It is a common misconception that sugar causes cancer. According to many experts, including the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson Cancer Center, eating sugar does not directly cause cancer. However, consuming too much sugar does contribute to some of our most debilitating diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, all of which can put you at increased risk of cancer.

Most people don’t realize that every cell in our body needs the glucose from sugar to function. Without it, our cells and organs would cease to function. Cancer cells are no exception, however, it’s simply a myth to say sugar causes cancer cells to develop and grow faster. Many people have concluded that cancer feeds on sugar due to the fact that PET scans, which are commonly used to detect cancer, use a form of glucose as a tracer. PET scans work because cancer cells pick up more glucose since they are very active and use more energy than other cells.

So, if sugar doesn’t cause cancer and we need it for our cells to function, how much sugar do we need?

According to the American Heart Association, sugar intake should be limited to about 100 calories per day for women and about 150 calories per day for men. This equates to around six teaspoons per day (25 grams) for women, and nine teaspoons per day (37 grams) for men,

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently released the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and one of the major recommendations focuses on greatly reducing the consumption of added sugars and sugar sweetened beverages. With Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes affecting about one in two adults, an estimated 36% of whom are undiagnosed, the American Medical Association stands in support of this recommendation.

Now that we have the low down on sugar and understand the recommended intake guidelines, let’s talk about artificial sweeteners.

Many studies have been done on the safety of artificial sweeteners and there is currently no proof that they cause cancer and are considered safe for use in limited quantities. The bad reputation artificial sweeteners have gotten is the result of a study done in the 1970’s that showed a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in lab rats. While this finding was later dispelled, artificial sweeteners have maintained somewhat of a bad reputation. The benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they have virtually no calories and they do not raise blood sugar levels, making them safe for use by diabetics (always check with your doctor before using any sweetener if you have diabetes).

Understanding food labels is important when figuring out how much sugar you are consuming. Here is a list of hidden sugars to look for when perusing a list of ingredients.

Fructose, Sucrose, Lactose, Glucose, Dextrose, Maltose

Alternatives to pure sugar and artificial sweeteners that have gained recent popularity are natural sugars such as Honey, Molasses, Agave Nectar and Maple Syrup. These all have about the same amount of calories as real sugar and offer no real advantages over sugar aside from personal preference. If you prefer using one of these natural sugars, it's important to adhere to the recommended guidelines for sugar consumption.

The bottom line is that sugar, consumed in moderation, has a place in a well balanced diet but do yourself a favor and opt for real food over processed food.

Michele Gordon

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