Sugar is a feel-good ingredient, and we reach for it unconsciously. It uplifts our mood and makes food a celebratory thing. Most of us eat desserts after meals. Similarly, we equate breaks with cookies, cakes, and beverages like tea and coffee with milk and sugar. 

Unfortunately, excessive sugar intake can trigger neuroadaptations in the reward system that lead to eating behaviour from caloric needs and leads to compulsive overeating. Excessive sugar intake also leads to health conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory diseases. This article aims to connect sugar’s impact on the body, brain, and behaviour. Also, how and why sugar consumption is connected with addictive behaviours and health issues.

Which Sugar Is Healthy? 

Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates. For example, fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is permissible. Whole foods also contain high amounts of fibre, essential minerals, and antioxidants, and dairy contains protein and calcium. The body digests these foods slowly; the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to the cells. A balanced food plate consisting of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also reduces the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Why is Refined Sugar Bad for Us? 

Natural sugar extracts produce the refined sugar that is available in the food supply. Table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are typical examples of refined sugars. Let us understand these common types of refined sugars.

Table Sugar

Table sugar, or sucrose, is made from sugar cane juice. The juice is then filtered, and the syrup gets processed into sugar crystals that are further processed and packaged into the table sugar.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of refined sugar. Corn syrup gets added to enzymes, increasing the content of the sugar fructose and making it sweeter. The most popular variant is HFCS 55, which contains 55% fructose and 42% glucose, which is another kind of sugar. This percentage of fructose is similar to that of table sugar.

Soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavoured yoghurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods contain refined sugars. Sadly, refined sugar is in unsweetened foods like soups, bread, pickles, and ketchup. They are abundant in soft drinks and ice cream.

Sugars like table sugar and HFCS promote a range of detrimental health effects.

Why Does Sugar Cause Diabetes and Other Health Risks

Consuming large amounts of refined sugar, especially in the form of sugary beverages, has consistently been linked to obesity and excess belly fat, a risk factor for conditions like diabetes and heart disease.  Also, high amounts of sugar overload the liver. The liver metabolises sugar the same way as alcohol and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat. It can lead to a more significant accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease. In turn, fatty liver disease is a contributor to diabetes and increases the risk for heart disease.

Consuming too much-added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. 

Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking the body. It turns off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. Added sugar intake leads to higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. As a result, it leads to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

How Much Sugar is Okay?

Unfortunately, some of us consume way too much-added sugar. Adult men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, as per the National Cancer Institute. It’s a whopping 384 calories per day. 

Sugar is not a required nutrient in the diet. Therefore, The Institute of Medicine, which sets Recommended Dietary Allowances, or RDAs, has not issued a formal number for sugar. However, the American Heart Association suggests that women consume no more than 100 calories (about six teaspoons or 24 grams) and men no more than 150 calories (about nine teaspoons or 36 grams) of added sugar per day. 

How to Cut Down on Sugar?

Here are simple tips that can help you cut down on your sugar consumption.

1. Read Food Labels 

Reading food labels is one of the best ways to monitor your intake of added sugar. Look for the following names for added sugar and try to eliminate the food containing them:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Syrup sugar molecules ending in “OSE” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

Total sugar, which includes added sugar, is often listed in grams. Note the number of grams of sugar per serving as well as the total number of servings. If it says 5 grams of sugar per serving, but if the standard amount is 5-6 servings, you can easily consume 30 grams of sugar. 

Develop a Love for Plain Beverages

Keep track of the sugar you add to beverages. About half of added sugar comes from beverages, including coffee and tea. Opt for herbal tea or black coffee; infuse them instead of boiling them. The fragrant liquid does not require sugar. Though it is an acquired taste, ditching tea or coffee with milk and sugar can help cut down on refined sugar intake substantially. 

Have Whole Foods Instead of Ready-to-Eat Packaged Food

Most ready-to-eat cereals, store-bought muesli, granola, chocolate bars, candy, pie, ice cream, croissants, some bread, baked goods, baked beans, canned vegetables and fruit, jams, nut butter, spreads, contain fructose or corn syrup. Sadly, savoury foods like yoghurts, peanut butter, low-fat sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, and pasta sauces contain hidden sugar too. 

Stock Up on Fresh Fruits 

Eating fresh fruit is one of the healthiest ways to satisfy a sweet craving. To get the most benefits, pair it with protein and healthy fats, such as nuts or nut butter (which digest slowly). 

Examples of fruit snack pairings include:

  • Apples and low-fat plain yoghurt
  • Banana and peanut butter on whole-grain toast
  • Grapes and low-fat cheddar cheese
  • Orange and cashews

Sleep More

The less one sleeps, the more appetising sugary snacks and meals become, found a UC Berkeley study. Lack of sleep increases appetite. Even turning in 30 minutes earlier can make a difference to sugar cravings.

Stay Away From Dehydrated or Dried Fruits

Dried and canned fruits are full of refined sugar. Food manufacturers often add sugar, juice concentrates, vegetable oil, and syrups to extend their fruit’s shelf life and improve the taste. 

Chew Fennel Seeds

Chewing fennel seeds to help to reduce sugar cravings. They are naturally satiating and don’t contain any sugars. And, as a bonus, fennel seeds are known to stop belly bloat and act as an appetite suppressant, giving you a double dose of belly-trimming benefits.

Consume Smaller Portions of High-Sugar Foods

If one wants to cut back on sugar, one can start by cutting serving sizes in half. Having a healthy plating method and eating something fresh and healthy, like nuts, fruits, salads, and purees, gives you a smaller fruit sugar boost without sacrificing the sugary taste you crave.

Have a Savoury Breakfast

Having a sweet breakfast sets up for all-day-long sugar cravings. Sprinkle cinnamon into your coffee or sweeten a low-sugar cereal with slices of fruit. Better to opt for a savoury morning meal: Whip up a dosa or veggie omelette or top your poha with a boiled egg instead of sugary cereal or Sheera or Jalebis. 

Sweeten Naturally with Fruit

Buy plain Greek yoghurt or eat dahi and add fruit and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Aside from its flavour, studies show that cinnamon may aid blood sugar control and boost metabolism. 

Buy Dark Chocolate

Opt for 90-95% dark chocolate instead of milk, which has nearly twice the sugar content. Dark chocolate also has more antioxidants than its milkier counterpart.

Benefits of Not Eating Sugar

There are several benefits of cutting out sugar: improved oral or heart health and weight reduction. Now we come to the crucial question? Is fruit sugar bad? It’s important to know that, though sugar is not a necessary nutrient, eating it in moderation is fine. For example, sugar also exists naturally in fruits, milk, and vegetables. It’s not necessary to eliminate all these natural foods. Instead, one must eat added sugar in moderation. Sugar detox is a popular term. Below are some pros and cons of not eating sugar.

Pros of Not Eating Sugar

1. Aids in Weight Management

Research has shown that diets high in added sugar are associated with obesity. In particular, diets high in added sugar lead to belly fat. Also known as visceral fat, it is related to chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.  

2. Regulates Your Blood Sugar

Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas releases insulin to keep up with excess sugar in your bloodstream. It can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Several studies show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages has an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Reducing added sugar intake, exercising, and following a healthy diet can improve insulin sensitivity. 

3. Helps Improve Your Heart Health

Added sugars can lead to heart disease. Diets with more than 20% of total calories from added sugars are associated with high levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat. Elevated triglycerides can boost your risk for heart disease. Even if one is at a healthy weight, reducing added sugar intake can help keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides at healthy levels. Therefore, this can also decrease your risk for heart disease.

4. Improves Your Oral Health

Sugar breakdown by bacteria in the mouth produces an acid that destroys the surface of teeth, causing dental cavities. Too much bacteria can also lead to infected or inflamed gums, resulting in gum disease. Studies show that reducing the amount of added sugar in the diet to less than 10% of daily calories each day can lower the risk of developing cavities.

5. Lowers Your Risk of Depression

Food affects brain functions, thus impacting mood. For example, a lower risk of depressive symptoms is linked to eating foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Several studies have also suggested that sugary beverages can lead to a higher risk of depressive symptoms and depression. 

6. Reduces Acne and Improve Skin Health

“You are what you eat”- a famous adage. This is particularly true when it comes to sugar. Too much sugar can mean inflammation and increased production of sebum, an oily skin substance. Acne can occur due to too much sebum. Cutting back on added sugar might also help slow your skin from ageing. Sugar and grilled, fried, or roasted foods might contain more substances that react with the collagen and elastic fibres in your skin.

7. Reduces Your Risk of Liver Disease

Studies show excessive added sugar is linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This type of liver disease is unrelated to:

  • Alcohol
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • A viral infection

The liver’s job is to break down fructose, a type of added sugar. Excess fructose, especially from sweetened beverages, that reaches the liver is turned into fat. 

Cons of Not Eating Sugar

One possible effect could be lower energy levels if one cuts out all sugar. Sugars are carbohydrates, a macronutrient broken down to make glucose, which is the body’s primary energy source. 

Giving up sugar might affect the mood. When one eats sugar, the brain releases endorphins and dopamine. These hormones make one feel good at the moment. If one is used to feeling that way due to sugar intake, it could negatively impact their emotions. 

Some people may try to stop eating sugar on the spot. By not doing it gradually, they might find it challenging not to consume foods or drinks with added sugar later. 

HealthifyMe Suggestion

Apart from cutting down on sugar, learn to manage sugar cravings as well. It’s important to realize that a sugar craving is not the same as hunger. It’s not your body calling for energy, it’s your brain calling for something that releases a lot of dopamine in the reward system. 

Here are a few tips to stop sugar cravings: 

  1. Drink a glass of water as dehydration can cause cravings
  2. Eat fruits. 
  3. Eat more protein. Protein is great for satiety, and it helps in reducing cravings as well.
  4. Avoid excess stress. 
  5. Take a multivitamin, this will help prevent any deficiencies which lead to cravings.

The Final Word

Reducing sugar intake supports a healthy weight, decreases the risk of depression, and lowers the risk of heart disease, among other health benefits. The good news is that one does not necessarily have to quit sugar altogether. A limited amount of added sugar each day is fine. Talk to a healthcare provider about ways to manage your sugar consumption, especially if you have a specific health condition related to blood sugar or are at risk of developing one.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: How does sugar impact weight gain?

A: Consuming excessive sugar can contribute to weight gain as it provides empty calories without significant nutritional value. Additionally, high sugar intake may lead to an increased appetite and overeating.

Q: Does sugar consumption affect mental health?

A: Yes, excessive sugar intake has been linked to mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can impact neurotransmitters and contribute to mental health issues.

Q: What are the effects of sugar on the cardiovascular system?

A: High sugar intake is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. It can lead to elevated blood pressure, inflammation, and unhealthy lipid profiles.

Q: How does sugar impact dental health?

A: Sugar is a major contributor to tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar, producing acid that erodes tooth enamel, leading to cavities and other dental problems.

Q: Can sugar consumption contribute to diabetes?

A: Excessive sugar intake, especially from sugary beverages and processed foods, is linked to insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Q: Does sugar affect skin health?

A: High sugar intake may contribute to skin issues such as acne and premature ageing. Elevated blood sugar levels can lead to inflammation, affecting the skin’s appearance.

Q: How does sugar impact energy levels?

A: While sugar provides a quick energy boost, it is often followed by a crash in energy levels. Consuming too much sugar can contribute to fatigue and decreased overall energy.

Q: Can sugar consumption lead to fatty liver disease?

A: Yes, excessive sugar intake, particularly fructose, has been linked to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can progress to more severe liver conditions.

Q: What is the connection between sugar and insulin resistance?

A: High sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to insulin. This condition is a precursor to type 2 diabetes and can also contribute to weight gain.

Q: How does sugar impact the immune system?

A: Consuming too much sugar can suppress the immune system’s function. It hinders the ability of white blood cells to effectively combat bacteria and viruses, making the body more susceptible to infections.

Research Sources

1. The importance of exercise when you have diabetes

2. Eating more ultra-processed foods may shorten the life span

3. Sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

4. Playing with the fire of inflammation

5. When the liver gets fatty

6. Sleep deprivation linked to junk food cravings