Surprising Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar & How To Fix It

Problem: Your Joints Are Stiff and Sore Research suggests that sugar is very bad for your joints. Sugar triggers inflammation, which can cause soreness and stiffness… Aisha Abdullah - March 29, 2023

In small doses, sugar is a delicious treat and a way to add flavor to food and drink. But too much sugar is very bad for your health. Excess sugar is associated with inflammation, weight gain, and an increased risk of chronic diseases. So, how much sugar is too much? Most experts recommend a maximum of between 24 and 50 grams of sugar (around 9 to 12 teaspoons) daily. Maybe that sounds like way more sugar than you eat, but most people severely underestimate how much sugar they consume. It’s estimated that the average American eats around 34 teaspoons of sugar per day. If you’re one of the millions of people who eat more sugar than you should, you might experience some of these surprising side effects.

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Problem: You Feel Sluggish And Can’t Focus

You might think that eating a lot of sugar will give you a rush of energy. In reality, a sure sign that you’ve had too much sugar is the crash you feel shortly after eating. The so-called sugar crash leaves you feeling tired and less alert than usual. The crash is caused by a sudden drop in blood glucose levels, also called blood sugar. When you eat, your body breaks carbohydrates down to their simplest form, the sugar glucose. Eating a lot of sugar will cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly.

In response, your body starts churning out insulin to move glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it can be used as energy. But too much insulin causes blood sugar to drop below normal levels, causing a sugar crash. This phenomenon is also called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Studies show that people felt sluggish and less alert an hour after eating sugar.

Nunu Chocolates

Fix: Opt For Complex Carbs To Avoid a Sugar Crash

Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple and complex. Simple carbs are sugars, which are broken down to glucose quickly. Eating simple carbs can cause a sudden spike in glucose followed by a crash. By contrast, complex carbs include fiber and starch and take much longer for the body to digest. That makes them much less likely to cause a sugar crash. Simple carbs include table sugar, candy, baked goods, juice, soda, and some processed foods like sweetened yogurt.

Complex carbs are found in fiber and fruit, whole grain bread, legumes, potatoes, and corn. These foods will leave you feeling full longer than simple carbs and provide you with vital nutrients. Even complex carbs like fruit that are high in sugar are unlikely to cause a crash because they are packed with fiber that slows down digestion. For example, apples have nearly 9 times the fiber as a glass of fruit juice.


Problem: You’re Always Hungry and Have Intense Sugar Cravings

If it feels like your sweet tooth is insatiable, you might not be too far off track. Eating sugar activates the part of your brain that responds to rewarding things—think sex, drugs, and alcohol—giving you a rush of dopamine. Like with these other rewards, you may start to crave the rush and want more and more sugar to satisfy your cravings. Additionally, because simple sugars like those found in candy and soda are digested quickly, you might get hunger pangs sooner after eating sweets than more filling foods. Finally, sugar can also disrupt the hormone leptin, which signals to your brain that you’re full. One study found that a high-sugar diet made mice less sensitive to leptin signaling. In other words, the more sugar the mice ate, the less full they felt.


Fix: How To Fight Sugar Cravings

So, how do you conquer your sweet tooth? Mixing sugary snacks with more substantial foods can satisfy your craving while reducing hunger later. If you’re trying to prevent sugar cravings before they happen, try eating small, filling meals and snacks throughout the day. You’re much more likely to overindulge on sweets when you’re hit with sudden hunger pangs.

When you crave sugar, reach for fruit as a healthy way to help tame a sweet tooth. If that’s not sweet enough for you, try pairing fruit or nuts with chocolate or drizzling honey over plain Greek yogurt. The extra fiber and protein will keep you feeling full longer without sacrificing your sugar fix. Chewing gum or sucking on a piece of hard candy can help reduce cravings.


Problem: Sweet Foods Don’t Taste As Sweet Anymore

A funny thing happens when you start to cut sugar from your diet: sweet foods start tasting sweeter. You’ve probably experienced this phenomenon without even realizing it. Think about what happens when you take a sip of orange juice after eating a pastry. That bitter taste results from your taste bud’s inability to taste slightly sweet after tasting very sweet. Your brain recognizes and adjusts to tastes as you eat.

After eating something super sweet, your brain expects the same taste, which makes the juice register as much less sweet or even sour. This is also why sweeter wines are typically paired with desserts. Over time, eating tons of sugary foods will make your brain continuously perceive foods as slightly less sweet than they really are. One study found that rats on a high-sugar diet for four weeks had reduced sugar sensitivity. Fortunately, the researchers found that the effect could be reversed by switching back to a normal, low-sugar diet.


Fix: Find Healthy Ways To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

If you notice that sweet foods don’t taste as sweet, it might be necessary to recalibrate your taste buds. Reducing sugar in your diet doesn’t need to be a painful experience. Try substituting sugary snacks with healthier alternatives. Dark chocolate has less sugar than milk or white chocolate but doesn’t lack flavor. Frozen berries, grapes, mangos, and pomegranates are sweet enough to keep your cravings at bay without overpowering your taste buds.

The Medjool date is one of the sweetest fruits, so sweet it is often used as a sugar substitute in recipes. It’s a deliciously sweet treat that’s loaded with fiber and potassium. Pair fresh fruit with yogurt, cheese, nuts, or seeds for a nutrient-packed sweet treat. Roasted, baked, or air-fried carrots or sweet potatoes make unconventional sweet snacks that are nutrient-dense and filling.


Problem: You Have Trouble Falling and Staying Asleep

There’s an old myth that sugar makes people, especially children, hyperactive. While that isn’t true, sugar can give you a short-lived burst of energy followed by a crash caused by changing glucose levels. These blood sugar fluctuations may also make it difficult for you to fall asleep. In a large study, middle-aged women who had diets high in sugar were more likely to develop sleeping problems like insomnia. Added refined sugar like that in many baked goods and soda had more of an effect on sleep than natural sugars in fruit and other unprocessed food. Another study found that healthy people who ate high-fat diets had poorer quality sleep than those who ate less sugar and more fiber.


Fix: Read Labels To Find Hidden Sugar That Could Cause Sleep Issues

Reducing your sugar consumption could help you get a better night’s sleep. While you might be thinking of cutting candy and cookies, refined sugar can pop up in some surprising places. When you’re trying to reduce sugar, be sure to read nutrition labels to check for “hidden” sugars. Some names for sugar that may appear on ingredient lists are:

  • Anything ending in “ose”: dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, sucrose, lactose, galactose
  • Syrups: high-fructose corn syrup, golden syrup, honey, molasses, agave nectar, rice syrup, malt syrup
  • Granulated sugars: ethyl maltol, maltodextrin, dextrin, sucanat

Another important tip: You shouldn’t just look for added sugar in desserts. Most processed foods have refined sugar added to them. Breakfast cereals are often loaded with sugar, including “healthy” choices like cornflakes and raisin bran. Many condiments like ketchup, barbeque sauce, and salad dressings have high sugar content. And don’t forget the drinks. Juice, sports drinks, soda, and alcoholic cocktails are all major sources of sugar that may go unnoticed.


Problem: Your Moods Are All Over The Place

Sugar has a powerful impact on the brain. So, it’s not surprising that eating too much can wreck your mood. Some studies have found that high glucose levels cause affect hormones and mood. Others show that sugar crashes are associated with moodiness. In the long term, several studies suggest that there may be a link between high-sugar diets and depression and other mood disorders. One study found that women with high sugar intake had the highest rates of depression, while women with low sugar intakes had the lowest. The exact cause of this is unknown.

High sugar consumption is associated with inflammation, which is linked to depression risk. Eating sugar also affects the cells that release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that brain cells use to communicate, that plays an important role in mental health. Some simple sugars, including glucose and fructose, can also affect the production of BDNF, a molecule that is critical to brain function. Low BDNF levels are associated with depression.


Fix: Track Your Sugar Intake and Mood In Journal Or App

If you’re worried sugar might be affecting your mood, you can start monitoring how much sugar you consume. Experts recommend that added sugar should make up less than 6 percent of your total calories. Many people are shocked to discover just how much sugar they eat and drink unwittingly. To keep track of your sugar intake, carefully read labels for sugar content and record what you eat in a journal.

Food tracker apps typically have log sugar content if you’d prefer not to do your calculations or decipher the contents of unlabeled foods. This will allow you to determine how much sugar is in your diet, where it’s coming from, and whether there’s an association between your moods and your sugar consumption. A short-term sugar log may just be the push you need to reduce sugar for the good of your mental health.

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Problem: Your Blood Pressure is Creeping Up

What foods should you avoid to prevent high blood pressure? If you’re thinking of fried and salty foods, you’re only half right. It turns out that sugar intake may be just as important as salt consumption for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Insulin and glucose levels affect the blood vessels’ ability to open. Refined sugar is believed to be a major contributor to high blood pressure. One study linked sugary drinks and high blood pressure. Another found that reducing sugar intake had even more of an impact on blood pressure than reducing salt. The simple sugar fructose plays a role in blocking the production of a molecule necessary to widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure.


Fix: Reduce High-Fructose Corn Syrup In Your Diet

Because blood sugar levels impact blood pressure, there are many dietary choices that promote both. Fructose is a type of sugar associated with high blood pressure that is present in many processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Although high-fructose corn syrup isn’t less healthy than other types of sugars, its hidden presence in foods can result in a higher overall consumption of sugar. Crackers, lunch meat, peanut butter, prepared pasta sauce, canned soup, yogurt, and white bread are just some of the foods that contain sweeteners. Here are some ways to reduce the amount of high-fructose corn syrup in your diet:

  • Read labels for high-fructose corn syrup or its other names: glucose-fructose, isoglucose, and glucose-fructose syrup.
  • Limit consumption of processed foods.
  • Choose fresh whole foods whenever possible.
  • Pick whole-grain bread over white.
  • Skip sugary drinks like sodas, juice, and flavored milk
  • Try cooking and baking so you know exactly what’s in your food.

Problem: You’re Constantly Battling Brain Fog

Our bodies use glucose for energy, and the brain uses around 20 percent more than any other organ. As important as glucose is for brain function, it’s still possible to have too much of a good thing. Most people need far less sugar in their diet than they consume. When you eat too much sugar and cause a spike in blood sugar, you may end up with brain fog.

Brain fog is an unofficial way of describing a feeling of struggling to focus and think clearly. Many things cause brain fog, including not getting enough sleep, mild dehydration, certain medications, and sugar crashes. In addition, the fluctuations in glucose levels that result from eating sugar can negatively impact your cognition. Managing your blood sugar levels by avoiding added sugars and simple carbohydrates may help you avoid brain fog.


Fix: Cut Added Sugar For Your Brain’s Health

By now, it should be clear that sugar has a profound, mind-altering impact on the brain. Sugar consumption activates the brain’s reward center and fuels cravings in a similar way as drugs and alcohol. It dampens the effect of hunger-suppressing hormones in the brain. It affects levels of important brain molecules and may be linked to mental health conditions. And, as people who have eliminated sugar from their diet will tell you, quitting sugar can actually cause withdrawal.

Sugar withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but the benefits to your physical and mental health are worth it. Some symptoms of sugar withdrawal include headache, irritability, and intense cravings. These symptoms pass quickly. Reducing sugar gradually will make the process easier and give your brain a break from the harmful effects of excessive sugar.


Problem: You Feel Gassy and Bloated

Excessive sugar is no friend to the gut. High sugar consumption is associated with increased absorption of water in the intestines, which can cause bloating. Sugar in the gut can also ferment, causing gas to build up in the intestines. Fermented sugar is a perfect food source for “bad” bacteria in the gut microbiome. The microbiome is a delicate balance of microorganisms, including trillions of bacteria, in our gut that keep us healthy.

Anything that throws the microbiome off balance can cause unfortunate health consequences. Some research suggests that processed foods high in sugar and fat can affect the gut microbiome’s composition. One study found that fructose disrupts the mice’s microbiome. Another found similar results in rats. In both cases, too much sugar changed the balance of good and bad gut bacteria. But research in humans is limited.


Fix: Think Twice Before Swapping Sugar for Artificial Sweeteners

Before you reach for artificial sweeteners as a healthier alternative to sugar, you should know that these products can cause some of the same gastrointestinal issues as added sugar. Sugar alcohols like sorbitol are not easily absorbed into the intestines, causing gas and bloatingTere’se’s also evidence that popular non-caloric artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose can disrupt the gut microbiome in mice. In humans, this can result in gas, bloating, and other more serious intestinal issues. As with sugar, the consumption of artificial sweeteners is best in moderation.


Problem: Your Skin is Aging Prematurely

If you’re noticing more wrinkles and other signs of aging earlier than you expected, your diet might be to blame. Excess sugar intake causes the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGES are proteins involved in the formation of collagen, the protein that builds our skin and muscles. As you age, collagen production decreases, resulting in skin sagging and wrinkles.

Research suggests that diets high in sugar increase the number of AGEs in the body, which may speed up the skin aging process. Sugar is also known to damage elastin, another protein important for keeping skin firm and youthful. In addition to the effects on aging, excess sugar consumption can cause inflammation and disrupt gut bacteria, which can cause skin conditions like eczema to flare up.


Fix: Opt For More Skin-Friendly Foods

Limiting the added sugar in your diet may help you reduce AGEs and aging. Bread with no added sugar, low-sugar foods, and whole foods are good dietary choices to promote healthy skin aging. These are some best things you can eat or drink for your skin.

  • Water keeps your skin bright and moisturized. Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your skin.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with skin-healthy nutrients like vitamins C and A. Why you’re eating for your skin, ycan’tn’t do better than citrus, berries, broccoli, carrots, and leafy greens.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid promotes skin health by reducing inflammation and damage. Although fatty fish like tuna and mackerel are the best sources, the nutrient can also be found in nuts, seeds, and plant oils.
  • Soy and soy products contain estrogen, which can promote skin health after menopause.

Problem: Your Joints Are Stiff and Sore

Research suggests that sugar is very bad for your joints. Sugar triggers inflammation, which can cause soreness and stiffness of injured, aging, or arthritic joints. As with aging skin, sugar increases the age-promoting AGEs in joint tissue. This speeds up the joint aging process and makes them more vulnerable to damage. Sugar also plays a role in muscle contractions. High-sugar diets are associated with decreased regulation of muscle relaxation, which can lead to muscle spasms and nerve damage. Muscles help support and protect joints. Joints are more susceptible to injury if the muscles supporting them are damaged or not functioning properly.


Fix: Choose Foods That Reduce Inflammation

One of the biggest downsides of sugar consumption is that it causes inflammation, which is associated with a host of chronic diseases. Inflammation can also worsen existing diseases and symptoms like joint pain. Diets low in sugar can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health. A low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet includes:

  • Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
  • Green leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli
  • Fresh fruit, including berries and citrus
  • Nuts, seeds and beans
  • Plant oils like olive and perilla oil
  • High-fiber foods like whole grains and legumes

Additionally, anti-inflammatory diets should limit alcohol, an often-forgotten sugar source. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can cause a spike in blood sugar and inflammation.


Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Everyday Health – 12 Potential Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar

Healthy Women – 9 Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar

Medical News Today – Eating too much sugar: Effects and symptoms

Harpers Bazaar – 7 Signs You’re eating too much sugar

Self – 8 You’re Eating Too Much Sugar

Health Shots – Are you eating too much sugar? Here are 8 tell-tale signs to look out for

Healthier Steps – Warning Signs That You’re Eating Too Much Sugar

Insider – 9 secret signs you’re eating way too much sugar