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Sugar’s Role in the Body  

Everybody loves sugar; most of us know the effects that sugar can have on the body and that we should limit how much we eat, but not many people understand exactly how bad sugar can be, or why. 

Sugar itself is not always bad, we need sugar to survive. Glucose, a type of sugar, fuels our body and serves as one of our main energy sources. We get glucose from any foods that contain carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. Consuming these foods is fine, as they also contain a lot of fiber, minerals, vitamins and more that we need, and which means we digest them slowly.

However, routinely consuming excess amounts of added sugar is bad for your health in all kinds of ways. Adding sugar to food is essentially increasing the caloric value without increasing its nutritional content. Some sugary foods have no nutritional content at all. 

Top sources of added sugar include soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in foods that you may not think of as sweet, bread, canned soups, and sauces like ketchup.

Sugar tastes great, which is why we add it to so many things. Because of this, added sugar or pure sugar is easy to overeat, and spikes our blood sugar and stresses our organs in a way that natural sugars–which come embedded in fibrous, nutritious foods–do not. Here are some of the ways that excess sugar affects the body: 

The Effects of Excess Sugar 

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Weight Gain 

Sugar is incredibly high in calories and it is easy to overeat when consuming sweetened foods. Sugary beverages are particularly bad, because they trick your body into turning off its appetite-control system (because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods). 

Tooth Decay
Sugar can rot teeth by interacting with the bacteria in plaque which creates an acid that eventually rots your teeth by causing tooth decay and dissolving tooth enamel.  

diabeaters tooth decay
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Joint Pain and Arthritis  
Added sugar increases inflammation in the body, which slows healing, makes any existing disease or pain worse, and can also lead to joint pain and arthritis. 

Fatty Liver Disease
"Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat," says  Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which also raises your risk for heart disease.” 

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diabeaters suagr image

Many people get a “sugar high” after eating added sugar. This feeling comes from your blood sugar levels quickly rising. However, this spike in blood sugar levels usually drops as quickly as it rises, leading to a “sugar crash.” Routinely eating too much sugar leads many people to rely on sugary snacks in order to keep their energy levels artificially “up.” 

Diabetes and Heart Disease
When you eat, your pancreas pumps out insulin. But if you’re eating way too much sugar and your body stops responding properly to insulin, your pancreas starts pumping out even more insulin. Eventually, your overworked pancreas will break down and your blood sugar levels will rise, setting you up for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

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diabeaters suagr image

Depression and Anxiety 
Excess sugar has been linked to depression and anxiety. It’s theorized that the continual spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels stress the body, triggering adrenaline and cortisol, which create anxiety. A lack of nutrition in general and stressed health can also contribute to depression.

Excess sugar attaches to proteins in your blood and creates harmful molecules called “AGEs,” or “advanced glycation end products.” These molecules do exactly what they sound like they do: age your skin.

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diabeaters suagr image

Eating sugar gives your brain a huge surge of a feel-good chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is involved with most addictive behaviors, and sugar is no exception. “Our studies show that there are neurochemical changes in the brain that occur when we overeat sugar that is similar to what is seen with addictions to drugs, like alcohol or morphine.” -Nicole Avena-Blanchard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Pharmacological Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

As with any addiction, the more sugar you consume, the more you will crave, and the more you will need to satisfy your craving. Our tastebuds become desensitized to sweetness and we want sweeter and sweeter things in order to get the same effect. Withdrawal symptoms from excess sugar include headaches, irritability, nausea, fatigue, trouble concentrating, cravings, and disrupted sleep. 

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