Sugar Linked to Heart Disease, Cancer
By Meghan G. Loftus
A segment that aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday features comments from a few experts who think sugar could contribute to the development of many serious health problems, including heart disease and cancer.
The primary source for the segment—Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist—points out that sugar consumption has been on the rise since the 1970s, when the public was advised to cut down on fatty foods. “Take the fat out of food, it tastes like cardboard,” Lustig says. “And the food industry knew that. So they replaced it with sugar.” Since then, rates of heart disease and diabetes have steadily increased.
A study that’s currently taking place, led by Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis, may tell us why: Excessive sugar consumption seems to cause a chain reaction that elevates levels of small dense LDL—the worst kind of cholesterol—in the bloodstream. This type of cholesterol binds to vessel walls and can cause blockages.
Sugar may affect a person’s cancer risk, too. Lewis Cantley, a Harvard professor and the head of the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center, says the insulin spikes caused by sugar ingestion could cause certain types of cancerous tumors to grow. Nearly one third of common cancers—among them, breast and colon cancers—have insulin receptors, and when they’re hit with insulin, the tumor is stimulated to consume glucose.
So what does this mean? The experts in the 60 Minutes segment recommend cutting back drastically on sugar, or even avoiding it altogether. The second option may not be practical for long-distance runners, who need to replenish energy stores to complete their workouts.
If you’re in need of immediate energy (i.e., in the middle of a long run) when you consume sugar, your body will convert it into energy instead of beginning the chain reaction that elevates bad cholesterol levels.
But when you’re just lounging around, it is likely best to follow the experts’ advice. Check out these tips from our nutrition editor, Joanna Golub, on how to determine whether what you’re about to eat is loaded with potentially hazardous added sugars.