Nearly all experts agree that consuming everything in moderation—from food to exercise, and even sleep—is the key to proper health. But, if you have a sweet tooth, you might find it hard to put down just one more cookie, that piece of chocolate, or a scoop of ice cream. Well, you should, for the sake of your health. Overconsumption of added sugar (often found in processed foods) can lead to a slew of health problems. Many of these problems you may not even realize you’re at risk for. Here, we asked nutrition experts to share some of the main reasons you should stop eating sugar.
It damages and starves your cells.
Ever wonder why you suddenly feel hungry hours after snacking on a sugary treat? This isn’t your imagination—it’s actually sugar’s hold over your body. According to Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, it damages and starves your body’s cells, resulting in false hunger. One study, published in PLOS ONE, found that added sugar can damage the mitochondria in cells, or, in other words, the powerhouse of energy production in your body. “If your mitochondria are weakened or damaged, your cells will have inefficient energy production,” Kimszal says. “This leads to starved cells and causes tiredness. This also triggers your brain to think that it is hungry and causes you to overeat.”
Too much of it could lead to depression.
A cupcake with extra icing might make you feel better in the moment. However, later on, it could be the catalyst that spawns depression and many other mental disorders, according to research. One study published in Scientific Reports linked lower sugar intake to improved psychological health in men. “They were less likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other common mental disorders after five years,” explains Kimszal.
The addictive nature of sugar can give you a euphoric feeling similar to that of doing heavy drugs. Kimszal explains that when consumed, sugar releases opioids and dopamine in the brain. “This chemical response is similar to what occurs with other narcotics,” she says. “One experiment showed [that] rats experienced dopamine spikes when fed sucrose—their brains also experience[d] a state of withdrawal when the sugar was taken away.” This could indicate that sugar has an addictive property, making you want to constantly achieve that sugar high.
It can increase your risk for diabetes.
On the long list of health disorders that sugar is implicated in, two major ones are diabetes and heart disease. “We know that added sugar can lead to diabetes. A lot of people are unaware that it also plays a large role in heart disease risk,” says Kimszal. “A 15-year study by JAMA Internal Medicine showed [that] those who consumed 25 percent or more of their calories in sugar were two times as likely to die from heart disease than those that had less than ten percent added sugar in their diet. High sugar production can also lead to hypertension.” Additionally, a diet high in sugar can lead to inflammation of the blood vessels. This causes them to constrict and raise your blood pressure.
Sugars high in fructose can lead to a fatty liver.
Research likens sugar, especially the kind that results from sugars high in fructose (soda, candy, sweetened yogurts, salad dressings, canned fruits, etc.) to poison. One study led by researchers at Touro University in Vallejo, California, and UC San Francisco, analyzed the effects of a diet reduced in fructose and found that liver fat decreased by more than 20 percent. “A diet high in fructose sugars with the absence of fiber can cause the liver to break down the excess fructose. [It is turned] into fat globules, known as triglycerides,” Kimszal explains. “These are then moved to the bloodstream and deposited in the midsection and internal organs. [This becomes] what they call a ‘sugar belly.’” This, she says, can wreak havoc on your body’s hormonal balance. The consequences could be a wide variety of conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It can wreck your hormone balance.
It’s well known that sugar plays a role in throwing off insulin levels. However, it can also wreak havoc on your sex hormones, namely testosterone and estrogen. “Animal studies show that increased consumption of sugar will be converted to fat in the liver. Excess fat production has shown to shut down the sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG. [SHBG] is responsible for regulating testosterone and estrogen production in the body,” notes Kimszal. “When there is too much sugar in the diet, men tend to lose testosterone, while women’s testosterone levels can increase or decrease.”
It depletes your body of essential nutrients.
This one is perhaps one of the more scary ones. You can eat a relatively healthy diet but not reap the nutritional benefits as a result of your sugar intake. “High intakes of sugars can lead to decreases in vital nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, folate, chromium, and magnesium. High intakes of high fructose sugars can lead to calcium and vitamin D depletion weakening bones,” warns Kimszal. “Additionally, studies on chromium show this nutrient to become depleted in a diet that is high in sugar.” Like magnesium, chromium helps to stabilize blood sugar. A deficiency, coupled with high sugar intake, can lead to insulin resistance.
It contains no nutritional value.
First and foremost, we consume food for energy—we need it to keep our body running. Sugar doesn’t play a role in that since it is basically empty calories. “Sugar is quickly absorbed in the body. [This] can cause a spike and drop in blood sugar (kind of like a roller coaster), which can contribute to cravings; fatigue; or lack of energy, poor focus, moodiness, irritability, and the list goes on,” says Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, registered dietitian and chef. “Over time, this process increases insulin production in the body (to balance it out).”