid sugar. This series of posts will hopefully set the record straight regarding what we know about sugar and cancer!

The Facts About Sugar and Cancer

Our bodies need sugar, specifically glucose, for energy. Every cell of our body, especially the brain, needs sugar to live. The sugar that we need comes from 2 places. One is from the carbohydrate that we eat. The second is from our body. Our body will make the sugar we need if we don't get enough from our food.

Therefore, even if you cut out all intake of sugar or other form of carbohydrate, your body will make the sugar you need from fat and protein. This is not the ideal situation for your body, as it can cause your body to go into a stressful state. There is a certain amount of carbohydrate that is important for healthy cell function.

Cancer cells use sugar for energy just like the rest of our body. But there's nothing about the cancer that "feeds" on sugar more than any other cell in our body.

Sugar and Insulin

When we digest and absorb sugar from different types of foods, our bodies produce insulin to process the sugar. This is a normal and essential part of metabolizing food. However, if you eat too much sugar or carbohydrate, it results in a large amount of insulin being produced.

Insulin tells our cells to grow. Too much insulin can tell our cells to grow too much. Some people think that too much insulin could cause cancer cells to grow more. There's not enough research right now to fully understand how insulin and cancer are related, but we know that too much sugar, and too much insulin is not good for our health.

Bottom Line

Sugar does feed cancer. BUT, sugar also feeds the rest of your body. For those who are going through treatment, remember that your healthy cells need energy especially during this time. Avoiding sugar completely will not help treatment, but it could leave your healthy cells low on energy.

My next post will address the various sources of sugar and how you can make the healthiest choices when it comes to your risk for disease. More from me on Friday!

- Julie

reference: (Some information for this post came from Caring4Cancer).

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