You’ve probably heard that we should all consume less sugar in our diets, but why is sugar bad for you?
At the same time – sugar is found in more foods and drinks than ever before. And can something that tastes so good really be so bad for us?
Is all sugar bad for you?
The type of sugar which can be harmful to health is what is known as ‘added’ or ‘free’ sugar. This is the type of sugar which is added to foods and drinks to enhance their taste, either during the manufacturing process or by us, before we consume them.
For example, all the usual suspects including biscuits, cakes, pastries, fizzy drinks and chocolate are high in free sugars that have been added in the process of making them.
Many savoury foods are also packed with free sugar, cunningly hidden alongside the salt. When we add table sugar to our popcorn, syrup to our pancakes, or sweet chilli sauce to our salad, that also counts as free sugar.
Food manufacturers add sugar to food to boost its taste and mouthfeel. The more sugar, salt and fat is added, the better the food or drink tastes, up to a so-called ‘bliss point’ where it is as sugary, salty and fatty as it can be without negatively affecting the taste. This bliss point approach to food manufacturing, as you may have guessed, means that most processed foods are more sugary than they need to be.
Naturally-occurring sugars, such as those in fruit, vegetables and dairy products, do not count as ‘free’ sugars and it is not advisable to try to cut these out of your diet (with the exception of dairy if you’re vegan or have an allergy). This is because of the many essential nutrients that fruit and vegetables provide along with the relatively small dose of natural sugar.
Why should I give up free sugars?
They can make you fat
Sugar is very energy-dense, meaning it is high in calories. These calories have little nutritional value and serve the body only as pure energy. Sugar makes foods taste irresistible, so it’s very easy to overeat and take in too many calories, causing weight gain.
They increase your risk of disease
There is strong evidence that eating too much free sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and stroke).
They make depression and anxiety worse
Not only this, but sugar can also have a negative effect on your mood. Eating too much sweet food, beverages and added sugars in a diet has been linked with depression.
They mess with your blood sugar
Sugar is technically a carbohydrate, but unlike complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sugar is rapidly converted into pure glucose by your digestive system. This causes a sudden raise in blood sugar levels, known as a spike, in your body.
Insulin is produced after eating to help move the glucose into your body’s cells to be used as energy. Regular spikes in blood sugar caused by eating too much free sugar causes your pancreas to produce too much insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance.
They cause inflammation
Several studies have linked a high intake of dietary sugar with inflammation in the body. (2) Inflammation is more than what happens when you bang your elbow – it has serious detrimental health effects such as insulin resistance, low energy, poor sleep and libido, reduced brain function and depression.
They leave you unsatisfied
Sugar cravings are more than just a myth. Unlike fat and protein, simple carbohydrates in the form of sugar don’t lead to feelings of satiety (fullness), so we are compelled to eat more. Sugary foods also activate the reward system in our brains, releasing the happy, relaxed chemical dopamine into the body.
Want to cut down on sugar but don’t know how? Find out how to give up sugar today.
Last updated: 2 April 2020