Prevention Series 1 of 8 | Excess Sugar and Calories Contribute to Cancer Risk

by Natalie on July 12, 2011

Candy - not a usual suspect to show up on my blog.

I’m excited because I finally figured out a way to feature some very helpful information! I have been wanting to write about the American Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) recommendations for cancer prevention for quite some time now.

Every time I tried to write the post, I became discouraged about how much information there was to cover. Well it finally dawned on me to break up this information into several smaller posts.

I don’t know why it took me so long to think of doing it this way, but better late then never right? So over the new few weeks I am going to feature each recommendation in a series of posts.

The recommendations came from the WCRF/AICR Second Expert Report on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer, published in 2007. This was one of the most comprehensive reports ever done on cancer prevention. These recommendations helped form the type of diet pattern I follow today.

The recommendations apply to all people trying to reduce their risk of developing cancer, including cancer survivors. We may see separate recommendations for cancer survivors in the future but currently the AICR states there is not enough research available to do this.

Keep in mind the recommendations are based on cancer prevention as a whole and are not targeted directly towards breast cancer. The AICR also points out that these guidelines can reduce your risk of other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

So without further adieu… Here is the 1st featured AICR recommendation for cancer prevention:

 #1 “Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods”.

Energy Density

You may be wondering what energy-dense means? It sounds more scientific than it really is. Energy-dense foods are those with a large amount of calories per ounce. For example:

  • 8oz of plain coffee contains 0 calories and
  • 8 oz of a mocha frappuccino contains 150 calories.

Most energy-dense foods are processed with added sugar and fat. Think of foods like candy, ice-cream, cookies, chips, pastries, and cream.

Consuming too many energy dense foods puts you at risk for obesity and therefore of cancer.

Not all energy-dense foods are bad. Nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil are all very energy-dense, but they are great additions to your daily diet. These foods are very nutrient-dense as well as energy-dense. The key is keeping the portion size under control; the calories can creep up quickly if used in large amounts.

Foods you can always count on to be low in energy-density are: fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans.

If you are interested in reading more about the concept of energy density there is a fabulous book called Volumetrics written by Barbara Rolls. This is one of my all time favorite nutrition books. There are some great recipes along with great visuals.


Sugary drinks are defined by the AICR as sodas and juice flavored drinks. Juice flavored drinks are those with very little percentage of real fruit juice or none at all. Examples would be drinks like Kool-aid and Hawaiian Punch.

Sugary drinks should be avoided because they contain “empty calories”. They contain no nutritional benefits other than calories. It’s basically like drinking sugar water. Whats worse is that they will not make you feel full when you drink them and will significantly increase your calorie intake.

The AICR found in their expert report that these types of drinks contribute to weight gain, which in turn, increases our cancer risk.

This recommendation does not apply to 100% juice. If you choose to drink it, 100% juice is considered part of your fruit intake. 100% juice is still high in naturally occuring sugars so it is recommended you keep your intake to one 6-8oz glass per day.

Putting Recommendations into Practice

Ways to decrease energy-density

  • Add beans, vegetables, and whole grains to your meals. These low energy-dense foods will help off-set higher energy-dense foods.
  • Snack on fresh fruit and vegetables between meals.
  • If you frequently eat ice-cream, try a fruit sorbet or low-fat frozen yogurt.
  • Don’t keep candy and sweets near by, you will be more likely to eat them.
  • Use less oil and butter in cooking.
  • Keep portion size of nuts to ¼ cup (one small handful).
  • Always choose reduced fat dairy products (fat-free not necessary).
  • Limit your intake of sweet desserts.
  • Keep your cheese servings to a few small thin slices or shavings.
  • Use less cheese on your pizza and add vegetables (most restaurants will do this if you just ask).
  • Cook food healthfully, avoiding fried foods.
  • Read nutrition labels and look for products with the lowest amount of added sugar.

Examples of low sugar drink options

  • Water
  • Iced-tea (unsweetened)
  • Hot-tea (unsweetened)
  • Coffee (unsweetened)
  • Sparkling water such as Perrier
  • Sparkling water with a splash of 100% juice (pomegranate tastes great)

Tips To Make Plain Water More Interesting

  • add wedges of citrus: lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit
  • add thin slices of cucumber (one of my favorites)
  • add some torn mint leaves
  • do a combination of them all. I like cucumber, mint and lemon!


Too many energy dense foods and sugared drinks will lead to weight gain. Weight gain and obesity significantly increase our cancer risk. Use the tips above to put this recommendation into action!

I hope you have enjoyed the first featured recommendation. Join me for them all! You don’t want to miss out, all of the recommendations are equally important. On Thursday I will be talking about plants (my favorite)!
Tell me what you think! Leave a comment in the comments section below.
Read the WCRF/AICR expert report here (click on “view the summary” under the expert report box)


Photo by: Mykl Roventine

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