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 glycation 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.
Coming soon: Tips on how to reduce your intake of added sugar
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.