What are the effects of too much sugar in your diet?
Barely a day goes by when you don’t see a new article online about someone who’s changed their life by cutting out sugar from their diet. But how well do you know about the impacts sugar can have on our bodies when we consume too much? Read on as we unfold the truth about high-sugar diets.
Understanding the Effects of Sugar
When we eat, our pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which is used to drive the sugar from our blood into the cells. More insulin is needed to carry out this transportation properly, especially when we eat high-carb foods, hence the spike in blood-sugar levels after a sugary or carb-rich meal.
The spike is followed by a sharp dip an hour or two later, which can leave you craving more sugar and/or make you feel sluggish. This is why you often feel sleepy after having a donut with your afternoon brew, or why you crave sweet treats even when you’re full from the pasta dish you’ve just had for lunch.
Getting off the Blood-Sugar Rollercoaster
The diagram below shows the effects of a high-sugar diet, with the spike in blood sugar every time we eat – quickly followed by a drop and subsequent cravings.
To illustrate, imagine riding the rollercoaster all day; you start by eating a carb-heavy meal, which causes your blood-sugar to jump, resulting in a release of insulin. A few hours after the meal, your blood sugar dips and you’re left with a craving for more sugar as well as other after-effects like tiredness. If this happens regularly, your body will struggle to keep up with the carb intake and start to store unprocessed carbs as body fat, especially with the typical UK diet already consisting of more carbs than the body can burn.
Cutting Back on Carbs
Should you cut all carbs? The short answer is ‘no’, because complex carbohydrates contain many nutrients and have high fibre content that we wouldn’t recommend cutting them out entirely. Sugar, however, has no nutritional value, so it’s safe to cut out completely, or at least cut back as much as possible. This will stabilise your blood-sugar levels, leave hunger pangs in the past and improve your mood and energy levels.
Sticking to the Recommended Daily Intake
Sugar is undoubtedly addictive; the more we consume, the more we crave – and unfortunately, more and more people are getting into the habit of eating high-sugar foods regularly, which can cause us to pile on weight and can even threaten our health. Eating sugar 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 that can lead to ‘insulin resistance’ and even Type 2 Diabetes.
The World Health Organisation recommends six teaspoons or fewer of added sugar a day for optimal health. (One teaspoon equals around four grams.) So if you’re looking to lose weight, then cutting sugar would be a great start. Equally, I’d recommend reducing your sugar intake if you simply want to improve your health in general.
Learning to Read Labels
Remember that sugar comes in the forms of soft drinks, sweets, pastries and desserts, but it can also be found hidden in everyday food items like sauces, cereals and yoghurts. To keep a check on the amount of sugar you’re eating, make sure that you’re checking the ‘of which sugars’ part of the nutrition label as well as the ingredients list for added sugar, which can be labelled as one of over 60 names, such as sucrose, dextrose, maltose, and corn syrup, to name a few.
Quick tip: The higher up the ingredients list ‘sugar’ is, the more sugar the food has.
Food labelling can help us make an informed decision when choosing between products, but understanding the labels can be difficult. To simplify the process, you can download the Change4Life Be Food Smart app (for free) – which you can use to scan food labels and instantly have their sugar contents in the palm of your hand. This can seem like a chore at first but soon you’ll become ‘sugar smart’ and learn the sugar contents in your favourite foods by heart.