Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. While consuming foods that contain natural sugar is not harmful to your body, the danger lies in consuming foods with too much added sugar. Added sugar is not just found in sugary baked goods and beverages – it can also be found in savoury foods like tomato sauce, soups, cured meats and bread.
Let’s have a closer look at how sugar affects your health and why too much of it can be bad for you.
1. Weight gain
Studies suggest that excessive sugar consumption can lead to weight gain. Since sugary foods and drinks are generally high in calories, excessive consumption can lead to weight gain. Sugar intake also leads to a spike in insulin levels, which can result in increased appetite and food consumption.
It is worth noting that sugar consumption alone does not result in weight gain, and there are other contributing factors like genetics, lifestyle, and social and environmental factors.
2. Heart disease
A 2014 study found that a high-sugar diet is associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease. While the direct impact of sugar on heart health is still being studied, excessive amounts of sugar could affect your heart indirectly. For example, too much sugar could overwhelm the liver and result in fatty liver disease. Excessive sugar consumption could also increase blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease.
While there are no studies to prove a direct causal link between sugar and diabetes, a high-sugar diet can lead to obesity, which in turn, increases the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Studies also suggest that the consumption of sweetened beverages is linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Skin health
A sugary diet leads to sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels and increases androgen secretion, sebum production and inflammation, which can result in acne. Having a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars also leads to an increase in the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which may accelerate skin ageing.
5. Sexual health
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can lead to leptin resistance, which may, in turn, decrease testosterone levels and libido. Large amounts of sugar can also result in fatigue after an energy spike, which can negatively impact sex drive.
6. Cellular ageing
Excessive sugar consumption is linked to the shortening of telomeres, which are protective structures that protect chromosomes from deteriorating and fusion. Telomere shortening, in turn, increases the risk of premature cell ageing and the development of age-related illnesses like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Bacteria found in the mouth feed on sugar, resulting in the formation of dental plaque – a sticky, colourless film that constantly forms on the teeth surface. If left untreated, the plaque can create an acidic environment in the mouth, causing erosion in the tooth’s enamel. Over time, a tooth cavity may develop.
How to keep your sugar consumption in check
We all enjoy the occasional sugary treat, however it is worth checking your sugar consumption as many of us are eating more sugar than we realise. How much sugar should you be consuming in a day? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day for men, and no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day for women.
To reduce your daily sugar intake, swap sweetened beverages for unsweetened coffee, tea or water. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, make it a point to look out for added sugars in food products and note the various names that sugars come under, including:
- Corn sweetener
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Malt syrup
- Anhydrous dextrose
- Corn syrup solids