The cornerstone of the Atkins lifestyle is limiting carbs—the compounds that make up the sugars in foods. But why is that sugar bad for you? We’re letting you in on some of the secrets behind the effects of sugar on the body.
1. Sugar causes glucose levels to spike and plummet.
Unstable blood sugar can leave you experiencing mood swings, fatigue, and headaches. It also contributes to cravings, which begins the cycle of false hunger. By contrast, those who avoid sugar report having fewer cravings while feeling more emotionally balanced and energized.
2. Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
While we all like to indulge once in a while, foods that quickly affect blood sugar contribute to a greater risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.1 Emerging research also suggests connections between these high-glycemic diets and various forms of cancer.2,3,4 These effects are often a result of added sugars working in your body, so be sure to read those nutrition labels.
3. Your immune function can be affected by sugar.
As if being sick wasn’t bad enough, studies have shown that sugar can interfere with the way your body fights disease.5 Bacteria and yeast feed on sugar, so excess glucose in the body causes these organisms to build up and cause infections.
4. A high-sugar diet can lead to chromium deficiency.
Chromium, a trace mineral, helps regulate blood sugar in the body. While it can be found in meats, seafood, and plant foods, 90% of Americans still don’t get enough chromium because of refining starches.6 Other carbohydrates can also rob foods of their chromium supplies, so limiting your carbs is your best bet for increasing those mineral levels.
5. Sugar accelerates aging.
While you probably know that sugars can affect your body composition, they can also mess with your skin by contributing to wrinkles and sagging. After sugar hits your bloodstream, it attaches to proteins. The mix of these proteins with sugar causes the skin to lose elasticity and leads to premature aging.7
6. Sugar causes tooth decay.
With all the other life-threatening effects of sugar, we sometimes forget the most basic cosmetic damage it does. When it sits on your teeth, sugar causes decay more efficiently than any other food.8 It’s important to brush your teeth at least twice a day to stop sugars from fueling plaque and bacteria.
7. Sugar can cause gum disease, which can lead to heart disease.
Increasing evidence shows that chronic infections, like those that result from dental problems, play a role in the development of heart disease.9 Most researchers believe that the connection stems from the body’s inflammatory response to infection. Luckily, this works both ways. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will decrease your risk of common illnesses, which reduces the chance that they’ll become a more serious condition later on.
8. Sugar affects cognition in children.
Let’s not forget about our little ones! When New York City public schools reduced the amount of sugar in their lunches and breakfasts, their academic ranking increased 15.7% (previously, the greatest improvement ever seen had been 1.7%).11 The study also eliminated artificial colors, synthetic flavoring, and two preservatives, showing the importance of natural ingredients for children.
9. Sugar increases stress.
When we’re under stress, our bodies immediately kick into fight-or-flight mode, releasing large amounts of hormones. Surprisingly, the body has the same chemical response when blood sugar is low. After you eat a sweet snack, stress hormones begin to compensate for the crash by raising your blood sugar. The result? Unexplained anxiousness, irritability, and even shakiness.
10. Sugar takes the place of important nutrients.
According to USDA data, people who consume the most sugar have the lowest intakes of essential nutrients––especially vitamins A, C, B-12, and calcium. The trade-off is especially dangerous for children and teens, who simultaneously consume the most sugar and need the most nutrients.12
Now that you understand the negative effects of sugar on your body and mind, it’s time to be more careful when choosing foods. The first step is getting educated about how to find added sugars. When it comes to convenience and packaged foods, let the ingredients label be your guide—you’d be surprised how many low carb or “diet” foods contain added sugar.
1. Bell, S.J., Sears, B., “Low-glycemic-load diets: impact on obesity and chronic diseases.” Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition, 43(4), 2003, pages 357-77.
2. Michaud, D.S., Liu, S., Giovannucci, E., et al., “Dietary Sugar, Glycemic Load, and Pancreatic Cancer Risk in a Prospective Study.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 94(17), 2002, pages 1293-1300.
3. Romieu, I., Lazcano-Ponce, E., Sanchez-Zamorano, L.M., et al., “Carbohydrates and the Risk of Breast Cancer Among Mexican Women.” Cancer Epidemiology and Biomarkers Preview, 13(8), 2004, pages 1283-1289.
4. Franceschi, S., Dal Maso, L., Augustin, L., et al., “Dietary Glycemic Load and Colorectal Cancer Risk.” Annals of Oncology, 12(2), 2001, pages 173-178.
5. Nutter, R.L., Gridley, D.S., Kettering, J.D., et al., “Modification of a transplantable colon tumor and immune responses in mice fed different sources of protein, fat and carbohydrate.” Cancer Letters, 18(1), 1983, pages 49-62.
6. “Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc.” Institute of Medicine, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 2001.
7. Sensi, M., Pricci, F., Andreani, D., et al., “Advanced Nonenzymatic Glycation Endproducts (AGE): Their Relevance to Aging and the Pathogenesis of Late Diabetic Complications.” Diabetes Research, 16(1), 1991, pages 1-9.
8. “Dental Caries and Its Complications: Tooth Decay.” In The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, edited by Robert Berkow, et al. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1992.
9. Geerts, S.O., Legrand, V., Charpentier, J., et al. “Further evidence of the association between periodontal conditions and coronary artery disease.” Journal of Periodontology, 75(9), 2004, pages 1274-80.
10. Wolraich, M.L., Wilson, D.B., White, J.W, “The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children. A meta-analysis.” JAMA, 274 (20), 1995, pages 1617-21.
11. Schoenthaler, S.J., Doraz, W.E., Wakefield, J.A., “The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools.” International Journal of Biosocial Research, 8(2), 1986, pages 185-195.
12. Bowman, S.A., “Diets of Individuals Based on Energy Intakes From Added Sugars.” Family Economics and Nutrition Review, 12(2), 1999, pages 31-38.