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Impact of Excess Sugar

Learn why you should keep sugar at a minimum and steps to reduce it in your diet in a sustainable way.

Impact of Excess Sugar

According to the CDC3 in 5 Americans aged two years and older exceed the recommendation to consume less than 10% of their total daily calories from added sugars on a given day. The majority of sources of sugar come from sugary drinks (also known as sugar-sweetened beverages - think cola, juice, and sweetened coffee drinks) and foods such as desserts and candy. The CDC warns that too much sugar may put you at risk for weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. But this may be just the tip of the sugar-laden iceberg so common in the standard American diet.

Here are ten more of the latest research reasons to keep sugar at a minimum.

  1. Daily Sugar teaches our brain to crave more of it.

A 2023 study found that having sugar on a daily basis can alter the brain's reward pathways. This study proved why it's so hard to eat one cookie for example and feel satisfied. The hormonal triggers from eating sugar may prompt the brain to tell us to  instead eat the entire bag of cookies.

  1. Excess sugar may negatively alter our microbiome.

A 2022 animal study found that excess sugar could impact gut health, increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome and accompanying diseases. Diets high in sugar may also be replacing gut-healthy dietary components such as fiber and fermented foods.

  1. Excess sugar may impact brain health.

Another study examining gut health found that changes due to high sugar intake could alter "cognitive flexibility" – describing how the brain adapts to new ideas, facts, and situations related to a changing environment.

  1. Too much sugar may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A study in women found that having one or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily increased cardiovascular disease risk by 20%. Specific consumption of sugar-sweetened fruit juices increased the risk by 42%.

  1. Excess sugar may put you in a bad mood.

A 2019 study reviewed the existing data, and concluded that consuming excess high glycemic carbohydrates like sugar drained energy and could negatively impact mood. Other studies have linked excess sugar consumption to adverse mental health outcomes.

  1. Sugar from sugary drinks may increase the risk of prediabetes.

A 2016 study found that having excess sugary beverages could increase the risk for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The authors of the study noted that a potential pathway in which excess sugar could lead to the progression of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes was through an increase in fat in the liver and adipose tissue. This increase in fat could potentially alter insulin signaling.

  1. Too much sugar may lead to an increased risk of inflammation.

A 2022 study found that having excess sugar in the diet could lead to a cascade of immune function changes that may increase the risk for inflammatory-based diseases such as autoimmune conditions.

  1. Excess of sugary drinks could increase the risk of hyperlipidemia.

Sugary drinks have been associated in one study with an increased risk of abnormal lipid values. The study found that excess fruit juice could lead to a decrease in HDL (the good cholesterol) and an increase in triglycerides (the fat in our blood), leading to an overall increase in heart disease risk.

  1. Too much sugar may impact skin health.

While many studies have pointed to the harm that excess dietary sugars can play in bodily organs we can’t see (such as your heart), there is also data on an organ you can see – your skin. One study in mice found that too much sugar in the diet could increase the risk of skin inflammation and skin conditions such as psoriasis.

  1. Excess sugar could increase mortality from cardiovascular disease.

A study by the American Medical Association found that the greater the amount of sugar in the diet, the greater the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Taking steps to reduce sugar in your diet

A sugar reduction plan may be helpful if you are eating or drinking too many calories with added sugars. One of the best ways to slash sugar content is to eliminate or limit any calories from sugar-sweetened beverages, such as cola, juice, and sweetened coffee and tea beverages. Another option is only to consume sweetened foods that come from nature in their original form. For example, instead of having apple juice, eat an apple. The key here is to convert any juice in your diet to whole fruit, as they contain other nutrients that can potentially offset the negative impact of the sugars.

Another tactic is to change how you look at sweet treats such as candy, cookies, and cake, making them a "once in a while" type food or finding alternatives to your favorite high-sugar treats. Finally, focus on nutrient density in your diet at least 80% of the time, opting for healthy fats, lots of non-starchy vegetables, moderate amounts of intact grains, lean sources of protein, and low glycemic load fruits.

Working with a Registered Dietitian may also help in making dietary behavior changes sustainable over time.