How to Minimize Refined Sugar in Your Diet

Aerial view of three bowls with fruit and sugar
The Anticancer Lifestyle Team

One of the precepts of an Anticancer diet is to limit foods and beverages high in added sugars. When you want something sweet, try to reach for items with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit. Many vegetables, such as cut carrots and cherry tomatoes, can satisfy a sweet tooth as well. Have them handy in the fridge, or bring them to work, for when your energy dips and you would otherwise be tempted to reach for something high in sugar.

Here are some helpful tips for reducing your sugar intake:

Limit added sugar

Fuel your body with natural sugars from whole or minimally processed foods such as fruit, plain yogurt (plant-based or dairy), and whole grains. These foods will provide your body with the energy it needs without unnecessary added sugars.

If you eat products with added sugar, try to combine them with protein, fat, or fiber

When sugar is consumed with other foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish, or healthy fats, the glucose is released more slowly into the bloodstream, which minimizes spikes in insulin and the inflammatory insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1 (a pro-inflammatory hormone). 


Exercise sensitizes cells to insulin, making them less resistant. Exercise also lowers IGF-1 (a pro-inflammatory hormone) by increasing a binding protein that acts like a magnet to IGF-1 making it less available to cancer cells for growth.

Aim for a healthy weight

Those who are overweight and sedentary often become “insulin resistant,” meaning that insulin is no longer effective in circulating blood sugar into your cells. This results in higher levels of insulin and glucose in the blood, which can cause chronic inflammation.

Avoid highly processed foods and drinks, such as soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, granola bars, and pastries

In addition to containing added sugars, these foods often contain unhealthy preservatives and artificial dyes and flavors. Remember that 70-80% of the food products in a typical grocery store contain added sugar!  This includes surprising items such as tomato sauce, ketchup, peanut butter, and barbecue sauce. Read labels!

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