Most of us have a sweet tooth and love to eat sugary foods. Not just children, many adults have a habit of eating more sugar than necessary.
Apart from naturally occurring sugar in foods like fruits, many foods and beverages have sugar added to them, which can contribute to problems like weight gain and obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Americans are eating and drinking too much of these added sugars, which is contributing the increasing incidence of such health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. For children, the recommended daily sugar intake varies depending on their age and caloric needs, but ranges between 3 and 6 teaspoons per day.
In addition, a 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) guideline recommends that adults and children limit their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their total calories to lower the risk of being overweight or obese as well as having tooth decay. A further reduction to below 5 percent or roughly 6 teaspoons per day provides additional health benefits.
Examples of added sugars that you’ll see on food and beverage ingredient labels include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar and sucrose.
The free sugars referred to in the WHO’s recommended intake includes added sugars like monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
It does not include sugars naturally present in fresh fruits and vegetables or milk because there is no evidence of adverse effects of those sugars.
As sugar can be addicting, it is easy to eat more than necessary.
Here are the top 10 signs that you are eating an excessive amount of sugar.
1. Weight Gain
Eating too much sugar leads to weight gain and an increased risk for obesity. The empty calories in sugar inhibit your cells from burning fat. Also, it causes a high insulin level in your body and messes with your metabolism.
At the same time, sugar leads to production of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that encourages your body to store food in fat cells.
Sugar also suppresses satiety and increases ghrelin, the hunger hormone. This means you end up eating more.
A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that regular intake of sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of obesity.
In a 2013 review of 68 different studies published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that intake of sugars is a determinant of body weight in free living people consuming diets with no strict control of food intake.
Also, the data suggests that the change in various measures of body fatness that occurs with modifying intake of sugars results from an alteration in energy balance rather than a physiological or metabolic consequence of monosaccharides or disaccharides.
2. Type 2 Diabetes
Eating too much sugar or sugary foods is one of the top reasons for developing Type 2 diabetes.
Excess sugar causes insulin resistance and elevated insulin in the blood, two key contributing factors in developing diabetes. Plus, eating more sugar leads to a buildup of fatty deposits around the liver. Overtime, it affects the functioning of the pancreas, which in turn leads to insulin resistance.
A 2005 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism reports that an increase in fructose consumption may be an important contributor to the epidemic of obesity and insulin-resistant diabetes in both children and adults.
A later 2010 study published in Diabetes Care found that in addition to weight gain, higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with development of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. These data provide empirical evidence that intake of sugar-sweetened beverages should be limited to reduce obesity-related risk of chronic metabolic diseases.
3. Poor Oral Health
Sugar is not at all good for your oral health. It is one of the reasons behind gum disease and cavities.
Several bacteria naturally grow in your mouth, and when you eat sugary foods, you are giving the bacteria a chance to thrive and multiply, leading to cavities.
Also, your strong craving for sugar can be the reason behind bad breath.
A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates cause the bacteria inside the mouth to produce acid and lower the pH level, thus causing tooth demineralization.
To maintain oral health, the key is to brush your teeth after meals, especially when you’ve eaten sugary foods.
4. Mood Swings
If you notice being irritated or frustrated after eating something sugary, you are probably consuming too much to begin with.
In order to function properly, the brain needs a steady supply of chemicals like glucose and insulin. But when your brain gets an excess amount of these chemicals, it leads to restlessness and anxiety.
After eating sugary food, you soon experience the well-known sugar “crash”. This can cause feelings associated with depression, such as lethargy, sadness and social withdrawal.
A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that a high glycemic index diet is one of the risk factors for depression in postmenopausal women.
These symptoms of low mood and depression can be avoided by limiting your sugar consumption as well as focusing on activities to beat stress, such as meditation, quality sleep or a simple walk.
5. Heart Problems
If you suffer from some kind of heart problem, the culprit could be the high level of sugar in your diet. A sugary diet has the potential to wreak havoc on your heart, as it can cause high blood pressure as well as high cholesterol.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Hypertension reports that a high-sugar diet leads to a greater increase in cardiac dysfunction and mortality in hypertensive rats as compared to a low-carbohydrate or high-starch diet.
A later 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that high fructose intake in the form of added sugar is associated with higher blood pressure among U.S. adults without a history of hypertension.
High blood pressure makes your heart and arteries work harder, which increases the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and other serious coronary conditions.
Apart from high blood pressure, a sugary diet also raises your cholesterol level. The fructose in sugar increases your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol) level as well as constricts your arteries.
A 2014 study published in Open Heart reports that people who eat 25 percent or more of their calories from added sugars are at a three times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
6. Poor Memory
Poor concentration and memory loss can also be due to high sugar consumption.
High doses of sugar lead to a rapid increase in your blood sugar level, which in turn prevents glucose from entering cells, including brain cells. Without glucose, the brain lacks the energy needed to function properly. This can cause trouble concentrating, remembering and making decisions.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiology reports that a diet high in fructose affects learning and memory by slowing down the brain.
In addition, too much sugar can reduce proteins in the body that are necessary for memory and responsiveness. This can cause trouble remembering little things.
7. Skin Problems
Acne breakouts, dry skin, dark circles under the eyes and many other skin problems can occur due to your habit of eating sugary foods.
Sugar has an inflammatory effect on the body, so it contributes to inflammatory skin problems.
Plus, high sugar intake leads to a process known as glycation, which can accelerate the aging process and make your skin more likely to sag and develop wrinkles.
8. Getting Sick Frequently
Another sign that you are eating too much sugar is a tendency to get sick more often.
Sugar intake has a negative impact on the immune system. It competes with vitamin C for space in your white blood cells, resulting in weakened immunity.
When your immune system is weak, your body is less able to fight off harmful microbes and you are more vulnerable to the common cold, flu and other infections.
Additionally, sugar intake is linked to vascular damage due to high blood sugar levels. This can have a negative effect on blood circulation in the body and inhibit healing of wounds and cuts.
9. Low Energy
Sugar is full of empty calories that are not providing any nutrition. Although eating sugary food gives you a quick energy boost, you will soon end up crashing and feeling fatigued.
Another reason behind feeling low in energy after eating sugar is that it causes a spike in blood sugar levels. This means your body is unable to store and absorb glucose properly, thus depriving your cells of the fuel they need to give you energy. This can cause constant fatigue.
Eating a lot of sugar also means you are most likely not eating enough protein and fiber, which are both important nutrients for sustained energy.
A balanced and nutritious diet is needed to prevent the rollercoaster of high energy dropping to a lethargic low feeling.
10. Poor Liver Function
A diet high in sugar can also affect your liver health.
Sugar is mainly made up of glucose and fructose, both of which are metabolized in the liver and converted into lipids. When you eat more sugar, your liver has to work harder. Also, the overproduction of lipids can further affect your liver function.
Plus, the spike in insulin in the body due to sugar intake can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver. In fact, it can increase the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Hepatology found that fructose consumption is a risk factor for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
A later 2013 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology also found that fructose is a key player in the development of fatty liver disease.
Tips to reduce your sugar intake:
- Instead of sugary drinks, opt for plain water to quench your thirst.
- Avoid foods labeled fat-free or reduced-fat. Such products are often filled with added sugar to make them taste better.
- When buying any kind of prepackaged food, always read the ingredient list for added sugars.
- Choose whole foods over processed foods that contain added sugar.
- Lead a healthier, less-stressed lifestyle to reduce your cravings for sugary foods.
- Swap sugary foods for healthier alternatives like fruits.
- Start your morning with a healthy breakfast, not one that’s loaded with sugar.