Today, the average American consumes more sugary foods than ever before, equaling about 22 teaspoons – a little less than 1/2 cup – of added sugar each day. That's 20 percent more than we ate in 1970 and adds up to 350 calories a day from sugar alone. For cancer prevention, those added calories are bad news.
If you are like the average American, you may be eating sugar without realizing it because it's hidden in many purchased foods. Brownies are an obvious source of the sweet stuff, but what about your pasta sauce? For anyone who wants to limit sugar intake for a healthy weight – as AICR recommends for lower cancer risk – find out how you can identify added sugars hiding behind a different name.
Evidence suggests that sugar by itself does not lead to cancer or "feed" cancer cells, but sugar calories can add up quickly. And extra calories can lead to overweight and weight gain, which do lead to an increased risk for several cancers. Today a third of the country's adult population is classified as obese and child obesity rates are on the rise.
Scientists now know that fat tissue is a metabolically active tissue. Fat cells produce high levels of some hormones and proteins called cytokines that may trigger chronic inflammation, which is linked to increased risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. AICR's expert report found convincing evidence linking body fatness with colon, postmenopausal breast, endometrial, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancers.
In an effort to avoid food and drinks that promote weight gain, AICR recommends avoiding sugary drinks and limiting energy-dense foods, which typically contain high amounts of sugar. However, this may be easier said than done.
The best way to limit your sugar intake from packaged foods, as AICR recommends for lower cancer risk, is to read ingredient and nutrition labels. But when added sugar can hide behind almost 100 different names, this task is far from easy.
The ingredients on the label of a food product are listed in descending order with the largest amount first. If a sugar is among the first ingredients listed, or there are many different types of sugar listed, the product most likely has a lot of added sugar.
There are plenty of naturally-occurring sugars, such as the fructose found in fruits or the lactose in milk. Those sugars are considered to be part of a healthful diet and won't be found in the ingredient list. If you do see sugar (or one of its other names) in the ingredient list, you can be sure it was added to the food; this is the type of sugar you want to limit in your diet.
Here's a look behind the terminology.
Common sweeteners in food products include:
Other words that indicate sugar lurks in a food end in "-ose":
For strategies on healthy eating and staying a healthy weight, visit Reduce Your Cancer Risk.
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