Sugar is everywhere. It’s a key ingredient in many processed foods. It hides under dozens of aliases and most of us eat far more of it than we should.
Does that mean sugar is the enemy? Not necessarily. Some sugars occur naturally in foods. For example, fructose is the sugar that occurs in fruits and gives them their sweet flavor. All carbohydrates are sugars, as well. Some sugars are good for you.
That said, added sugar is not healthy and can potentially be damaging to your health. Increasingly, researchers are looking at the health effects of a diet high in sugar. What they’re finding is enough to give anybody pause.
With that in mind, here are 10 reasons to cut back on your daily sugar intake.
#1: Sugar Causes Weight Gain
Let’s start with the best known argument against a diet that’s high in added sugar. There is a ton of research to show that eating a diet that has a lot of sugar can lead directly to weight gain.
For example, this review from 2013 found a direct correlation between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain. It looked at 32 original articles and concluded that both children and adults were more likely to gain weight when they drank sugary beverages.
Conversely, it found that people who eliminated sugary drinks from their diets experienced weight loss and a reduction in their BMIs.
#2: Reducing Sugar Intake Can Reduce Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a core factor in your risk of heart disease and strokes. Untreated high blood pressure can be dangerous – or even fatal.
The good news is that there’s evidence that reducing your sugar intake can also lower your blood pressure. A study from 2014 concluded that reducing sugar intake led to:
n A reduction in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure
n A reduction in LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol
n A reduction in triglyceride levels
The study also found that the benefits of reducing sugar increased with time. In other words, if you cut back your sugar intake now, your blood pressure and cardiac risk factors will get lower if you continue to minimize the sugar in your diet.
#3: Eating Sugar Increases Your Risk of Death from Heart Disease
Heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.) It’s important to do things that reduce your risk of heart disease regardless of your age.
A 2011 study found that high blood glucose levels were directly correlated to increased mortality in heart attack patients. That’s a clear indication that sugar intake can exacerbate heart disease.
A later study confirmed those results, concluding that most Americans eat too much sugar to be healthy, and that a diet high in sugar significantly increases the risk of dying as a result of cardiovascular disease.
#4: High Sugar Intake Has Been Linked to Brain Degeneration
Sugar has inflammatory properties, and that may be one reason that high sugar consumption has been linked to mental decline and brain degeneration.
A study from 2016 examined the impact of a high-fructose diet in mice. It found that there was a direct correlation between high fructose intake and neural degeneration in the hippocampus. That’s because they can increase oxidative stress.
It also noted that fructose intake caused an increase in levels of advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs. AGEs have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study by the same research team found that sugar intake could negatively impact learning – something that has serious implications for both children who are still in school and for adults.
Conversely, the researchers concluded that eating a healthy diet that was low in saturated fat and added sugar could benefit the brain and help protect it from degeneration.
#5: There’s a Link Between Sugar Intake and Depression
Depression is among the most common mental illnesses in the world. It affects millions of adults in the United States, as many as 7.6% of whom experience a major depressive episode in any given year. Depression has been linked to suicide, and in fact it plays a role in at least 50% of all suicide attempts.
There’s evidence that drinking sweetened beverages, such as soda and juice, can increase your risk of depression. Interestingly, the same thing is true (and even a bit higher) for beverages that are artificially sweetened. By contrast, drinking unsweetened tea or coffee was correlated to a reduced risk of depression.
Another study found a correlation between high sugar intake (in any form) and major depression. They pointed out that “correlation does not equal causation,” but noted that the issue merits further study.
#6: Sugar is Addictive
You may have heard something about sugar addiction. It’s tempting to dismiss the idea because sugar doesn’t fit into our idea of an addictive substance because it’s not a drug. However, there’s mounting evidence to suggest that for some people, sugar is more addictive than heroin.
For example, a 2005 study found that bingeing on sugar caused a release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, which is the same thing that happens to people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
A 2008 study found that rats could become addicted to sugar. It looked at four markers of addiction, including bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitization. It found that sugar had a marked impact on dopamine levels and affected opioid receptors in the brain.
It is important to note that most of the studies on sugar addiction have been animal studies. More research is needed to learn about sugar addiction in human beings, but there may be a correlation between binge eating, obesity, and sugar addiction.
#7: High Sugar Intake Can Make You Look Older Than You Are
Most of us want to look young. We want firm skin. As we age, our collagen levels naturally drop, and we get wrinkles. But as it turns out, sugar may be accelerating the process.
The advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) we mentioned earlier are the culprits. You already know that sugar intake increases AGE levels in the brain. It turns out that the same thing happens in your skin cells.
One study from 2012 found a link between diabetes and AGE levels. Since diabetes is a disease that’s caused by chronic high blood sugar and reduced insulin resistance, it should come as no surprise that there may be a link between your sugar intake and your AGE levels.
#8: Sugar May Contribute to Acne
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the diet you eat may have an impact on whether your skin breaks out. And while there are a lot of factors with acne – including hormones and genetics – it may be that reducing your sugar intake can also reduce acne outbreaks.
A study from 2015 found that there was a link between diet and acne. Specifically, it noted that eating foods with a high glycemic index (GI) increased the frequency and severity of acne in the study subjects.
#9: Reducing Sugar May Reduce Your Cancer Risk
Cancer comes in many forms and many of them are fatal. Anything we can do to decrease our risk of getting cancer is something that’s worth considering. Reducing sugar intake may be part of the solution.
One study looked at the risk of colon cancer in women. It found that both obesity and sugar intake were linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
Another study found a 53% increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer in women with a high glycemic intake. The risk was especially high in women who already had an issue with insulin resistance.
Finally, we found a study that looked at the risk of colon cancer in young men. It found a direct correlation between high sucrose intake (sucrose is table sugar) and the risk of colorectal cancer.
#10: Cutting Back on Sugar Can Give You More Energy
If you’ve ever had the experience of running out of energy in the middle of a workout or a busy workday, you know how hard it can be. As it turns out, your sugar intake may play a role in your energy levels.
We found a study from 2008 that found that eating a diet that’s high in sugar may decrease the activity of orexin cells. Orexin cells are like batteries in that they keep our metabolism going, induce wakefulness, and ensure we have the energy to do what we need to do.
Sugar’s effect on the orexin cells can lead us to feel sluggish, lazy, and sleepy. That means that eating a sugary snack to boost your energy is likely to have the opposite effect to the one you want. You’ll be better off having something that’s rich in protein and healthy fat.
Not all sugar is bad, but most of us eat far too much of it. The 10 reasons we’ve listed here should give you the incentive you need to cut back on your sugar intake – and claim the health benefits you deserve!