Here’s what can happen when you’re regularly getting more than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugar, the upper limit recommended by the USDA.
The sugar connection: When you eat refined carbs (including the sweet stuff we’re focusing on), your blood sugar rises and your body reacts by releasing inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Your body is now in an inflammatory state, and that can make existing joint pain worse, says Marina Chaparro, MPH, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The sugar connection: Any weight gain should make you take a hard look at your eating habits, but high-sugar diets are linked to added pounds specifically in your midsection. Too much sugar leads to high levels of insulin, and insulin likes to deposit fat in your belly more so than other areas of your body, says Roxanne Sukol, MD, doctor of preventive medicine and the medical director of the Wellness Enterprise at Cleveland Clinic.
The sugar connection: You’ve been hearing that sugar causes cavities since you were a kid, but you may not know just how big an influence your sweet tooth has on the rest of your teeth. A study that looked at diets and cavity rates around the world found that excess added sugar was the biggest factor in dental decay. Subpar brushing and flossing habits probably don’t help, but sugar is the key cause.
The sugar connection: If you had a high-sugar lunch, you know there’s an energy crash coming, and you’ll quickly crave more food to replenish. There’s another reason you’ve got visions of supper dancing in your head right now though. If you’ve been overdoing it on sugar for a while, your insulin levels are likely elevated. That can mess with your hunger hormones, says Chaparro, increasing levels of the one that elicits a when’s-my-next-meal mindset (ghrelin) and lowering levels of the one that tells you you’re still full (leptin).
The sugar connection: The constant back and forth between blood-sugar highs and lows leaves you sluggish, says Chaparro. And that little episode with your colleague? When you hit a low, your mood bottoms out, too.
The sugar connection: Your body turns excess sugar into a type of fat known as triglycerides. They’re found in your blood, and too much of them increases your risk of coronary artery disease. A normal triglyceride level is below 150; above 200 is high.
The sugar connection: A lot of things can lead to mental fog and forgetfulness (stress, lack of sleep, an incredibly hectic day, etc.), but sugar is among the potential culprits. A high-sugar diet made it harder for rats to recall where a specific object was in a place they’d already been to, according to a study in Brain, Behavior and Immunity. The researchers found inflammation in the rats’ hippocampus, an area of the brain that’s critical for memory. (The inflammation might make it harder for the brain to process and retrieve information.) The other factor is that your brain is powered by the glucose in your blood, and it needs a steady fuel supply to function optimally, says Sukol. “You want a slow-burning fuel, not TNT.” Added sugar is TNT, creating a big, quick surge in blood sugar followed by a steep drop-off.
The sugar connection: There’s nothing wrong with the berries—it’s your sense of taste that’s off. “Excess sugar dulls your palate, so things that should taste naturally sweet don’t,” says Sukol. It’s like trying to drink orange juice after you brush your teeth. “There’s so much artificial sweetener in the toothpaste that it blocks your sweetness receptors and you can’t taste the sweetness in the orange. It tastes sour instead,” she explains.