Friday, October 31, 2008

Sugar and cancer: Is there really a connection?

It's well after dark on Halloween, and, as usual, we haven't gotten many trick-or-treaters, because we live on a busy road. As usual, I bought a couple of bags of candy (Snickers and Tootsie Rolls), and, as usual, I began eating them a few days ago.

I have a really big sweet tooth. I go through phases. A couple of months ago it was Peanut M&Ms (thanks Ellen and Mike). A while ago it was dark chocolate, which I know is actually good for you, but I lost my taste for it. Lately I've been into double-stuffed Oreos (thanks a lot Deb) and Nestles Crunch bars. (Are we still boycotting Nestles? Ooops. I just looked it up and found out that the boycott, due to Nestle's marketing campaign of baby formula around the world to the detriment of breast-feeding, was dropped but is now reinstated.)

Every now and then some new study or publication comes out to remind me that refined sugar is bad for me, and that I really should quit. For me it's not about weight, because I've always been thin, except for when I gained my Freshman Fifteen thanks to the boxes of soft chewy Freihoffer chocolate chip cookies that seemed to be a staple in every dorm room at Vassar.

Once I read that the only way to quit sugar is cold turkey, and that when you do it, and are freed from the sugar lows that follow the highs, you feel great.

But it is a hard habit to break, and right now I don't feel up to it. Sugar is one of my main comfort foods; I don't usually pull out the "after all I've been through" excuse, but it's an excuse I make for myself, as in, "After all I've been through, I deserve to eat sweets if I want to."

Plus, I balance the unhealthful part of my diet with many "good" foods.

I was reminded of the topic by the recent publication of David Servan-Schreiber's book "Anticancer". The author, a doctor and survivor of a brain tumor, ties refined sugar to increased cancer risk. Mike Hamel summarizes the book well on his blog, Cells Behaving Badly.

A google search for "sugar and cancer" turns up pages and pages of entries suggesting a link between the two. An article on the The American Cancer Society website points out that it is not, however, a matter of direct cause and effect: "Sugar increases calorie intake without providing any of the nutrients that reduce cancer risk. By promoting obesity and elevating insulin levels, high sugar intake may indirectly increase cancer risk. White (refined) sugar is no different from brown (unrefined) sugar or honey with regard to their effects on body weight or insulin. Limiting foods such as cakes, candy, cookies, sweetened cereals, and high-sugar beverages such as soda can help reduce sugar intake."

I will continue to live by one of my late father's favorite mottos: "Everything in moderation."

That is, until I finish working my way through the rest of the Halloween candy.

In the meantime, I wonder what comfort foods other people like.


My Year Without said...

o my gosh--a post right up my alley! i LOVE the fact that you have such a sweet tooth, because i do too. a really bad one. even though i gave up sugar as a new year's resolution this year, i still get those sugar cravings. i don't get them often, and mine are mostly psychological, but when i do, boy is it bad. i have retrained my mind to accept sugar alternatives like honey and agave and that works. there are more things that satisfy my sweet tooth than i thought possible.
i was a lot like you in that i would buy goodies for other people and end up eating a lot myself. especially the chewier chocolatey things. i feel for you with your halloween candy!!
i think cutting cold turkey is one way, but i think cutting down a lot is also a good start. if you want any pointers, i'd love to share.
i also have shared your motto about moderation, but mine includes the added line: everything in moderation, including moderation!
good luck to you and your plight to eat healthier!

Nelle said...

I absolutely believe there is a connection. I do enjoy sweets but when I truly came to believe this strongly was when my late sister-in-law Jen was battling several tumors. She ate a terrible diet of very few foods and during her entire illness she ate only ice cream cake and had feeding supplements that were loaded with sugar. Throughout her life she ate only a few different things and no protein other than cheese or peanut butter. The feeding supplements seemed to feed the tumors and I would love to see some research done about that connection.

Anonymous said...

Ronni, I never knew you to be a sweet tooth. I always think of you as a health nut. After a tennis match you seem to go for the fruit or veg instead of the brownies. I notice these things because I like the sweets, too. And I agree with you dad "everything in moderation" so keep up the good work. And you do deserve to eat chocolate after everything you've been through. love, Korby

Susan C said...

I never had a sweet tooth, but started having daily desserts when trying to put on weight. Now a meal doesn't seem complete without a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream and an Oreo cookie. (I recently discovered the double stuffed ones too.) Once I reach my desired weight, I hope I can drop the dessert like a bad habit.

Anonymous said...

I soooo believe there is a connection between sugar and cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Follicular Lymphoma in 2005. I had always been "lucky" with high metabolism. I did not know a thing about nutrition - I had grown up going to school on pop-tarts and hot chocolate. This did not change in my adult years (I am now 48). I would get to work and have my first vending machine meal - honey buns and coffee. For lunch I had dunkin sticks and coffee. For the afternoon break, I had a soda (not diet - THEY'RE bad for you!)and a bag of potato chips. Before leaving I would get a package of Suzy Q's or those big Mother's cookies. It is VERY hard to quit eating like this. When I researched cancer - too bad I waited until after I had it already - it appears clear as a bell to me. I once asked a doctor if sugar wasn't connected, why hasn't a P.E.T. scan been made that uses sodium instead of glucose to light up cancer cells? He didn't have an answer to that and it may not be "scientific" but it's enough of a question for me. The "sick" thing is - I can't stop eating it. I wrestle with the "whats the point now?" and if it's not sugar, it's something else these days - bottled water maybe. BUT I have cut back a lot! I do tend to have a dark humor about things but it really does matter to me that I can't seem to cut out sugar but continue to wrestle with the problem.

Polly said...

Dark chocolate is my recreational drug of choice.

We got very few kids come on Halloween so we had lots of candy left over. I finally took the left overs to my chess club because I was tired of grabbing a piece every time I walked past the bowl.