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What did you have for dinner?

Important Points:

  • Healthy diet
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Nutrition
  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein

What did you have for dinner?

If type 2 diabetes were an infectious disease, it is said we would be in the midst of an epidemic. This problematic disease is striking an ever-growing number of adults, and with the rising rates of childhood obesity, it has become more common in youth especially among certain ethnic groups. The good news is that prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes are largely preventable. About 9 in 10 cases in the U.S. can be avoided by making lifestyle changes. These same changes can also lower the chances of developing heart disease and some cancers. In this article, we will look at diet as a means to prevent and regulate type 2 diabetes.

How What You Eat Affects You

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three American adults has prediabetes; that is 86 million people. Without intervention, up to one third of them will go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five years.

Is all lost? Not at all! Lifestyle changes can help. While excess body fat is a recognized risk factor for diabetes (and weight loss is an important way to lower risk), specific diet patterns and foods seem to decrease or increase risk, independent of weight. The latest research suggests that diabetes risk (as well as risk of heart disease and stroke) is largely influenced not by single nutrients but by specific foods and overall diet patterns.

Poor diet quality may influence weight and metabolic risk independent of calories; different types of foods have different effects on satiety, glucose-insulin responses, liver fat synthesis, fat-cell function, craving and reward responses in the brain, and the creation of visceral fat.

Foods that Lower the Risk of Getting Type 2 Diabetes

We will discuss in some detail every day food that might either aid in the prevention of diabetes or accelerate your progression towards it. When you are making the decision of what to eat, choose wisely.

  1. Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs

Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—so you need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat. Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, packaged meals, and snack foods. Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates, also known as slow-release carbs because they are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin.

2. Eat more plant foods
Minimally processed plant foods such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and nuts/seeds are consistently linked to better cardio-metabolic outcomes, including decreased diabetes risk.

3. Choose protein wisely
While they have been studied to different extents, meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy protein sources appear to impact diabetes risk differently.

In their 2011 meta-analysis, Pan and colleagues determined that red meat consumption, particularly processed red meat, is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and suggested that substituting one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, and whole grains per day for one serving of red meat would lower diabetes risk by 16% to 35%.

4. Use quality fats instead of quantity
Most research on fats typically looks at their impact on cardiovascular, not diabetes risk, and fats’ association with diabetes risk is in need of clarification. Recent evidence suggests that the quality of fats consumed in the diet is more important than the total quantity of dietary fat.  In other words, the exact fats consumed are more relevant than just the quantity of consumption, and some fats may be proinflammatory (omega 6 fats from industrial seed oil, vegetable oil) and others may be anti-inflammatory (omega 3 fats from natural products or saturated fats found in real food). Some researchers point out that source of fat is important. In studies looking at total fat intake and health effects, results showed:

  • A Mediterranean dietary pattern which is relatively high in monounsaturated fats may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
    • Intake of high-fat dairy products is associated with a decrease in type 2 diabetes risk.
    • Omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) may be associated with modestly lower risk.

5. Drink unsweetened beverages and water
What to drink is a choice we make every day, and it is just important to get into healthy drinking habits.

• Both coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated) and tea are associated with lower risk of diabetes.  The problem arises because many people add sweeteners and artificial creamers to coffee, which may contain significant carbohydrates and defeats the purpose of not consuming refined carbohydrates.

•Fruit juices have historically been considered safe, but the reality is that most fruit juices contain about the same amount of carbohydrate as does soda.  We urge our patient’s to avoid both soda and fruit juices altogether.

• There’s strong evidence that moderate alcohol use is associated with lower diabetes risk across diverse populations, but people who don’t currently drink alcohol shouldn’t be encouraged to do so, and drinkers should limit themselves to up to two drinks per day for men and one to 1.5 for women.

In Summary

Eat more:

  • Healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, fish oils, flax seeds, or avocados
  • Fruits and vegetables—ideally fresh, the more colorful the better; whole fruit rather than juices
  • High-fiber cereals and breads made from whole grains
  • Fish and shellfish, organic chicken or turkey
  • High-quality protein such as eggs, beans, low-fat dairy, and unsweetened yogurt

Eat less:

  • Trans fats from partially hydrogenated or deep-fried foods
  • Packaged and fast foods especially those high in sugar, baked goods, sweets, chips, desserts
  • White bread, sugary cereals, refined pastas or rice
  • Processed meat and red meat
  • Low-fat products that have replaced fat with added sugar, such as fat-free yogurt

A Healthy Lifestyle

It is easier to adapt a healthy eating lifestyle than to go on a diet. Working with dietary patterns instead of focusing on individual nutrients or “superfoods” (or vilifying particular food groups) allows greater flexibility for you and lets you choose foods you like at times that are convenient to you.

Given the health advantages of plant foods like leafy greens and whole grains and their association with reduced diabetes risk, you should ensure your diet pattern includes a healthy serving of them at all times.

References:

  1. Today’s dietician (2017):Diabetes Management & Nutrition Guide: Foods and Eating Patterns for Diabetes Prevention. Retrieved from

https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0717p40.shtml

  • Harvard School of Public Health (2019): Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes. Retrieved from
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/
  • Health Guide (2018): The Diabetic Diet. Retrieved from
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/the-diabetes-diet.htm
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Sugar and cancer: Is there a link?

Important Points:

  • Sugar
  • Glucose
  • Cancer
  • Health risk
  • Nutrition

Sugar and cancer: Is there a link?

  • Sugar is the modern-day diet villain, but does it cause cancer?
  • Does sugar feed cancer cells making them grow more aggressively?
  • How does the sugar we consume through food and drink affect our health, and what can be done about this?

These are just a few questions we try to answer as we take a long hard look at sugar and its relationship with cancer. We hope to bust some myths and share what researchers are studying in the hope of finding new ways to treat people with cancer.

  1. Does sugar cause cancer?

Sugar feeds every cell in your body, but does sugar cause cancer or even help it to grow and spread? It’s true that sugar feeds every cell in our body, even cancer cell. Research shows that eating sugar doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer, but what sugar does to your waistline can lead to cancer.

  • Does sugar cause cancer cells to grow more aggressively?

Taking in too many sugar calories may result in weight gain, and being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for cancer and other diseases.  It is likely that overfilled fat cells, possibly occurring from chronic excessive sugar consumption and high insulin levels, produce cancer promoting hormones.  Insulin production itself is triggered by sugar consumption and is a known growth hormone.

  • What is sugar, and why do our bodies need it?

Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates many of which are found in food. Simple sugars include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose. Compound sugars or double sugars are molecules composed of two joined simple sugars, and common examples are sucrose, lactose, and maltose.

“Table sugar” is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets and then granulated. It’s a compound sugar composed of glucose and fructose and, in the body, is hydrolyzed, or broken down, into these two components.

Glucose

When you search for sugar and cancer on the internet, you will find many warnings that sugar is the “white death” that feeds cancer cells.  The idea that sugar is responsible for kick-starting or fueling a cancer’s growth is an over-simplification of some very complicated biology.

Glucose is a basic fuel that can power every single one of our cells, but is not an essential nutritional nutrient because your body can make all of the sugar it needs without you eating any granulated sugar.

Sugar and cancer?

Cancer cells usually grow very rapidly and multiply at a high rate which takes a lot of energy. This means they need a lot of glucose as fuel. Cancer cells also need other nutrients such as amino acids and fats.

Here’s where the concept that sugar fuels cancer was born: if cancer cells need a lot of glucose, then cutting sugar out of our diet must help to stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying and could even stop it from developing in the first place. Unfortunately, all our healthy cells need glucose too, and there’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need while keeping it away from the cancer cells.

What then?

Although there’s no evidence that cutting carbohydrates from our diet will help treat cancer, important research has shown that understanding the abnormal ways that cancer cells make energy could lead to new treatments.

A scientist in the 1940s named Otto Warburg noticed that cancer cells use a different chemical process from normal cells to turn glucose into energy. While healthy cells use a series of chemical reactions in small cellular ‘batteries’ called mitochondria, cancer cells bypass their ‘batteries’ to generate energy more rapidly to meet demand. This discovery was named the Warburg Effect.

This shortcut for making energy might be a weakness for some cancers giving researchers an advantage for developing new treatments because:

  • First, it opens up the potential for developing drugs that shut down cancer cells’ energy-making processes without stop healthy cells’ energy making. Researchers are currently testing drugs that work in this way.
  • Second, the abnormal processes in cancer cells can also leave them less able to adapt when faced with a lack of other nutrients like amino acids. These potential vulnerabilities could lead to new treatments also.

As these approaches are still experimental, we don’t know yet if treatments that starve cancer cells are safe or if they work.

Why worry about sugar then?

If cutting out sugar doesn’t help treat cancer, why then do we encourage people to cut down on sugary foods in our diet advice?

There is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. Eating more than recommended amounts of sugar over time can cause you to gain weight, and robust scientific evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, which we’ve written about many times before.

So, should you avoid sugar?

“Your body’s cells use sugar to keep your vital organs functioning,” says Erma Levy, a research dietitian in Behavioral Science. “But too much daily sugar can cause weight gain, and unhealthy weight gain and a lack of exercise can increase your cancer risks.”

So, how much sugar is safe to eat?  Women should have no more than six teaspoons per day (25 grams), and men should have no more than nine teaspoons per day (36 grams), says the American Heart Association. This equals to about 100 calories for women and 150 for men.

The biggest source of added sugar in the American diet is sugar-sweetened beverages. Other obvious sources include cakes, cookies, pies and ice cream. Some foods, such as pasta sauce, salad dressings, and canned vegetables, have hidden sugars, so it is very important to read food labels.

Your first clue that a product is high in sugar is if the word “sugar” is listed as the first ingredient. Some sugary foods don’t include “sugar” on the ingredient list. It is often disguised under different names, so if you don’t see “sugar” then look for these words:

  • fructose (sugar from fruits)
  • lactose (sugar from milk)
  • sucrose (made from fructose and glucose)
  • maltose (sugar made from grain)
  • glucose (simple sugar)
  • dextrose (form of glucose)

There are ways to moderate your sugar intake without avoiding it altogether:

  • Rein in your sweet tooth:  When eaten in small amounts, sugar can fit into a balanced diet. 
  • Opt for natural sugars:  Natural sugars, like molasses, agave nectar, honey and maple syrup, are packed with antioxidants that protect your body from cancer.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners:  Some studies done with laboratory animals have found links between artificial sweeteners and cancer.

So, what is the future for the sugar-cancer link?

On the one hand, sugar itself doesn’t cause cancer, but there’s no way (at the moment) of specifically starving cancer cells of glucose without harming healthy cells too. On the other hand, the amount of added sugar people are consuming is alarming because it’s promoting weight gain. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least 13 types of cancer. Although throwing sugar out won’t stop cancer in its tracks, we can all reduce our risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices, and lowering the amount of added sugar in our diets is a good way to help maintain a healthy body weight.

Since sugar is not an essential nutrient, at the very least one should avoid consumption of all refined sugars which have essentially no nutritional value.

References:

  1. MD Anderson Cancer Centre (2019): Does sugar cause cancer? Retrieved from

https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/FOH-cancer-love-sugar.h14-1589835.html

  • Web MD: Cancer and Sugar: Is There a Link? Retrieved from

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/features/cancer-sugar-link#1

  • Cancer Research UK (2017): Sugar and cancer – what you need to know. Retrieved from
https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2017/05/15/sugar-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/
  • Wikipedia : Sugar. Retrieved from

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar