Sugar, in the form of carbohydrates, is the main source of energy for our bodies. It is the only source of energy for our brain.
Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars after digestion and these sugars are what the body uses to function optimally daily.
Carbohydrates come in several forms - rice, bread, pasta, starchy vegetables, sweetened drinks and desserts – and these are all broken down into simple sugars.
The body doesn’t recognise the source of sugar at the absorption stage. What you should avoid is excessive intake of sugar itself, as it has no other nutrients, only calories.
Overloading the body with sugar can lead to a rapid increase of blood sugar. When this happens, the pancreas releases insulin to convert sugar.
Hyperinsulinaemia (excessive production of insulin) is thought to cause inflammatory responses in our body that may lead to an increased risk of cancer.
The jury is still out on the use of artificial sweeteners.
Some studies suggest that because artificial sweeteners have no calorie content, it can help with weight management.
On the other hand, animal studies have shown that ingestion of artificial sweeteners can stimulate cravings for carbohydrates and overall calorie intake, resulting in weight gain and development of chronic diseases.
Use natural sweeteners instead.
Agave nectar is a great option. It is made from the agave plant and the syrup is one-and-a-half times sweeter than sugar, yet has half the glycaemic index, so you need less of it to get the same sweetness.
Agave nectar comes in light and dark forms and can be found in most health food stores. When using agave nectar, use two-thirds as much as the recipe calls for, and reduce the overall amount of liquid by about a third.
Stevia is another good alternative. The leaves of the stevia plant are sweet, hence its other name sweetleaf or sugarleaf, and it is often ground and sold in powder form.
Stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose and its extracts have supposedly 300 times the sweetness of sugar.
A tablespoon of stevia is equivalent to a cup of sugar. Stevia is best used in drinks, but not so much as a direct substitute for baking.
Unrefined raw sugar can be considered if you really want to use granulated sugar. It contains minerals and nutrients that white or brown sugar lacks. Bear in mind that raw sugar is entirely different from brown sugar.
In short, there’s no need to avoid sugar entirely.
Your body requires simple sugars to function. Therefore, starving it of energy will only cause the body to weaken.
Consume sugar in moderate amounts, even when using natural alternatives. Eat a varied and balanced diet, with plenty of physical exercise.
Find out more about cancer and how to fight it on ST's Fighting Cancer microsite.