Sugar has been the evil for decades. I remember chowing down on sugar-free chocolate as a child, because we were all convinced that taking a single ingredient out of a calorie-heavy concoction was the key to a healthful life. Award-winning documentaries have been spread around the globe for years, telling us that the endless abyss is coming and it looks a lot like candy corn.
So it was no surprise to anyone when headlines emerged recently screaming at us all that sugar, or specifically that truly horrendous high-fructose corn syrup, was giving us cancer. Not content to make us fat and diabetic, this demon in sweetener form is somehow causing tumors too.
It put me right off my M&M/fanta breakfast combo.
But, fortunately for those of us with a sweet tooth, there’s good news. While it’s definitely true that eating too much sugar is bad for you in a variety of ways, it’s currently unlikely that you have to worry about cancer because of your daily sweet hit.
The recent study and ensuing panic is a classic example of what happens when science reporting goes wrong. The study itself was fairly simple — researchers looked at whether high-fructose corn syrup was associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer. They found that, while it didn’t make more tumors appear, corn syrup did make any tumors that did appear bigger at intake amounts roughly equivalent to a can of Coke a day. In other words, a can of soda per day made tumors bigger, on average, which is what we scientists like to call “not ideal”.
But before you run screaming from your fridge, it’s worth noting that this study didn’t definitively prove that corn syrup causes cancer, at least in people.
You see, the study was done in mice.