10 Signs You Are Eating Too Much Sugar

By Elizabeth Lilian
10 Signs You Are Eating Too Much Sugar

Everyone knows too much sugar is bad for them. But did you know that sugar actually plays an important role in our body? Technically, sugar is a carbohydrate and energy source when it’s included in our diet. There are several different kinds though, like glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose. In order to avoid the health problems that can stem from eating too much sugar, it’s important to be able to make the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

Sugar is usually used as a word to describe sweet, processed food, but it can actually be found in most foods and beverages. Sugar occurs naturally in things like fruit, vegetables, honey and dairy, while it’s added to other things like bread, cakes, yogurt, pies, muesli bars, snack foods and more.

While it can be part of a healthy diet if it’s eaten in moderation, most people err on the side of overindulgence. And if you’re one of those people who think they eat too much sugar, how can you tell? Here are the 10 most obvious signs you’re eating too much of the sweet stuff.

1. Weight Gain

Weight gain is likely to be one of the first and most obvious signs that you’re eating too much sugar. This is because sugar is uniquely fattening to the human body. It’s composed of two molecules – glucose and fructose. Glucose can be made from our bodies, and when it’s ingested it’s metabolized by every cell in our body and turned into energy. Fructose, however, can only be metabolized by the liver.

While healthy, active individuals are able to ingest and metabolize fructose easily because their liver turns it into glycogen – a large molecule that enables our body to store glucose for later use – the majority of us already have enough glycogen in our livers, and our bodies turn the fructose into fat instead.

It’s important to note that all fructose isn’t inherently ‘evil’, even though it might sound like it. Fructose is harmful only in excess. Eating small amounts of fructose when it’s found in fruit will not cause harm, unless you’ve been advised by healthcare professionals to minimize your fruit intake or you are a diabetic.

If you notice you’re gaining too much weight, it’s important to take steps to reverse it. Substitute processed food for real foods like fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, limit foods that contain sodium (salt), cut out all sugary beverages like energy drinks and sodas, and aim to get enough exercise like talking a half an hour walk before dinner. The aerobic activity will increase your metabolism and motivation, making you less likely to have seconds or thirds with dinner and more likely to go for a walk again the next day.

2. Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive, chronic condition wherein the body becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which causes a person’s blood sugar levels to be too high. Insulin plays an important role in the body by ensuring blood sugar levels don’t get too high or too low, and enabling the body to utilize the glucose (sugar) that is ingested through foods like carbohydrates. When type 2 diabetes occurs in the body, the ability to produce enough insulin is gradually lost. It’s not known exactly what causes type 2 diabetes, but it’s widely associated with lifestyle factors, like an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, as well as genetic factors.

There are two types of diabetes and type 2 is by far the most common, representing 85–90 percent of all adult cases. It develops slowly over many years and as such, it’s usually seen in adults over 45 years of age. Symptoms often include excessive hunger and thirst, increased and/or frequent urination, fatigue and blurred vision. There are also several serious complications that can stem from type 2 diabetes. These include kidney disease, blindness, amputation, depression, sexual dysfunction, pregnancy complications and dementia.

Sugar is believed to be quite strongly tied to the development of type 2 diabetes, though there is still conjecture about the direct link between the two. It’s thought that high amounts of processed sugars in the diet can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn leads to type 2 diabetes, while unhealthy diets also contribute to obesity; another precursor to type 2 diabetes.

While type 2 diabetes is a serious condition, it can be both prevented and managed in various ways like eating a healthy diet, maintaining a regular exercise regime and monitoring blood glucose levels regularly. Unfortunately, sometimes these methods are not successful in keeping the blood glucose levels down, which means that as time goes on, the body will grow more and more resistant to insulin. Discussing further options with your healthcare professional is imperative in order to maintain control and decide on the correct path of treatment.

3. Poor Oral Health

Poor oral health can affect not only your confidence but your overall health as well. There are many different symptoms of poor oral health such as bad breath (halitosis), inflamed and bleeding gums, loose teeth and a dry mouth.

Poor oral health can be caused by a number of different things, like a diet filled with highly acidic and sugary foods, smoking, excessive alcohol and lack of a proper dental care routine. If poor oral health isn’t tended to it can grow worse and progress to periodontitis, which can be much harder to treat. Poor oral health has also been linked to a variety of much more serious conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, premature birth in infants and even arthritis.

Sugar is believed to play a large role in the development of gum disease and other oral health issues. The human mouth is naturally full of hundreds of beneficial bacteria, but there are certain types of bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food we eat, creating a type of acid that slowly eats away at the enamel on the teeth. Over time, this creates cavities which, if left untreated, can progress deep into the layers of the tooth, causing pain and potential loss of teeth.

If you’re noticing your oral health is on the decline, take a look at your diet and lifestyle. Avoid things like smoking and consuming too much alcohol, but most importantly, cut down on sugar and incorporate more vegetables, fruits, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. The vitamins and minerals found in these foods will help strengthen your teeth and gums, and with the proper steps, you can slowly reverse any signs of damage.

4. Mood Swings

Aside from the physical health problems that come from eating too much sugar, it can also negatively affect your mental health. You may have heard of a ‘sugar high’, but what goes up must come down, and when you ingest a lot of sugar, that high turns into a low. This crash has the potential to exacerbate mood disorders like mood swings, depression and even schizophrenia. Sugar is also believed to worsen symptoms of anxiety in sufferers, with the sugar high and subsequent crash causing shaking, tension and headaches.

When sugar is consumed it activates taste receptors in the tongue and sends signals to the brain, which lights up the reward pathways and stimulates the release of dopamine and other ‘feel-good’ hormones. It’s healthy to indulge in the sweet stuff every now and then, but over-stimulating the reward system can trigger a chain of events that can lead to an inability to control consumption, sugar cravings and an increased tolerance to its effects.

According to Mark Hyman, MD, in his bestselling book The Ultramind Solution, he states, “Sugar causes inflammation. The insulin-resistant fat cells you pack on when you eat too much sugar produces nasty inflammation messages (cytokines) … spreading their damage to the brain.” In fact, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that when a number of participants were given a diet of whole foods compared to a number of participants given a diet of processed foods, they were more likely to have a 26 percent reduction in the risk of depression, while their unhealthy counterparts experienced a 58 percent increased risk of depression.

If you notice you’re experiencing mood swings, brain fog, irritability or other issues, try cutting back on the sugar. While you might experience some withdrawal symptoms at first, like headaches, fatigue and light-headedness, these feelings will soon pass. If sugar is, in fact, the root cause of your mood issues, they should subside after you abstain. If your mood issues continue, however, it can be prudent to visit your healthcare professional for further testing.

5. Heart Problems

Heart problems is a very broad term that can apply to a variety of cardiovascular issues. Conditions like angina, which is pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart doesn’t receive enough blood and oxygen; heart attack, which is a sudden and complete blockage of one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart; and coronary heart disease, whereby the arteries become narrower, causing a reduction of blood flow.

Treatment plans for heart conditions vary depending on the cause, but generally the goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms and reduce risk factors that can lead to severe complications. Lifestyle changes are hugely important when treating heart conditions, and if these changes are implemented early enough it can often be enough to treat the condition with great success.

Smoking, obesity, eating an unhealthy diet, consuming too much alcohol and not getting enough exercise are, of course, the most important lifestyle changes to make if you’re at risk of heart problems. The consumption of added sugars can raise blood pressure and stimulates the liver, causing it to eject harmful fats into the bloodstream, both of which contribute to the risk of heart disease.

To avoid the risk of heart problems entirely, it’s important to undertake a healthy lifestyle, a key part of which is culling the added sugars in your diet. The trick is to know where they’re hiding, because they can also be found in foods labeled as ‘low-fat’, ‘healthy’ and even ‘organic’. Become familiar with deciphering the nutritional labels on food, and take note of the sugars, preservatives and additives found within.

6. Poor Memory

Growing research has linked a diet heavy in sugar to an increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. While the connection between the brain and sugar consumption has been a relatively accepted theory for some time, recent research has made this theory even more convincing. One study conducted at Boston University School of Medicine found that, out of over 4,200 people, those who consumed a higher amount of sweetened drinks had a reduction in their overall brain volume and poorer memory.

Another study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke found that those with a similarly high consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks had an increased risk of suffering stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While these studies don’t necessarily confirm the link between sugar and loss of cognitive function, they are profound enough to make people think twice before ingesting too much sugar.

As Sudha Seshadri, Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, says: “It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t seem to help.”

A sugary beverage is alright to enjoy every once in awhile but, as with all unhealthy foods, they’re best to consume in moderation. They have no protein, fiber or other nutritional qualities, and are just as bad for the brain as they are for the rest of our body. So if you’re tempted to quench your thirst, the best thing you can do is enjoy a glass of water or a herbal tea instead.

7. Skin Problems

Skin problems is an umbrella term for a variety of different issues, caused by a variety of different things. Common skin problems are redness, itchy and dry skin (dermatitis), acne, cold sores, tinea, warts, hives, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. Some of these conditions, like dermatitis and tinea, can be successfully treated by over the counter creams and medications, while other skin conditions, like psoriasis, are unable to be cured and can only be managed instead.

Depending on the condition, things like environmental factors, stress, hormonal changes, genes, lifestyle choices, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and cosmetics can wreak havoc on your skin. Eating an imbalanced, nutritionally poor diet is a big factor when dealing with skin problems, as it can cause inflammation, oxidative stress and collagen damage.

A diet lacking in essential vitamins and minerals, plus eating foods that are too high in fats and sugars, is the quickest way to a cloudy complexion. Foods like white bread, soda and other things that contain refined sugar, stimulate a rapid increase in insulin levels, leading to a flare-up of inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation causes sagging skin, wrinkles and other premature signs of aging, and exacerbates conditions like acne and rosacea.

To take better care of your skin, remove all the white bread, fried food, ice cream, pizza, packaged snacks, fruit juice and anything containing excess or added sugars from your diet. Focus on eating complex carbohydrates like fibrous vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and brown rice, and include a lot of healthy fats like avocado, lean protein like salmon and other fish and fruits that contain antioxidants like blueberries and cranberries.

8. Getting Sick Frequently

It can be frustrating to get sick frequently, especially if you don’t know what’s causing it. Sickness is one of the signs our body gives us that something isn’t quite right. So if you find that you’re falling ill more often than you’d like, one of the first things you should look at is your diet. A diet too high in sugar, whether consumed through food or drink, can actually weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness like cold and flu.

Eighty percent of the immune system is found within the digestive tract, and rather than being one single body part, it’s actually made up of millions of microscopic organisms and cells that work to protect the body. When invasion occurs from viruses, bacteria, fungi and other pathogens, white blood cells are produced that essentially attack and kill the pathogens to stop them from spreading.

The immune system requires proper nutrients in order to function properly, and when too much sugar and unhealthy food is introduced into the body it results in an overload of bad bacteria which causes an imbalance that can result in sickness, allergic reactions, eczema and other inflammatory conditions.

A common side effect of many illnesses is a loss of appetite, though it’s important to ensure you eat a healthy, balanced diet – especially when you’re unwell. So to give your immune system a much-needed boost, put down the sugar and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables instead, like oranges, grapefruit, lemons, carrots, papaya, garlic, pineapple and ginger, as well as yogurt, oats, chicken soup and drinking lots of herbal tea.

9. Low Energy

Low energy (or fatigue) can be a symptom of many things such as stress, lack of sleep, iron deficiencies, kidney disease, thyroid issues, depression, lack of physical activity and even dehydration. But one of the most common things that causes chronic low energy is a poor diet. Specifically, too much sugar.

The state of your diet has a lot to do with your energy levels. When we eat a healthy, balanced diet that contains whole foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins and healthy oils, our body is adequately fueled and makes us feel as though we’ve got an endless, steady supply of energy. But if our diet is filled with things like candy, soda, fried foods and things that contain refined sugar, we get quick bursts of energy paired with periods of listlessness and fatigue.

The rapid rise of energy that we get from a sugary snack might feel great at the time, but it fades just as quickly, leaving us craving more sugar in order to get that energy back. This creates a cycle of peaks and lows that can make us feel worse and worse, and it can be a hard cycle to break.

If you feel that sugar is the cause of your constant feelings of tiredness, start by reducing the amount you eat. Snack on healthy meals (like fruit or a handful of nuts) every few hours to give your body a steady supply of nutrients and keep you from feeling too hungry, which can lead to sugar binges. You might feel exhausted and irritable at first, but by slowly replacing sugary foods with healthy ones, your energy will pick back up and you’ll end up feeling even better than before.

10. Poor Liver Function

The liver is a big part of the body’s digestive system, with the all-important job of filtering absolutely everything you ingest (from food, drink and even medicine). It cleanses the blood, getting rid of any harmful byproducts that are created in the body, produces a liquid known as bile, which assists in the breaking down and proper digestion of food, and it stores glucose with the aim of giving us a quick energy burst if needed.

Having a poor or sluggish liver function can limit the body’s ability to digest and detoxify, leading to symptoms like indigestion, nausea, burping, bloating, imbalanced blood sugar, weight gain, low energy, headaches and skin problems. Because the liver filters everything we ingest, any toxins like alcohol and drugs as well as fatty, sugary foods, put an enormous strain on it, eventually leading to a decline in performance.

There are many things you can do to make sure your liver is working at its best. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, don’t smoke tobacco or any other substances, don’t take drugs, eat a nutritionally balanced diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your intake of certain medications that can have a negative effect on the liver and avoid being around dangerous chemicals like some cleaning products, pesticides and aerosol products.

If you think your diet is too high in sugar, don’t despair. By slowly changing your diet and lifestyle to incorporate healthier choices, you’ll give your body time to rest and repair any damage caused by unhealthy choices. And remember: you don’t need to cut out all the good stuff – it’s fine to indulge sometimes, as long as it’s done in moderation.

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