The body needs sugar to produce energy in the form of glucose. This may cause a problem in amounts taken below or above the required amount. But how much of the sugar consumed is too much and what are the health effects of sugar? A report published by Public Health England in 2018 reveals that most people in the UK consume three times more sugar than their recommended daily sugar intake. According to the NHS, adults need less than 30 grams of sugar a day, which equates to 7 sugar cubes, which means most people eat the equivalent of 21 sugar cubes a day!
These are not just the obvious foods we should be careful about when consuming such as cakes, sweets, chocolate, alcohol and sodas. Hidden sugars are found in other foods such as supermarket bread, pasta sauces, salad dressings, breakfast cereals and ready meals. There is information on the effects of sugar on the body and related health problems.
Is Consuming Sugar Harmful?
The body needs sugar to turn into glucose used for energy production. Therefore, not all sugar consumed is harmful. However, when too much sugar is consumed through diet, refined sugar starts to cause problems. The body’s main source of energy is glucose (blood sugar) produced when it breaks down carbohydrates. Carbohydrates consist of starch, fiber, and sugar and come in two types, simple and complex.
The sugar element of carbohydrates are known as simple carbohydrates because the body quickly converts it into glucose to use for energy. This ‘hits’ our sugar but can make us energetic when the body consumes glucose. The starch and fiber in carbohydrates are known as complex carbohydrates, as the body takes longer to digest and converts from simple carbohydrates to glucose, which provides longer energy release.
Simple carbohydrates are found in both natural sugar forms found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, as well as added sugars such as granulated sugar, and sugars found in cakes, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. Complex carbohydrates are found in starch and fiber-containing foods such as bread, pasta, vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans. Eating foods high in complex carbohydrates and low in refined sugar will help keep energy levels in balance by providing the body with a slow release of glucose.
What Happens in the Body When Sugar Is Consumed?
As mentioned above, when you eat carbs, enzymes in the small intestine convert sugar into glucose. Glucose is then transported through the bloodstream to the cells, tissues and organs that need it, so it can be converted into energy and used to help the body’s cells, tissues, and organs continue to function effectively. When the body produces too much glucose due to increased sugar intake, it is stored as fat in the liver and muscles until the body needs it. However, if too much sugar is consumed than the body can use, it can lead to weight gain and other health problems. The hormone insulin plays an important role in the body by allowing cells to absorb glucose and thus regulate blood sugar levels.
How Does Consuming Too Much Sugar Affect General Health?
So, sugar in the form of simple and complex carbohydrates is known to give energy and is a necessary condition. However, when you habitually consume too much sugar in the diet, this can lead to a number of health problems. However, it is important to remember that isolating one type of food as the cause of the disease is risky and often wrong. It can lead to limiting beliefs that can result in even more unhelpful behavior, such as ‘temporary’ diets such as keto and low amounts of carbohydrates, where high amounts of protein and fat are consumed, thus cutting off the body’s main energy source.
Because sugar can be easy to overeat, it can lead to spikes in energy intake, especially if it replaces other essential nutrients. For those of us who are very sedentary, excess energy will be stored as fat over time and will lead to overweight. Being overweight and obese can lead to other conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Other health problems caused by a high sugar diet include:
Blood sugar fluctuations
Not having a healthy, balanced diet and high carbohydrates can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate. This gives you a burst of energy initially, but then causes a crash, lethargy, and hunger after eating.
Effects on cognitive function
A diet high in sugar can also have a negative effect on the brain. A new study conducted by Imperial College London and reported by Diabetes UK found that those with high blood sugar levels were more likely to suffer from poor memory and concentration as they age. The study included more than 5,000 people over the age of 50 who had their cognitive functions tested every two years over a 10-year period. The working group has a mix of participants with and without diabetes. Regardless of whether the participant had diabetes, those with high blood sugar levels performed worse on cognitive tests. This provides information that managing blood sugar levels through diet and exercise will help keep brain function in good shape.
Increased intake of processed fructose syrups, often used in snack foods, is associated with a fatty liver. Fructose is broken down by the liver instead of being taken up by the body’s cells and organs like glucose. Once fructose enters the liver, it is converted into energy or stored as glycogen, but when the glycogen stores are depleted, the excess turns into fat. This can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In the early stages, this disease usually doesn’t do you any harm, but if it goes undiagnosed or worsens, it can cause serious damage, including cirrhosis.
Mental health effects
Having an unhealthy gut without a well-balanced gut microbiome will have an impact on the brain due to the emergence of what is known as the gut-brain axis. In addition, spikes in blood sugar levels can affect our mood, making us angry, upset and miscarried. Providing a good, balanced diet to keep blood sugar levels steady and keep the gut healthy will also help improve mood. Again, this one food item is not about sugar in this case, it’s about the combination of foods consumed that will help improve mental health.
Symptoms of Too Much Sugar Consumption
The most common symptoms of eating too much sugar will be weight gain and tooth decay. Mood swings, feeling tired and increased appetite are caused by fluctuations in blood sugar levels as a result of consuming too much sugar, or from the wrong types of sugar, for example, complex carbohydrates versus simple carbohydrates. High blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycemia, can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
Increased thirst and dry mouth
Unwanted weight loss
Recurrent infections, especially bladder and skin infections
Increased need to urinate
Stomach pain, feeling or being sick
Bad breath (breath smells fruity)
Hyperglycemia is common in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Everyone needs sugar in the form of simple and complex carbohydrates to keep the body producing glucose for energy. However, an overall poor diet high in sugar, fat, and salt can contribute to poor health outcomes such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.
Ensuring that the diet has a good balance of simple and complex carbohydrates will allow your body to release energy throughout the day while keeping blood sugar levels under control, accompanied by a good exercise regimen. Avoiding spikes in blood sugar caused by eating sugary foods or consuming high-sugar drinks will help improve energy levels and mood.
Writer: Ozlem Guvenc Agaoglu