Debate

Sugar – a fertilizer for growth in our bodies 

What? – Can it be true? That’s what ran through my mind last week when I realized that it had been five years since my book My Sweet Heart was released, and I started blogging. Five years! And there is still so much to write about. For example, there is new research that reinforces some of the claims I make in My Sweet Heart. In particular, this research supports the idea that carbohydrates work in the body a little like …

… a fertilizer, for the body and for cancer cells.

Yes, it’s true. More and more research is showing that our bodies grow faster when we eat a lot of sugar, wheat flour and other refined carbohydrates. With this type of diet, blood sugar tends to rise quickly, resulting in a high insulin peak, which then stimulates the body’s growth system. You can read about exactly how this works in My Sweet Heart.

In fact, these insulin spikes can be linked to a whole series of unhealthy signs, including: babies born bigger and heavier, obese children who often grow tall earlier in life, children for whom puberty comes earlier, and even an increased susceptibility to cancer. Recently, a report was published in the United States showing that 40 percent of all cancer in the U.S. is associated with obesity. That’s 630,000 cancer cases per year. Crazy.

In September, I read an article that focused on the unique metabolism of cancer cells; how it’s affected by obesity and how high insulin levels in the blood can trigger tumor growth. That’s really something we should be talking about more. An American science journalist recently wrote a piece for the LA times about the role of insulin in cancer: It’s getting clearer – the diet-cancer connection points to sugar and carbs.

More growth during the fetal stage

High insulin spikes in pregnant women’s blood is another likely explanation as to why obesity and/or diabetes generally causes babies to grow more during the fetal stage. The number of children weighing more than 11 pounds (5 kilograms) at birth has doubled since the 1970s. This, of course, also increases the risk of complications during childbirth. Just this summer, I wrote an article for the Swedish newspaper SvD about how researchers believe that these complications are related to the mothers’ serious obesity, which increases the risk of childhood epilepsy or CP injury.

In fact, research shows that babies can be so affected by their mother’s obesity that they continue to grow at a faster pace even after birth. Some animal studies have suggested this, and researchers in Singapore have now shown a relationship between the mother’s sugar intake and the baby’s growth rate during the first year of life. In the study, it was found that the more cookies, desserts, ice cream and sweetened drinks the mother consumed during pregnancy, the faster the baby grew and the higher the BMI during their first year.

One weakness of the study was that scientists only recorded what the mothers ate during one day of pregnancy. More research is needed to really prove this relationship, but there are still plenty of reasons to suspect that a diet high in sugar and fast carbohydrates can affect babies in utero.

So, all you pregnant mothers out there: don’t do what I did during my first pregnancy. Get rid of the sweetened apple juice at lunch, and throw out all the damn candy (it made me gain a lot of weight). Instead, do as I did during my second pregnancy: eat low-glycemic foods and enjoy a good cheese or some dark chocolate every now and then. Both you and your future child are worth taking care of with proper and nutritious food.

Is there something I wish for as a jubilee gift? Of course. The Dietary Science Foundation swish number is 123 900 42 43. A contribution might just encourage me to blog for at least five more years.

Ann Fernholm runs the blog annfernholm.se and has written the best-selling book My Sweet Heart. Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.


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