What are the effects of too much sugar in your diet?

 You’ve probably heard about the effects of sugar in the body and barely a day goes by when there’s not an article online about someone who’s changed their life by cutting out sugar. So what really are the effects of sugar, when we consume too much?

Firstly, it’s important to know how the body reacts to sugar. When we eat a food our pancreas releases insulin which is used to shuttle the sugar from our blood into cells, this is more apparent when we eat high carb foods as more insulin is needed for proper transportation. So, immediately following a sugary/carb rich food, blood sugar levels spike.

This is followed by a sharp dip an hour or two later which can make us crave more sugar and also leave us feeling tired and grumpy. This is why you often feel very sleepy if you have a doughnut with your afternoon brew, or if you have a pasta dish for lunch you tend to crave something sweet in the afternoon even though you’re full.

This image shows the effects of a high sugar diet, with the spike in blood sugar every time we eat – quickly followed by a crash and subsequent cravings.

Now this is fine every so often but if this is your daily eating pattern then your body is constantly being taxed by this high sugar intake and this can lead to ‘insulin resistance’ and even to Type II Diabetes.  There's no doubt that sugar is highly addictive: the more we eat it, the more we want and it's getting into this pattern of eating high sugar foods regularly that can compromise our health.

The diagram below explains it perfectly and we call this the ‘Blood Sugar Rollercoaster’.

Starting at ‘1 O’Clock’ – you eat a carb rich meal, this spikes blood sugar, which causes a release of insulin. If this happens constantly your body will start to store bodyfat, especially with the typical UK diet which has more carbs than the body burns. A few hours after the meal, blood sugar dips which causes cravings for more sugar as well as other symptoms like sleepiness.


Should you cut all carbs?

In short, no. Complex carbohydrates contain so many nutrients and fibre so don’t be tempted to cut back on carbs completely. However, sugar has no nutritional value and you could cut it out completely or, at least, cut it back as much as possible. This will stabilise blood sugar levels, hunger will go away and mood & energy levels will improve. If you’re looking to lose weight then cutting sugar is a great first step but I’d also recommend this for anyone looking to improve their health.

The World Health Organisation recommends 6 teaspoons or less of added sugar a day for optimal health. One teaspoon equals around 4 grams of sugar.

Remember that sugar comes in the form of fizzy drinks, sweets, pastries & desserts but also can be hidden in foods like sauces, cereals, yoghurts and many other foods. As well as checking the 'of which sugars' part of the nutrition label, look at the ingredients list for added sugar - it has over 60 names such as sucrose, dextrose, maltose, corn syrup etc. The higher up the ingredients list, the more sugar that food has. 

The 'Change4Life' Be food smart App is free to download and you can scan many foods and instantly get their sugar content which makes it easier than checking labels, especially if you're pushed for time. Don't get overwhelmed though, it can seem a bit undertaking to be checking labels when shopping but you'll soon become 'sugar smart' and know the foods you usually buy and how to make healthy, yet still tasty, choices

I'd love to hear from you and if you've had any success with cutting sugar from your diet, or need some help doing so! 

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Posted by Linda O'Byrne
Atkins Nutritionist