I always have mixed emotions when I see people selling sweets to raise money for cancer research. I certainly applaud the intent; my mother died of lung cancer, after years of smoking.

But according to my wellness-based nutrition training, cancer is one of the “diseases of civilization.” Like high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease, cancer is rare in people who live a traditional lifestyle but is quite common in those of us who don’t. A primary driver of these diseases is a diet high in sugar and white flour.

To make matters worse, it often is young people selling and eating these sweets. According to one study, which looked at the sugar intake of 1,000 American teens between the ages of 14 and 18, the average daily intake of added sugars was 389 grams for boys and 276 grams for girls, or up to 52 percent of their total caloric intake. The World Health Organization recommends sugar should make up a maximum of 10 percent of our daily calories, with the ideal being less than 5 percent. This means the average American teen consumes five to 10 times more sugar than what is recommended.

The research is very clear: Consuming this much sugar is a direct cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In the years between 2001 and 2009, there was a 30 percent increase in type 2 diabetes in children between the ages of 10 and 19 in the U.S.

The link between sugar and cancer is less direct, but it is there nonetheless. Studies show a strong link between insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes with cancer. They also show a poorer outcome for cancer patients who have sugar-handling problems, such as type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance. It seems the link between sugar and cancer is the chronically high levels of insulin in the blood, which is the body’s reaction to excess sugar in the diet. Insulin is known to promote cancer, especially of the breast and bowel.

So, if you ask me to buy a brownie or cookies to raise money to combat cancer, please don’t be insulted if I decline. It’s not that I am against curing cancer or the occasional sweet. It’s just that selling sugary foods to help find a cure for cancer is too much of a stretch for me. (I participate in an annual bike ride to raise money for cancer research, though I do not choose the 100-mile course.)

Cancer is no different than any other “disease of civilization.” It is much better to prevent it with a healthy lifestyle than to attack it with surgery and chemotherapy once it appears. Greatly reducing sugar in the diet is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can make. Of course, we use sugary foods as a reward for good behavior, and raising money to fight a disease such as cancer is commendable, deserving of a reward. But in working with patients who are improving their lifestyles, one of the most difficult changes is getting sugar out of their diets. Besides the reward factor is the fact that sugar is addictive, especially for some people — you know who you are.

Despite the fact that it is so common in our culture, cancer is not an inevitable disease nor is it primarily hereditary. It is largely preventable with a healthy lifestyle, one that includes regular exercise, stress control and a healthy diet low in sugar. Even after a diagnosis, limiting sugar intake seems to help improve survival rates. So feel free to join me in skipping the cookies to fight cancer — there are better alternatives.

Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at noonanchiropractic@gmail.com.