Added sugar is one of the most harmful ingredients in the average American diet. And unfortunately, we eat a lot of it. The average adult consumes upwards of 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day. That’s over 65 pounds of sugar a year!
Imagine eating 12 of those standard 5-pound bags of sugar from the store. When you think of it in those quantities, it begs the question: What are the side effects of sugar on my body?
The answer is not good. Our bodies are not designed to handle sugar intake in such large quantities. While a cookie for dessert may seem like an innocent “treat,” when you add up all the little (or big!) “treats” we allow ourselves, the result is a cascade of side effects that negatively impact your long-term health and well-being.
Most of us know that eating too much sugar can cause weight gain, cavities, and the dreaded “sugar crash.” But, the side effects of sugar don’t stop there. Because of the way sugar acts in your body, it influences the health and function of every organ and organ system. It can even have adverse effects on your brain, mood, and emotions.
A closer look at some of the more surprising side effects of sugar in your diet.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Your liver carries out a unique and varied list of essential functions. From producing bile for the digestion of fat to removing toxins from the blood, a healthy, functioning liver is critical to good health.
When it comes to sugar, your liver is the primary location of fructose metabolism. Fructose is a type of sugar found in fruit, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. While your liver can easily handle a small amount of fructose, such as the amount found in a handful of berries, the more you eat, the more problematic it becomes.
To digest and process high volumes of sugar, the intestines and liver increase the production of the enzyme fructokinase. While fructokinase is essential to sugar metabolism, increased amounts come with unintended consequences.
The more enzyme your body has to make to digest fructose, the less it can make of other essential enzymes. This imbalance creates two big problems for your liver:
- Fructokinase causes the accumulation of fat in the liver.
- Increased fructokinase production prevents the intestines from producing proteins that protect the lining of your gut. The result is toxins entering the bloodstream and damaging the liver.
Over time, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease develops, and normal liver function is impaired. Eventually, your liver may even become scarred, a serious condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. While this may seem like an unlikely scenario, it’s more common than you may think. Worldwide prevalence is 25%, and rates are increasing. This is one side effect of sugar where the damage may not be evident until years later.
Yes, sugar is bad for your waistline, but its impact on your heart is even more concerning. One study found that people who ate the highest amounts of sugar had a 38% higher incidence of heart disease-related deaths compared to those who ate the lowest amount of sugar.
The side effects of sugar on your heart can cause damage through a variety of routes. High sugar intake impacts the cardiovascular system by:
- Raising blood pressure
- Promoting inflammation
- Causing weight gain, which places strain on the heart
- Increasing blood lipids which may contribute to the hardening of arteries
- Promoting insulin resistance and risk for diabetes
In the past, people were incorrectly told to reduce their cholesterol and saturated fat intake to improve heart health. But recent evidence shows sugar is significantly worse for your heart than saturated fat ever was. Reducing sugar intake is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
A significant and often overlooked side effect of sugar is its long-term impact on your mood. While it’s tempting to think of conditions such as anxiety or depression as disorders of the mind, they are actually whole-body conditions.
The foods you eat influence a wide range of body processes that impact your risk of mood disorders. The health of your brain is unavoidably dependent on the health of your body. Plus, your nervous system is an intricate web that receives signals from every organ system.
What happens in your body naturally influences your mood and emotions. Over time, an unhealthy diet may create changes in the brain that lead to a mood disorder.
Diets high in sugar are linked to a higher risk of depression. Common side effects of sugar such as inflammation, hormone disruption, and obesity are likely culprits to explain the link between sugar and depression.
In addition, the constant swings in blood sugar related to sugar consumption may exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety.
If you’ve ever witnessed the effects of candy on children, you know sugar influences energy levels. But that boost of energy you feel after a sweet treat comes at a price. The dreaded sugar crash soon follows.
When you consume high-sugar food, your blood sugar will quickly rise. In response, the body releases a burst of insulin, which signals cells to absorb all that extra sugar. A rapid blood sugar spike, followed by a quick insulin spike, results in a sharp drop in blood sugar levels, leaving you fatigued and cranky.
Imagine it like a rollercoaster ride. The highs may be thrilling, but what goes up must come down.
Over time, the rapid ups and down deplete your body and may leave you in a constant state of low energy. Many people get trapped in a cycle of consuming sugar for energy and then needing more sugar to combat the inevitable sugar crash.
The best solution is to get off the ride.
Hormones regulate almost every function in your body. Anything that disrupts the delicate balance of hormones can create chaos in many critical systems.
Acne is a great example. As we mentioned above, diets high in sugar cause high levels of the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates blood sugar, but it also impacts skin cells, causing them to multiply rapidly and secrete more oil. People who eat high sugar diets are at a greater risk of developing acne.
Unfortunately, acne isn’t the only side effect of sugar-induced hormone imbalance. Other hormones that a high sugar diet may impact include:
These hormones control everything from reproduction to appetite. Long-term disruption in hormonal balance can have far-reaching effects that increase your risk for disease, impact how you feel, and harm basic processes such as digestion and aging.
Cut out the side effects of sugar
Beating the sugar habit is no easy feat. There is a reason our diets are so high in sugar in the first place. It’s both delicious and cheap.
But the momentary pleasure of a sweet treat doesn’t outweigh the harmful side effects of sugar. The goal is not just to enjoy life today but to still enjoy life in the decades to come.
Cutting out sugar provides powerful protection from many chronic illnesses affecting our world today. The side effects of sugar can be avoided by choosing a healthy, low-carb diet full of delicious, whole foods. The outcome of your food choices should be vibrant good health.