Merry Sugarness to All

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Tell the truth. How many cookies have you had so far? That includes the broken pieces.

And, we know you have stoically resisted the fruitcake, but what about the gift box of Aunt Bessie's double-dark-chocolate homemade fudge? You couldn't hurt her feelings, could you?

It's the holiday season. We're surrounded by seasonal sweets at the office, at home, and at every party.

They're good, too. Only the Grinch would use this occasion to insist that sugar is bad for you and you should give it all up.

That would be unnatural.

The sweet taste exists in nature for a reason. It's not just your imagination or a regrettable character weakness—Mother Nature is tempting you. “Biochemistry,”a college textbook by Jeremy Berg et al. that has been around so long it's now in its 8th edition, makes quick work of that point:

Five primary tastes are perceived: bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and umami (the taste of glutamate from the Japanese word for “deliciousness”). These five tastes serve to classify compounds into potentially nutritive and beneficial (sweet, salty, umami) or potentially harmful or toxic (bitter, sour).”

See? Mother Nature is on your side if you would rather have a brownie instead of seconds on kale.

So, have a little sugar. Not too much. Sugar adds calories, and we are never in favor of packing on extra pounds if you can avoid it. Needless to say, if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, extreme self-discipline is needed.

But a little extra, occasional, sugar won't kill you. In fact, this time of year, sugary treats tend to come with one of life's greatest gifts—the company of friends and family. The smile of a friend and a cookie is a fair trade for sitting home alone. Especially during these short, dark days of the year when many of us feel more depressed than usual.

Still, you will no doubt encounter well-meaning people who make a point of letting you know they wouldn't indulge—because sugar's just bad for you always, forever, period, amen.

One of the favorite arguments by the sugar police is that sugar feeds cancer.

Well, it's time to tackle that myth. The sugar police are stretching the truth a bit.

Excess sugar does lead to obesity. And obesity is definitely implicated in some kinds of cancer. 

But there is no direct link from eating sugar to getting cancer. Or growing cancer. Just as there is no direct link from pumping gas into the tanks of hearses cause a prevalence of caskets inside.

In fact, you can hardly avoid ingesting sugar if you eat a normal diet. It is abundant in healthy fruit like apples. Milk has it. So do carrots, peas, corn, wheat, and potatoes.

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The modern problem is not sugar, it's excessive added sugar. And even then, the sugar-cancer link has been rejected in one high-quality study after another. What you have is a case of guilt by association.

A researcher named Otto Warburger first suggested that sugar caused cancer in 1924 because cancer cells use sugar (glucose) in a different way from regular cells. He got the science wrong, but the myth lives on.

The fact is, all the cells in your body use glucose—not just cancer cells. Your survival depends on it. 

Because they grow so much faster, however, cancer cells are real glucose hogs. Unfortunately, you can't starve your cancer cells by cutting all the sugar out of your diet. There's no way to tell those strawberries to head to your good cells and not your cancer cells.

That's the realm of science, and it may be possible with some drugs in the future.

Oncologists at Brunel  University in London have found a link between glucose and cancer cells that might be the answer. Cancer cells overproduce a protein named PARP 14. The protein allows cancer cells to grab enormous amounts of glucose from the system to fuel their rapid growth. The interesting thing with PARP14 is that it allows cancer cells to use glucose in a different manner than normal cells do. The scientists are looking for ways to block PARP14 production. In turn, that would prevent cancer cells from using the body's glucose stores while healthy cells could still access it.

Success along those lines is still years down the road.

In the meantime, a moderate amount of sugar is OK. Celebrate the season. Enjoy a cookie or two—but not dozens.

There's always New Year's Day for new resolutions. And in addition to cutting back on sugar, you could vow to eat more blueberries.

Because there is one thing that sugar is notorious for—dry skin. A rush of sugar causes an insulin spike, which causes inflammation, which leads to redness, dryness, and wrinkles through the process of glycation. Hence the blueberries...

Blueberries are chock full of vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, and flavonoids that are good for your skin. Your face will love you for it.

And while you're at it, treat yourself to a nice face cream, too.


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