Too Much Sugar: Five Signals from the Body That it’s Time to Stop

Too many calories in any food can lead to weight gain. We all know that sugar isn’t exactly the key to good health, but it can be difficult to give up sweets altogether. And foods like ice cream and cakes can have a place in a healthy diet.

The key is not to overdo it. But if you don’t keep track of every gram, how do you know if you have too much sugar in your body?

You are gaining weight

Too many calories in any food can lead to weight gain, but foods that contain added sugar are especially easy to overindulge in because of their high palatability (in other words, they taste good).

Over time, this fat can accumulate around vital organs such as the heart, liver, and pancreas, increasing waist width by several inches as it increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension, says Elizabeth Bradley, MD, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine.

Moreover, consuming large amounts of added sugars can lead to hormonal changes that can affect appetite regulation, according to a review published in January 2020 in the Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences.

In particular, consuming large amounts of fructose – a type of sugar found in many processed foods and beverages – has been linked to a decrease in leptin, which helps suppress appetite.

Your energy level drops throughout the day

“When we consume too much-added sugar, especially without enough fiber, fat, and protein, insulin is rapidly released to help stabilize blood sugar levels,” says Laura Burak, RD, a New York City-based dietitian.

This rapid release of insulin leads to an equally rapid drop in blood sugar levels as the hormone works to remove excess glucose from blood readings. The result is an energy surge that, according to Harvard Health Publishing, is quickly followed by an energy crash.

“Many people, especially those with diabetes, report that they physically feel the rise and fall of their blood sugar and how it affects their overall energy levels,” Burak says.

To avoid the energy peaks and troughs that occur after sugary foods, choose carbohydrates that cause a slow and steady rise in blood sugar, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

“The natural sugars in these whole foods are bound to fiber and digested more slowly, so they raise blood sugar more gradually,” says Dr. Bergquist. Plain and simple: “They will give you more sustained energy.”

Your skin is suffering

Diet is rarely the only cause of acne, but sugar and refined carbohydrates can be part of the equation. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, research has shown that a low glycemic index diet rich in foods like fresh vegetables, beans, and fiber-rich steel-cut oats can help reduce acne.

It is possible that a low glycemic index diet, which excludes foods rich in added sugars, helps reduce the production of sebum, also known as oil, in the skin. “Excessive sebum production is a known risk factor for acne,” says Tamar Samuels, a New Jersey-based dietitian.

Also important: “high blood insulin levels cause the release of growth hormones, which increase sebum production, unregulated cell growth, and androgen production,” says Samuels.

Since sugary foods trigger insulin secretion, avoiding daily desserts can benefit oily t-zones.

You constantly crave sweets

Sweets usually make us feel really good at the moment, which in turn makes us want them more and more.

This makes sense because high sugar intake has been linked to the over-activation of neural reward pathways, according to a study published in August 2019 in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Essentially, once these pathways are overstimulated, we start eating all the cookies because we associate them with pleasure.

“That’s why eating high-sugar foods is compared to the euphoric effect of taking a drug,” Burak says. “Serotonin and dopamine, these feel-good hormones, are released by our brains when we eat sweets, and as a result, we experience a temporary sense of happiness and calmness.”

It is not uncommon to become fixated on the feeling of comfort we experience after eating sugar-rich foods. Over time, this addiction can increase cravings.

“Especially when we’re tired, stressed, or depressed, we tend to crave sweets that will make us feel better quickly,” says Burak.

Your blood shows some red flags

Consistently consuming excessive amounts of added sugar can lead to diabetes.

According to Samuels, to understand how added sugars can affect your health, you can get a blood test and have your blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, and insulin levels checked by your doctor or nutritionist.

“Hemoglobin A1c is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar over two to three months, so it’s the most accurate test to determine your glycemic control and its trends,” Burak says.

Triglyceride levels can also give you an idea of whether your added sugar intake is too high because, as we noted earlier, excess sugar can be converted into triglycerides.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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