With the average Aussie eating more than double the daily recommended intake for sugar, it’s no surprise that diseases from diabetes to obesity are skyrocketing. But you might wonder whether cancer plays into this – here’s everything you need to know about sugar’s role in the development of the big C.
First, let’s take a look at some of the major risk factors for cancer:
- Older age
- Genetic history of cancer
- Radiation exposure
- Viral infections like HPV (human papilloma virus)
While sugar consumption isn’t on the list, and sugar itself is not a known carcinogen, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t play a role. Overconsumption of sugar can directly lead to one of the biggest risk factors for cancer: obesity. Here’s how.
How sugar causes obesity
It’s the fructose in sugar that is driving the obesity crisis around the globe, with rates having tripled since 1975 – and this has direct link has been proven in recent studies – this is because fructose cannot be broken down by the body and instead requires the liver to metabolise it. The problem arises when we consume too much, which then overwhelms the liver and leads to the development of visceral fat around our abdominal organs. Conditions ranging from heart disease to fatty liver disease may develop as a result – but obesity is the consequence that poses a particular risk for our chance of developing cancer. Plus, it doesn’t help that sugar is an addictive substance that hot-wires our brain’s reward system, making us come back for more. Ever wondered why you can’t stop after a piece of chocolate? It’s that dopamine hit that hooks us – sugar cravings, low energy, more frequent hunger and low mood are all consequences of excess fructose intake, so it’s no surprise that many will end up obese after falling victim to the addictive nature of sugar. It’s believed that the inflammation caused by obesity is what drives the increased risk for cancer, along with the imbalanced hormones and reduced function of bodily processes that come with visceral fat.
Take a look at the most common cancers obesity puts you at risk for:
- Oesophageal cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Breast cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Liver cancer
The other links between sugar and cancer
Excess sugar is a known cause of inflammation and poor gut health, both of which drastically affect our immunity. This is because the gut plays a role in fighting viruses and bacteria, with research showing a connection between what we eat and the frequency in which we pick up infections, with one study revealing the gut microbiome is responsible for regulating the immune response to pathogens – some of which can cause cancer.
When we load up on sugar, we throw our microbiome into chaos. It leads to changes to the gut bacteria, with research finding high-sugar diets can lower microbial diversity, which then affects our immune response. This is because it creates higher levels of Proteobacteria, which is an indicator of an unbalanced microbiome. The result? You guessed it – higher risk of infection. Not to mention the risk for metabolic syndrome and gut issues, which can also further decrease immunity, making you more susceptible to certain cancers like lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, along with cancers caused by the following pathogens:
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Human papilloma virus
- Hepatitis B virus
So, it’s plain as day that cutting down on sugar is a good way to lower your risk for the big C, along with a host of other conditions like diabetes, obesity, liver disease, autoimmune conditions and even mental health disorders.
It’s also important to get in your daily exercise – aim for around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or just 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum and get a good night’s sleep. But, a healthy diet is one of the most important elements of preventing obesity and gut issues, so here’s what to eat instead of sugary foods:
- Whole grains: Opt for grains in their whole, less processed form. These have more nutrients and are less likely to be packed with added sugars.
- Whole fruits and veggies: Unlike juice, whole fruit has a sizeable fibre content, which is essential for slowing our absorption of sugar, thereby taking the pressure off our livers and reducing our chance of developing visceral fat.
- Seeds and nuts: Packed with healthy fats, fibre and protein, seeds and nuts make for the perfect snack. They’re satiating and help keep sugar cravings away.
- Fermented foods: These boast probiotics, which are essential for gut health, reducing inflammation and keeping our immunity up. Kimchi, kombucha and yoghurt are all good options.
Keen for more recipes and nutrition tips? We’re here to help. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and getting our health goals happening. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
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- Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
- Exclusive content from our panel of experts.
So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, JOIN NOW!