Sugar shock, Part 1

Having watched two online lectures in as many days about nutrition and cancer prevention, I’m noodling heavily over the notion that a diet that helps prevent cancer may be awfully similar to a diet that promotes optimal health. I’m not saying that this is absolutely so, but the concept has a lot of merit, and it’s something I intend to explore further in the coming weeks.
One chunk of information I learned that really hit me over the head was that cancer cells thrive on glucose. Biochemist Otto Heinrich Warburg won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery in 1931. Research published last year suggests that while cancer cells thrive on glucose, they divide and proliferate more readily in fructose. Table sugar (sucrose) is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. High fructose corn syrup is about 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose. Honey contains about 60 percent fructose. Yes, you read that right.
I was already well-versed in the American Heart Association’s recommendations that people limit sugar intake, as the evidence linking sugar and heart disease has been accumulating for some time. With my current lifestyle behaviors, I feel pretty confident that I’m able to ward off heart disease. But cancer has always seemed a bit more nebulous, partly because cancer can happen anywhere in the body.
So, to coincide with the beginning of my company’s annual spring exercise and weight loss challenge on Monday, I’m giving up sugar. I’ll start with a two-week commitment, then reassess. Oh, I’m giving up alcohol, too, under the same terms. And peanut butter, because it’s high in the omega-6 fatty acids we get too much of (almond and other nut butters are higher in omega-3s, and thus are healthier choices).
Why am I doing this? Because I can. Really, there is no good reason to eat sugar. It has no health benefit. Can eating sugar-containing foods be enjoyable? Absolutely. I don’t eat much sugar, and really don’t miss it when it’s not around, but I do have a raging sweet tooth that can rear its ugly head when treats are easily at hand and ripe for the plucking. However, I enjoy many foods, most of which don’t contain sugar. So I am confident that I can ditch the glucose and fructose and still enjoy my meals.
[Update 8/9/14: This was an interesting experiment, in part because it was a good lesson in how hard it is to avoid certain ingredients when you eat processed or manufactured food. While it’s good to keep sugar to a minimum, and be aware of the presence of added sugar, I don’t advocate going 100% sugar free on a long-term basis. It’s not necessary, and can turn into an obsession, which may be unhealthy in its own right.]
I rarely eat out and cook mostly from scratch, so keeping sugar out of my food will be pretty easy. I already drink my coffee and eat my oatmeal without sugar. I did, however, have the WORST time finding bread that didn’t contain sugar! Every single whole wheat or sprouted grain loaf that Costco carries contained sugar in some form or another (cane syrup, brown sugar, molasses, honey, fruit juice). I had better luck at my local natural foods market by going back to my healthy eating roots with Ezekiel 4:9 bread! Welcome back, my sprouted-grain friend!

Want to know what I will be eating more of? Kale! Turns out kale, which is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, shares broccoli’s cancer-preventive properties. But wait, there’s more! It’s also a dark leafy green, with all the folate-rich, cancer-fighting goodness that entails. (Darn it, now I really want one of those “Eat More Kale” T-shirts!)
I previously referenced the first nutrition-and-cancer lecture. The second, by Donald Abrams, MD, director of the Integrative Oncology Research Program at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, touched on some of the same points, but brought a wealth of its own information. I really liked what he said as he wrapped things up:

“I think we are what we eat… . It’s important for us as a society to be conscious of what we eat. When we talk about healthcare reform, the problem we have now is that we have a disease management system and not a healthcare system. Teaching wellness, to me, begins with knowing what to eat and what not to eat.

Amen to that. As I said before, if you have any interest in optimal health in general, or cancer prevention in particular, I highly encourage you to check out the lecture. As with the previous lecture, no science background is needed to understand it. The YouTube link is below; you can also access the lecture here.