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  • Debbie Slutzky, CHC

10 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar is Bad for You

Updated: Nov 25, 2023



From marinara sauce to peanut butter, added sugar can be found in even the most unexpected products.

Many people rely on quick, processed foods for meals and snacks. Since these products often contain added sugar, it makes up a large proportion of their daily calorie intake.

In the US, added sugars account for up to 17% of the total calorie intake of adults and up to 14% for children (1). Dietary guidelines suggest limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10% per day (2).

Here are 10 reasons (or perhaps reminders for some) why eating too much sugar is bad for your health.

REASON #1: Can Cause Weight Gain

Sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas, juices and sweet teas are loaded with fructose, a type of simple sugar. Consuming fructose increases your hunger and desire for food more than glucose, the main type of sugar found in starchy foods (2).

Additionally, excessive fructose consumption may cause resistance to leptin, an important hormone that regulates hunger and tells your body to stop eating (3).

REASON #2: May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease

High-sugar diets have been associated with an increased risk of many diseases, including heart disease, the number one cause of death worldwide (4).

Evidence suggests that high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, inflammation and high triglyceride, blood sugar and blood pressure levels — all risk factors for heart disease (5).

Additionally, consuming too much sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened drinks, has been linked to atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by fatty, artery-clogging deposits (6).

REASON #3: Has Been Linked to Acne

A diet high in refined carbs, including sugary foods and drinks, has been associated with a higher risk of developing acne (7).

Sugary foods quickly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, causing increased androgen secretion, oil production and inflammation, all of which play a role in acne development (8).

Studies have shown that low-glycemic diets are associated with a reduced acne risk, while high-glycemic diets are linked to a greater risk (9).

REASON #4: Increases Your Risk of Diabetes

The worldwide prevalence of diabetes has more than doubled over the past 30 years (10). Though there are many reasons for this, there is a clear link between excessive sugar consumption and diabetes risk.

Obesity, which is often caused by consuming too much sugar, is considered the strongest risk factor for diabetes (11). What’s more, prolonged high-sugar consumption drives resistance to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels.

REASON #5: May Increase Your Risk of Cancer

Eating excessive amounts of sugar may increase your risk of developing certain cancers.

First, a diet rich in sugary foods and beverages can lead to obesity, which significantly raises your risk of cancer (12).

Furthermore, diets high in sugar increase inflammation in your body and may cause insulin resistance, both of which increase cancer risk (13).

REASON #6: May Increase Your Risk of Depression

While a healthy diet can help improve your mood, a diet high in added sugar and processed foods may increase your chances of developing depression.

Consuming a lot of processed foods, including high-sugar products such as cakes and sugary drinks, has been associated with a higher risk of depression (14).

Researchers believe that blood sugar swings, neurotransmitter dysregulation and inflammation may all be reasons for sugar’s detrimental impact on mental health (15).

REASON #7: May Accelerate the Skin Aging Process

Wrinkles are a natural sign of aging. They appear eventually, regardless of your health.However, poor food choices can worsen wrinkles and speed the skin aging process.

Advanced glycated end products (AGEs) are compounds formed by reactions between sugar and protein in your body. They are suspected to play a key role in skin aging (16).

Consuming a diet high in refined carbs and sugar leads to the production of AGEs, which may cause your skin to age prematurely (17). AGEs damage collagen and elastin, which are proteins that help the skin stretch and keep its youthful appearance.

When collagen and elastin become damaged, the skin loses its firmness and begins to sag.

REASON #8: Drains Your Energy

Foods high in added sugar quickly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to increased energy. However, this rise in energy levels is fleeting.

Products that are loaded with sugar but lacking in protein, fiber or fat lead to a brief energy boost that’s quickly followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar, often referred to as a crash (18).

Having constant blood sugar swings can lead to major fluctuations in energy levels (19).

To avoid this energy-draining cycle, choose carb sources that are low in added sugar and rich in fiber. Pairing carbs with protein or fat is another great way to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable. For example, eating an apple along with a small handful of almonds is an excellent snack for prolonged, consistent energy levels.

REASON #9: Can Lead to Fatty Liver

A high intake of fructose has been consistently linked to an increased risk of fatty liver.

Unlike glucose and other types of sugar, which are taken up by many cells throughout the body, fructose is almost exclusively broken down by the liver. In the liver, fructose is converted into energy or stored as glycogen. However, the liver can only store so much glycogen before excess amounts are turned into fat.

Large amounts of added sugar in the form of fructose overload your liver, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition characterized by excessive fat buildup in the liver (20).

REASON #10: Other Health Risks

Aside from the risks listed above, sugar can harm your body in countless other ways.

Research shows that too much added sugar can:

  • Increase kidney disease risk: Having consistently high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the delicate blood vessels in your kidneys. This can lead to an increased risk of kidney disease (21).

  • Negatively impact dental health: Eating too much sugar can cause cavities. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid byproducts, which cause tooth demineralization (22)

  • Increase the risk of developing gout: Gout is an inflammatory condition characterized by pain in the joints. Added sugars raise uric acid levels in the blood, increasing the risk of developing or worsening gout (23).

  • Accelerate cognitive decline: High-sugar diets can lead to impaired memory and have been linked to an increased risk of dementia (24).

Research on the impact of added sugar on health is ongoing, and new discoveries are constantly being made.


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References

1.Azaïs-Braesco V, Sluik D, Maillot M, Kok F, Moreno LA. A review of total & added sugar intakes and dietary sources in Europe. Nutr J. 2017;16(1):6. Published 2017 Jan 21. doi:10.1186/s12937-016-0225-2

2.Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. USDA. (n.d.) Accessed November 14, 2023. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf

3.Vasselli JR, Scarpace PJ, Harris RB, Banks WA. Dietary components in the development of leptin resistance. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(2):164-175. Published 2013 Mar 1. doi:10.3945/an.112.003152

4.Pagidipati NJ, Gaziano TA. Estimating deaths from cardiovascular disease: a review of global methodologies of mortality measurement. Circulation. 2013;127(6):749-756. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.112.128413

5.DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC, O'Keefe JH. The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2016;58(5):464-472. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2015.11.0062

6.Akbaraly TN, Brunner EJ, Ferrie JE, Marmot MG, Kivimaki M, Singh-Manoux A. Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. Br J Psychiatry. 2009;195(5):408-413. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.058925

7.Julson, E. Top 6 Foods That Can Cause Acne. Healthline. January 24, 2018. Accessed November 14, 2023. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-acne#TOC_TITLE_HDR_4

8. Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2016;33(2):81-86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146

9. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57(2):247-256. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2007.01.046

10.Danaei G, Finucane MM, Lu Y, et al. National, regional, and global trends in fasting plasma glucose and diabetes prevalence since 1980: systematic analysis of health examination surveys and epidemiological studies with 370 country-years and 2·7 million participants. Lancet. 2011;378(9785):31-40. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60679-X

11.Wu Y, Ding Y, Tanaka Y, Zhang W. Risk factors contributing to type 2 diabetes and recent advances in the treatment and prevention. Int J Med Sci. 2014;11(11):1185-1200. Published 2014 Sep 6. doi:10.7150/ijms.10001

12.De Pergola G, Silvestris F. Obesity as a major risk factor for cancer. J Obes. 2013;2013:291546. doi:10.1155/2013/291546

13.Orgel E, Mittelman SD. The links between insulin resistance, diabetes, and cancer. Curr Diab Rep. 2013;13(2):213-222. doi:10.1007/s11892-012-0356-6

14.Guo X, Park Y, Freedman ND, et al. Sweetened beverages, coffee, and tea and depression risk among older US adults. PLoS One. 2014;9(4):e94715. Published 2014 Apr 17. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094715

15.Kivimäki M, Shipley MJ, Batty GD, et al. Long-term inflammation increases risk of common mental disorder: a cohort study. Mol Psychiatry. 2014;19(2):149-150. doi:10.1038/mp.2013.35

16.Gkogkolou P, Böhm M. Advanced glycation end products: Key players in skin aging?. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):259-270. doi:10.4161/derm.22028

17.Aragno M, Mastrocola R. Dietary Sugars and Endogenous Formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts: Emerging Mechanisms of Disease. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):385. Published 2017 Apr 14. doi:10.3390/nu9040385

18.Spruijt-Metz D, Belcher B, Anderson D, et al. A high-sugar/low-fiber meal compared with a low-sugar/high-fiber meal leads to higher leptin and physical activity levels in overweight Latina females. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(6):1058-1063. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.03.013

19.O'Reilly GA, Belcher BR, Davis JN, et al. Effects of high-sugar and high-fiber meals on physical activity behaviors in Latino and African American adolescents. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015;23(9):1886-1894. doi:10.1002/oby.21169

20. Jensen T, Abdelmalek MF, Sullivan S, et al. Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. J Hepatol. 2018;68(5):1063-1075. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2018.01.019

21.Karalius VP, Shoham DA. Dietary sugar and artificial sweetener intake and chronic kidney disease: a review. Adv Chronic Kidney Dis. 2013;20(2):157-164. doi:10.1053/j.ackd.2012.12.005

22.Gupta P, Gupta N, Pawar AP, Birajdar SS, Natt AS, Singh HP. Role of sugar and sugar substitutes in dental caries: a review. ISRN Dent. 2013;2013:519421. Published 2013 Dec 29. doi:10.1155/2013/519421

23.Merriman TR, Dalbeth N, Johnson RJ. Sugar-sweetened beverages, urate, gout and genetic interaction. Pac Health Dialog. 2014;20(1):31-38.

24.Crane PK, Walker R, Larson EB. Glucose levels and risk of dementia. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(19):1863-1864. doi:10.1056/NEJMc1311765

Image Credit: 955169/www.pixabay.com

About the Author: Debbie Slutzky earned her Health Coach Certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2010. She loves sweets but is able to limit her intake and enjoy them in moderation.

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