Is Cancer Caused by Sugar?

That’s the question posed in this discussion featuring one of my top Health Sherpas, Dr. Jason Fung, in an interview related to his new book, The Cancer Code, with Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician and host of The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast.

Dr. Fung is among the five physicians who have been most influential for Lisa and me. From The Obesity Code to The Diabetes Code to The Complete Guide to Fasting to Life in the Fasting Lane, his books share common themes:

  • Insulin is the hormone that causes your body to store fat.
  • While other macronutrients cause some insulin response, sugar, starches and highly processed carbohydrates cause blood sugar (and insulin) spikes, and our continuous snacking means blood insulin levels are perpetually high.
  • This condition, called hyperinsulinemia, causes weight gain, often leading to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Giving patients with Type 2 diabetes increasing doses of insulin to manage blood sugar causes them to gain even more weight, making the problem worse.
  • Obesity increases the risk of many cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer. Insulin, with its growth-promoting properties, seems to encourage the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.
  • Intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating or even fasts of a day or more create periods of lower insulin levels in the blood, which enables your body to begin burning the fat you’ve stored. Fasting regimens may have some cancer-prevention benefits, too.

I have spent hours listening to Dr. Fung’s books on Audible, many of them more than once, and we also have the print edition of some of them. He has had great insight into dietary and lifestyle contributors to disease, and also is an excellent communicator to a lay audience.

Setting aside one hour to watch this video would be a great investment for you.

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Get a Bluetooth scale

As you get started on your health journey, it’s important that you have a good bathroom scale to measure your progress.

You may not want to do daily weighings as you’re getting started. Some people get discouraged by natural weight fluctuations, and so if you think you’re prone to that you may want to weigh once at the beginning, and then wait a few weeks before stepping back on the scale.

Lisa and I use this scale, which we got for less than $50. With the Weight Gurus app (iOS or Android), you can automatically record not only your weight, but also Body Mass Index and percent of your weight that is fat, muscle, bone and water weight.

It’s kind of magical, calculating all of those percentages by the electricity running through your bare feet. And the good part about having these figures in addition to body weight is that as you are getting into the #BodyBabySteps involving exercise, and particularly resistance training, you will add muscle mass.

That’s a good thing, even if your weight isn’t going down.

So if you don’t have a trusty scale, I recommend you get this one. I’m not an affiliate and I make no money based on your purchase.

I just like it and use it every day, and I think you’ll like it too (assuming you have an iPhone or Android device.)

You’ll be glad when you’re able to look back and see how much progress you’ve made. Here’s my first weigh-in, along with yesterday’s:

Lisa didn’t weigh when we started on this journey because she didn’t want to know. She thought it would mess with her head, and she also wasn’t sure she could be successful.

Now she wishes she had gotten a starting weight. She has lost at least 40 pounds, and is fairly confident it’s 50 since we started in 2016. But because she didn’t weigh, she can’t be exactly sure.

So before you start the #BodyBabySteps, get a scale and a starting weight so you’ll be able to tell your full story of success to encourage others.

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Black, Creamy or Bulletproof

Whereas Lisa and I were previously Folger’s drinkers, now we buy the roasted beans and grind them just before brewing our morning cup(s). We usually each have a 20-ounce Contigo container per day, although we sometimes brew a second pot and have a refill.

I drink coffee one of three ways, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish with my eating patterns.

Black. If I’m in a fasting or time-restricted eating mode, I take it straight. It doesn’t break my fast, and it actually has an appetite suppressant effect. Sometimes I’ll add a half-teaspoon of cinnamon, which also isn’t a fast-breaker.

Creamy. When I’m not concerned with extending a fast, I treat myself to a creamy concoction. And by creamy I don’t mean with Half-and-Half: we’re talking full-fat, organic heavy whipping cream. I also usually add MCT oil and cinnamon. I use a hand frother to break up the fat so it’s dispersed and doesn’t float on top of the coffee. Any blood sugar or insulin spike is minimal, and hunger stays away.

Bulletproof. On special occasions, I melt a chunk of grass-fed Kerrygold butter in the microwave and pour into my Contigo, or else just let the hot coffee do the melting. Using the same hand frother keeps the butter fat from floating to the top. I typically add a pinch of salt and a half-teaspoon of cinnamon to the mix as well. With bulletproof I don’t add the MCT oil.

What we never add to coffee is any kind of sweetener. Lisa formerly used monk fruit, but as we have learned that even calorie-free sweeteners can trick your brain into triggering insulin release, she’s decided it’s not worth it.

The common thread with all of these ways of drinking coffee is that they promote satiety and don’t spike blood sugar.

If we haven’t eaten since 6 p.m. the previous evening, our bodies are already in or approaching fat-burning mode. Creamy and Bulletproof coffee just cause us to toggle between burning the fat in our bodies and the fat in the coffee.

Once that’s gone, we’re back to burning what we already have stored. It makes it easy to skip breakfast, and sometimes even lunch.

That’s why this post is part of #BodyBabyStep Two: Seek Satiety.

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How NOT to enjoy coffee

In our first three decades of marriage, Lisa and I didn’t exactly have sophisticated tastes when it came to coffee.

We drank Folger’s, typically flavoring it with manufactured creamers like what you see at right. As its ad copy says today:

Coffee mate Italian Sweet Creme flavor coffee creamer will transport you to a land of rich taste – right in your kitchen! Indulgently creamy and remarkably rich, the incredible flavor of Italian Sweet Creme is a silky smooth sip that’s lactose-free and cholesterol free. 

Cholesterol free! That’s got to be healthy, right?

Check out the ingredients:

Water, Sugar and Vegetable Oil make up most of it.

With apologies to Meat Loaf, “Two out of three ain’t good!”

Stopping Sugar is #BodyBabyStep One, so on that basis alone you should get rid of these non-dairy creamers. Vegetable oil isn’t much better, as we’ll address in future posts.

But tomorrow I’ll show three wonderful ways you can enjoy coffee without spiking your insulin.

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Juice is the Worst!

While much of what the U.S. government has done relating to food and nutrition has been counterproductive at best (such as the food guide pyramid), its incorporation of ingredient and macronutrient information in food labels is mostly helpful when read with discernment.

One thing you’ll find is that sugar is everywhere.

When you read a food label, if you see SUGAR, BROWN SUGAR, HONEY, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SUCROSE, DEXTROSE, LACTOSE or any other -OSE – especially among the first few ingredients – stay away!

Juice is a special case, though. When you review an ingredient label for 100% fruit juice, you might see lists like:

  • INGREDIENTS: Grapefruit Juice (water, grapefruit juice concentrate)

What could be wrong with those? They’re “all natural” or maybe even “ORGANIC”!

It doesn’t even list sugar as an ingredient.

Well, let’s do a comparison.

Few would consider Coca-Cola (or any other sugar-sweetened carbonated beverage, for that matter) a healthy drink. (I’m not picking on Coke, here; it’s actually the soda, or “pop” depending on your region, that I have most enjoyed over the years.)

Look at its Nutrition Facts label, you’ll see plenty of warning signs:

Obviously with High Fructose Corn Syrup behind only water among its ingredients, you’ll expect this to be high in sugar. And sure enough, each 12-ounce can has 39g of Total Sugars (all of them Added Sugars.)

That’s bad, right?

Well, let’s compare with several 100% fruit juices:

Orange, Grapefruit, Apple and Grape juice nutrition labels.

Each these lists “0g Added Sugars” as if that’s something of which the bottlers should be proud. I realize that’s an item the government requires them to note, but it detracts from the real news, which is that for an 8-ounce serving, total sugars for these juices are:

  • Grapefruit – 17g
  • Orange – 23g
  • Apple – 28g
  • Grape – 36 g

When adjusted to the same serving size as a can of Coke (and rounding down to be generous), those range from 26g to 54g for 12 ounces.

Apple juice and grape juice actually have more sugar per ounce than Coke!

Here’s my confession: in the last half of the 1990s, I would regularly stop at the convenience story on my morning commute and buy a quart of orange juice to drink on the way to work!

I actually thought that was a healthy choice! I mean, it had Vitamin C, right?

Based on the figures above, I was getting 92g of sugar before 8 a.m. almost every workday. And that was after I had eaten a bowl of cereal that typically included 16g of sugars and 41g of total carbohydrates.

I might as well have had a 48-ounce Coke for breakfast!

Fruit in reasonable quantities is good because it carries fiber with it, which fills you up and also slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

But my Nordic ancestors didn’t have fresh fruit year-round, and yet somehow here I am today. Fruit is less necessary than you may think.

So as you’re taking #BodyBabyStep One, quitting fruit juice (and all other sugar-sweetened beverages) is essential.

Don’t do as I did; do as I do now.

I drink coffee black, or with fat-based additives that don’t cause blood sugar spikes and also slow release of caffeine.

More on that next time.

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