Can eating too much sugar put you at risk for cancer growth and recurrence? While research has not definitively proven that high sugar intake increases the risk of cancer, several studies have suggested a connection. However, studies have linked high sugar intake to weight gain and metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity. Studies have also shown that obesity is a risk factor for cancer.
What does this mean for your diet? We talked to Shayna Komar, LD, RD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, to learn more.
The case for cutting back on sugar
Sugar and inflammation
"When you eat too much refined sugar, it causes chronic low-grade inflammation in your body and inflammation has been linked to cancer," says Komar.
Sugar and obesity
While it adds flavor to the foods we eat, refined sugar has no nutritional value. Even worse, it can set you up for cravings and overeating later. When you eat more calories than you should, weight gain is inevitable.
"Too much sugar can overload the liver and trick your body into eating more because it turns off leptin, the satiety hormone that helps you feel full," explains Komar. "You keep wanting more food, which is why you can end up eating the whole sleeve of cookies."
How much sugar is too much?
"Our bodies can metabolize about 6 teaspoons of added (also known as refined or processed) sugar per day without a problem," she says. "However, the average American eats three times this amount of extra sugar. The majority of excess sugar is then stored as fat."
Recent guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture recommend limiting added sugar to 10 percent or less of your daily caloric intake. The American Heart Association recommends even less: fewer than 9 teaspoons per day for men and less than 6 teaspoons per day for women.
What is added sugar?
All sugar is not created equal.
Common sources of added sugar include:
Baked goods (cake, cookies, pie, etc.)
Sweetened beverages (soda, juice, sports drinks, sweetened tea)
Condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce and salad dressing
Granola or protein bars
While fresh and frozen fruit contains sugar naturally, Komar still recommends limiting how much you eat.
"I recommend a ratio of three servings of veggies to one serving of fruit per day," she says.
How to cut back on sugar
Limit your intake of processed foods, even those that do not taste sweet - they may contain more sugar than you realize
Stick to unsweetened beverages, such as water, unsweetened tea or unsweetened coffee
Read nutrition labels for sugar content
While it may take some practice, limiting your intake of added sugars may help reduce your risk of cancer as well as diabetes, weight gain and heart disease.