To lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, cut your sugar consumption

My waistline is bigger than I’d like, but I hadn’t worried much about it until reading this article, which makes a pretty convincing case that cutting out simple sugars (sucrose, fructose, and high-fructose corn syrup) and sticking to plain old glucose (from complex carbohydrates, like rice and whole-grain bread) will dramatically reduce your risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

[S]ome researchers will make the case, as Cantley and Thompson do, that if something other than just being fatter is causing insulin resistance to begin with, that’s quite likely the dietary cause of many cancers. If it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, they say, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer — some cancers, at least — radical as this may seem and despite the fact that this suggestion has rarely if ever been voiced before publicly. For just this reason, neither of these men will eat sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, if they can avoid it.

“I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can,” Thompson told me, “because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.” Cantley put it this way: “Sugar scares me.”

Sugar scares me too, obviously. I’d like to eat it in moderation. I’d certainly like my two sons to be able to eat it in moderation, to not overconsume it, but I don’t actually know what that means, and I’ve been reporting on this subject and studying it for more than a decade. If sugar just makes us fatter, that’s one thing. We start gaining weight, we eat less of it. But we are also talking about things we can’t see — fatty liver, insulin resistance and all that follows. Officially I’m not supposed to worry because the evidence isn’t conclusive, but I do.

If you want to know what foods to avoid, here’s the rule:

Refined sugar (that is, sucrose) is made up of a molecule of the carbohydrate glucose, bonded to a molecule of the carbohydrate fructose — a 50-50 mixture of the two. The fructose, which is almost twice as sweet as glucose, is what distinguishes sugar from other carbohydrate-rich foods like bread or potatoes that break down upon digestion to glucose alone. The more fructose in a substance, the sweeter it will be.

The science is not definitive but is quite suggestive. So, if you cut down on your consumption of sweet foods, your future self will likely thank you.

Posted by James on Wednesday, April 13, 2011