Let’s find out!
Follow us into the discussion as we look at what sugar does to your body, the side effects of too much sugar, plus smart ways you can cut down on consuming too much sugar.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much Sugar?
To start us off, let’s have a look at white and brown sugar nutritional profiles. A teaspoon of either sugar has approximately 16 calories and 4.2 grams of carbs. That may not seem much, but you probably use more than one teaspoon in coffee, definitely more when baking or drinking juice.
So how do you know how much sugar to take?
Not all sugar is bad sugar, and we wouldn’t tell you to stay away from sugar altogether; just to cut down and stay within the recommended amount.
So what’s recommended?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should consume in a day is 150 calories for men and 100 calories for women. That equates to about six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men, less for children and toddlers (3-8 teaspoons).
The US dietary guidelines also advise people to take less than 10% of their total daily calories, which means for a total calorie intake of 2000, you should each take only 50 grams (12 teaspoons) of sugar a day.
What Does Sugar Do To Your Body?
Processed sugar is a type of refined carbohydrate that’s quickly absorbed by the body as soon as you ingest it. When you consume more of it, the sugar can cause increased inflammation in the body, which may trigger all these negative side effects below.
Let’s learn about the 16 negative side effects of high blood sugar.
1. Can Increase Your Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is and continues to be a major health concern worldwide, and it’s directly linked to excess sugar intake. When you take too much sugar over time, your body can turn from insulin-sensitive to insulin resistant which means the body can no longer regulate its blood sugar levels as effectively as before.
Soon the blood glucose will spike, and the longer the body remains with such high levels of blood glucose, the more likely you are to develop type two diabetes. Taking excess refined carbohydrates such as sugar-sweetened drinks and even fruit juice may increase your risk of diabetes (21).
2. Can Cause Weight Gain Or Obesity
Still in line with excess glucose intake, once the body has reached a level of insulin sensitivity, the insulin that would otherwise regulate blood glucose in the body triggers the secretion of cortisol in the body.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, and high blood glucose will cause the body to convert that excess blood glucose into fat, precisely visceral/adipose fat. Too much sugar may lead to abdominal obesity, where visceral fat is stored in the abdomen around your central organs, including the liver, spleen, stomach, pancreas, and intestines.
So the more sugar you consume, the more fat is stored in the abdomen, causing abdominal adiposity, which is also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes (5).
Another way sugar can cause weight gain is by consuming excess fructose. Fructose compared to glucose can offset your satiety hormones, leptin, increasing your appetite and causing you to overeat. In animals, a high-fructose diet has been shown to induce leptin resistance, which could be a contributing factor to weight gain and obesity (8).
Some experts also claim that sugar activates dopamine in the brain that keeps you happy, and increases your appetite for such “feel good” foods, causing you to consume more sugary food leading to possible negative health effects (16).
3. Can Lead To Cancer
Studies have linked obesity to increased risk of certain types of cancer (25). Several studies also associate consuming too much sugar or refined carbohydrates with multiple types of cancer, including ovarian, endometrial, colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer (7, 9, 12).
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4. Can Cause Cardiovascular Diseases
Still linked to obesity, excess sugar can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Studies show that obesity, high inflammation, and high triglyceride levels from diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (33).
Besides high blood sugar and pressure levels in the body, excess sugar can be involved in the development of atherosclerosis, where your arteries clog from fatty deposits. Atherosclerosis affects blood transportation to and from the heart, which also leads to serious heart diseases such as stroke and heart failure (14).
5. Can Lead To Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver
Sugar, precisely fructose, is often broken down in the liver, and just like glucose, fructose will either be used as energy or stored as glycogen in the liver. With excess sugar, the body will convert it to fat, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition characterized by excessive fat buildup in the liver (19).
Note that once you develop NAFLD, you can also develop non-alcoholic liver steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease and can lead to liver scarring and liver failure.
6. Can Increase Your Risk Of Kidney Disease
The more sugar you consume, the more damage you could do within your body’s blood vessels, including those of your kidneys. Damage to the kidney’s blood vessels can easily lead to kidney disease.
Alternatively, consuming more sugar also increases risk factors for kidney disease, such as increased serum uric acid levels and diabetes (13).
7. Can Negatively Affect Your Dental Health
From when you’re young, you’re often told that sugar causes cavities. It’s true! Sugar negatively affects your teeth by causing cavities and gum disease. The bacteria in your mouth constantly feed on sugar and sugar alternatives which causes the tooth to demineralize (28). You can get dental health issues such as periodontal disease.
8. Can Suppress Your Immune System
Multiple studies have linked drinking or eating too much sugar with a poor immune system where the body becomes vulnerable and cannot fight off bacteria. For as long as your body is under chronic inflammation caused by excess sugar intake, your body’s immunity will be compromised.
Studies in animals reveal that too much sugar affects your white blood cells and changes how they attack tumors in the body (23). The studies further reveal that bacteria and yeast feed on sugar content in the body; hence, excess sugar levels cause bacterial and yeast organisms to build up, causing infections.
With an immune system that is not working at its best, your body will have a more difficult time fighting off infections and illnesses.
9. Can Worsen Rheumatoid Arthritis Or Osteoporosis
Different forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and osteoarthritis are autoimmune conditions where the body’s immune system attacks its tissues, assuming it’s a pathogenic disease.
Seeing that sugar can impact the immune system, your body may not be able to protect itself, causing the condition to worsen. What’s more, the more sugar you get, the more inflammation might worsen your symptoms, precisely for osteoarthritis, which presents itself in the elbows, hips, knees, and hands (26).
As for osteoporosis, too much-processed sugar may cause the body to release cytokines. These proinflammatory proteins can cause more inflammation in your joints, leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness (4).
10. Can Trigger Symptoms Of Gout
That same inflammation of the joints can also happen in those who suffer from gout, another form of an inflammatory disease caused by pain in the joints. The more fructose you consume, the more you are at risk of having a gout flare-up because fructose increases uric levels in the body, which then causes joint inflammation and pain in someone who has gout (31).
11. Can Minimize Absorption Of Essential Minerals
Your body needs essential nutrients and minerals to grow healthy. However, intake of too much sugar may interfere with the absorption and retention of essential minerals, including calcium and copper (18).
Sugar, too, can affect the absorption and/or retention of chromium which is essential for regulating blood sugar. As you intake refined carbs such as glucose and fructose, they curb their absorption leading to high glucose levels and other secondary conditions like diabetes and obesity (17).
More data shows that it is essential to minimize sugar content amongst children so they can gain vital nutrients in the body, including vitamin A, B, C, and calcium.
12. Can Cause Or Increase Acne
Another huge disadvantage of too much sugar is the appearance of acne. Refined carbohydrates have high glycemic indexes of more than 70 and raise your blood sugar rapidly, causing an increase in insulin levels in the body, affecting androgen secretion.
Excess androgen secretion, inflammation in the body, and oil production can all contribute to the development of acne (30).
13. Can Increase And Accelerate Your Skin Aging Process
Besides the development of acne, sugar can also lead to wrinkles, which are a natural indication of aging. Sugar from carbohydrates and protein mix in the body to form AGEs compounds. These are Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) that play a trivial role in keeping your skin vibrant and young (15).
When you consume too much sugar, your skin may begin to age prematurely since AGEs increase in the body. As they increase, they cause more damage to collagen and elastin, which keeps your skin elastic and youthful. When collagen and elastin are damaged, the skin will no longer appear firm and begin to sag starting from the face and all over the body (2).
As for cellular aging, sugar can affect your DNA through the telomere structures found in your DNA chromosomes. Telomeres are molecules located at the end of your genetic chromosomes, which hold all or part of your genetic information. These telomeres act as shields, protecting your chromosomes from deteriorating or fusing so your body can naturally age (11).
With too much sugar intake, your telomeres might shorten faster than usual, causing them to malfunction, and this speeds up your aging process. The same applies to unhealthy lifestyle choices, which can also shorten your genetic chromosomes.
14. Can Affect Your Behavioral Responses
Sugar can cause disruptive, inattentive, and hyperactive behavior because the body will be in a hyperglycemic state where adrenaline levels are high. As you consume sugar, the body releases hormones from the adrenal glands, namely, cortisol and adrenaline. As you’ve read above, cortisol will cause a conversion from glucose to fat, whereas adrenaline will cause hyperactivity (4).
Hyperactivity is a state of excess energy often essential for your body’s flight or fight response. Because you’re not in either situation, your body remains active for as long as you are under a sugar rush. Your adrenal glands will continue to produce adrenaline for as long as you keep introducing sugar into the body. Therefore, this can disrupt normal behaviors.
On the other hand, this can also cause behavioral changes among adults. Excess sugar will cause the body to release the stress hormone more and more, which your body won’t know what to do with it. It then causes you to experience anxiety, irritability, shakiness, and some also have sugar headaches where your headache doesn’t go away even with medication (34).
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15. Can Cause Dementia And Alzheimer’s Disease
Experts have also linked high sugar intake with a decline in cognitive response where you experience symptoms such as impaired memory. Some evidence suggests that high sugar intake is associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s (20).
Excess sugar intake, as we know, affects insulin. While insulin resistance is involved in diabetes, it may also affect the insulin-degrading enzyme used to break down insulin and amyloid in the brain, a process called glycolysis. With lower rates of glycolysis, the beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles would increase in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
16. Can Increase Your Risk Of Depression
Besides a change of moods, a high sugar intake may also cause you to develop depression. Researchers found that high intakes of processed foods with high sugar content are associated with an increased risk of depression. Studies have suggested that high blood sugar causes neurotransmitter dysregulation and inflammation in the body, affecting the mental health of both men and women.
Smart Ways To Reduce Your Sugar Intake
This section will give you tips on how to cut down your sugar intake and how to decipher sugar labels from foods. We shall also highlight a few sweetener alternatives that don’t contain too many calories.
How To Reduce Your Sugar Intake?
Below are a few tips on how to reduce your sugar intake:
- Consume whole or minimally processed foods rather than highly processed foods
- Take water or unsweetened seltzer instead of energy, sports drinks, or sweetened beverages
- Avoid specialty sweetened coffee drinks
- Take unsweetened yogurt or add fresh fruits for flavor
- Avoid sugars in sauces, marinades, and salad dressings – make them yourself to control the ingredients
- Check sugar content in your breakfast cereal to ensure it’s within your sugar intake
- Go for low sugar packaged foods such as whole wheat pasta, grains, fruits, vegetables, and desserts
Hidden Sugar Sources And Reading Labels
When you go shopping, you may not notice the sugar content in the food since you’re not away from sugar industry terms. As you look through the ingredients, check for content that ends with “-ose.” Sugars starting with glucose have those three letters at the end, including glucose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, lactose, and galactose.
You may also find other sugar phrases that don’t end with those letters, such as dextrin. Such sweeteners are often made for food manufacturers to use in making bulk foods. For example, if you look at juice or syrup, sugar ingredients will be malt, barley malt, diastatic malt, dates, ethyl maltol, and turbinado.
Choosing Sugar Alternatives
Now that you know how to decipher sugar from labels, here are sugar alternatives you should use. Some of these sweeteners are artificial with zero calories and no glycemic index, while others are natural sweeteners that are safer than table sugar.
- Monk fruit
- Natural sweeteners like agave nectar, coconut sugar, honey, date paste, and maple syrup. These also contain sugar, but possibly less than table sugar depending on the amounts you use.
Too much sugar can affect every organ of your body, from the brain, heart, liver, teeth, joints, and kidney. While you can’t count calories and sugar intake per day, you could use these tips above to ensure you stay on top of your sugar intake.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Added Sugars (2018, heart.org)
- Advanced glycation end products (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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- Body composition assessment for the definition of cardiometabolic risk (2013, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Brown sugar (2020, usda.gov)
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- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 – 2020
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- Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (2018, pubmed.Nih.gov)
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- Role of Sugar and Sugar Substitutes in Dental Caries (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis (1973, academic.oup.com)
- Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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- The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris (2007, pubmed.nih.gov)
- The Evidence for Saturated Fat and Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Pathophysiology of Hyperglycemia in Older Adults (2017, diabetesjournals.org)
- White sugar ( 2020, usda.gov)