The food you eat can also have long-term implications for your health. Specifically, eating too much sugar may suppress your immunity and increase your risk for mood disorders, including depression.
Consuming large quantities of refined sugar on a regular basis can not only increase weight gain, it can also lead to the development of more serious health concerns including cancer, hypoglycaemia, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Not All Sugar is Bad
The natural sugar is just what it sounds like—“sugar that’s found inherently in the food. Added sugars, on the other hand, are, well, added to products to enhance sweetness. And here’s where things get a little tricky—sugar sources like honey or maple syrup are technically found in nature and considered a better choice than granulated white cane sugar because their molecular makeup makes them less glycemic (meaning they don’t raise your blood sugar levels as quickly), but if they’re the source of sweetener in a packaged product or you add some to your morning oatmeal, that’s technically considered “added” and counts toward your daily limit for the day.
The kind that’s naturally found in fresh fruits and vegetables is a source of glucose, which provides the energy our body needs to go, go, go! In fact, too little sugar in the blood can actually have a negative impact on your attention and thinking. And, when consumed via good-for-you vehicles like produce, it can be a wonderful way to obtain many nutrients the body needs, like antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. But that’s about where the benefits stop—consuming too much, especially added sugars, which aren’t naturally occurring, can wreak serious havoc on the body over time.
Sugar Damages Your Immune System
Most people are aware that eating sugar has negative consequences to our health, leading to things like obesity and diabetes. However, most haven’t made the connection that it also has an effect on our immune system. A big impact at that – immune function decreases for hours after sugar is consumed.
Participants in a research study were fed different forms of sugar; it was found that the effectiveness of white blood cells (our immune cells which fight infection) decreased up to 50% after 1-2 hours of eating sugar, lasting up to five hours.
Is sugar an immunosuppressant? Sugar may or may not act as an immunosuppressant, depending on different conditions in the body. As a general rule, excessive sugar consumption depletes the body’s nutrient balance, which triggers a cascade of inflammation and metabolic disruption.
A research study was carried out to observe how simple carbohydrates decreased the phagocytic capacity of neutrophils. Blood was drawn after an overnight fast and then at intervals of 0.5, 1, 2, 3, or 5 hours. The blood was then placed on slides and incubated in Staphylococcus epidermidis.
Participants were given 100g oral portions of glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice to observe the effects on the activity of neutrophils. Immediately after consuming simple carbohydrates (approximately one to two hours), there was a significant decrease in the phagocytic index, which means the immune function of phagocytes was suppressed.
The effects lasted up to five hours post-feeding, confirming that the function of phagocytes was impaired by the consumption of simple carbohydrates. On the other hand, a fast of 36 or 60 hr significantly increased the phagocytic index (P<0.001). However, sugar did not affect the number of neutrophils.
Vitamin C is required by an immune system in order for it to function properly, and white blood cells in particular need it to fight infection. When you eat sugar it is broken down into glucose, which has a similar chemical structure to Vitamin C. However, if you eat too much of it, your body may grab the glucose instead, meaning your immune system’s ability to fight is decreased which can lead to the spread of infection.
Some studies have suggested sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Approximately 75% of the people eat excess amounts of sugar, many of whom could be classified as having a sugar addiction. Sugar consumption can create a short-term high and a spark of energy in the body. People often enjoy the dopamine release sugar brings. However, due to the addictive nature of sugar, long-term health effects like obesity and diabetes are a risk of sugar overindulgence.
Similar to other compulsions or behavioural addictions, sugar addiction is a special risk for people with low moods, anxiety and stress.
Additionally, people who suffer from constant tiredness may reach for carb-rich sugary foods for a boost. Sugar releases endorphins in the body and combines with other chemicals in the body, resulting in a surge of energy. Once someone mentally connects sugar with help providing energy, they may become dependent on it, usually inadvertently. People may begin to crave sugar to balance irritability, emotional lows, and other conditions. Eventually, there is little control over avoiding sugary foods, and a sugar addiction has developed.
Unlike other molecules we ingest that stimulate our appetite hormones, fructose goes undetected, which means we can eat a lot of refined sugar but we don’t feel full. Much of the sugar we eat is also filled with ‘empty’ kilojoules and lacks many of the important components we need for a healthy diet, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and healthy fats.
A diet high in refined sugars can lead to all sorts of health issues from lower immunity, digestive issues and obesity to more serious problems like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. However, all of these issues can be minimised (and in some cases even reversed) by focussing on reducing your sugar intake or giving up sugar altogether.
Sugar prompts our brains to release serotonin and dopamine (our ‘happy’ hormones), so the instant lift we get is one of the reasons why many of us continually seek out foods that produce these feel-good emotions again and again.
Sugar Consumption and Inflammation
Sugar is linked to inflammation, which is linked to depression. A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables may reduce inflammation in your body’s tissues, whereas a diet that is high in refined carbs may promote inflammation. There is strong scientific link between high sugar consumption and depression and other mental illnesses, and although sugar itself doesn’t cause these, it can impair your ability to cope with stress.
Chronic inflammation is linked to several health conditions, including metabolic disorder, cancer, and asthma. Many of the symptoms of inflammation are also common with depression, such as: loss of appetite, changes in sleep patterns, heightened perceptions of pain. That’s why depression may be an underlying sign of inflammation problems.Cutting down on sugar will not only minimise the symptoms of these conditions, it can also improve your mood and decrease agitation and anxiety.
Eating sugar before bed can also make you more prone to lower blood sugar levels and ‘night sweats’, and it can also super-charge your stress hormones, which can lead to sleep problems.
There are a host of ways that an excessive intake of sugar can negatively affect both your digestion and your gut health. When the amount of sugar in your body is too much for your bloodstream to absorb, it will make its way through your digestive system. Bacteria in your bowels loves to feast on sugar, which can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and flatulence, and it can also lead to an overgrowth of parasites and harmful bacteria.
Too much sugar in your gut can also lead to a range of other issues including intestinal parasites, candida (a fungal infection), SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), ‘a leaky gut’ (where the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged), and gut dysbiosis, a condition caused by your gut bacteria being out of balance.
Does Candida Thrive on Sugar?
Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by a yeast (a type of fungus) called Candida. Some species of Candida can cause infection in people; the most common is Candida albicans. Candida normally lives on the skin and inside the body, in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina, without causing any problems. Candida can cause infections if it grows out of control or if it enters deep into the body (for example, the bloodstream or internal organs like the kidney, heart, or brain).
Candida thrives on diets high in sugar and processed foods, so the more you eat of these foods, the more Candida grows. But when you cut sugar and refined carbs from your diet, Candida dies off.
Tips for Reducing Sugar Intake
Take it slow, start by eliminating the most obvious sources of sugar. Avoid baked goods such as cakes, muffins, and brownies. Removing candy and sugary beverages is also an excellent place to start.
Try reducing the amount of sugar and cream they add to their coffee or tea, working up to using none at all.
Reading product labels can help them identify types of sugars to avoid. There are at least 61 different names for sugar on food labels. The most common ones include: cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar, beet sugar, barley malt, coconut sugar, rice syrup, apple or grape juice concentrate.
Be aware that any item on an ingredients list ending “-ose” is also a type of sugar. Examples of these ingredients include sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose and lactose.
Sugars hide in many different supermarket foods such as salad dressing and condiments, pasta sauce, breakfast cereals, milk, and granola bars often have sugar in their ingredients list.
Decrease simple carbohydrates as white flour, white pasta, and white rice. The body quickly breaks down the carbohydrates in these foods into sugar. This process causes a spike in blood sugar levels. Replace simple carbs with whole grain options. Focus on whole foods.
These include fruit, vegetables, seafood, nuts, grains, eggs and meat, which are full of quality protein, fibre, fats, vitamins and minerals. These foods will keep you satisfied for longer and therefore reduce your need for snacking on sugary foods.
Avoid artificial sugars. Eating artificial sugars can trick the body into thinking that it is actually eating sugar. This can intensify a person’s sugar cravings, making it more difficult for them to stick to a no-sugar diet.
Do not drink sugar, sugar sweetened drinks are among the most significant sources of added sugars in the diet. These include soda, specialty coffee, sweetened teas, and fruit juices. Replacing these drinks with unsweetened herbal tea, coffee without sugar, sparkling mineral water, or just water can help a person stay hydrated without increasing their sugar intake.