It’s no secret that people love sugar. It’s everywhere, and even in places you wouldn’t expect – everything from bread to granola bars are packed with the sweet stuff.
We’re not talking about the natural sugars you’d find in fruit or milk. If you read your packaged food labels, you may notice words like maltose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and more on your box – these are all sugars that are added to your food as it’s processed, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Men should consume no more than 36g of added sugar a day, the equivalent of nine teaspoons and 628 kilojoules, the AHA recommends.
According to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the top 20% of adult sugar-lovers eat an average of 3 017kJ of added a sugar every day, the researchers found. That’s eating about nine chocolate frosted caked donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts every single day.
Let’s be clear: Eating some sugar isn’t going to kill you – but consuming too much added sugar puts your body at risk for deadly diseases.
Read more: The science behind your sugar cravings – and how to beat them
Read on for six ways your sweet tooth can get you into trouble.
1. Too much sugar doubles your risk of heart disease
Consuming too many added sugars can hurt your heart – even if you’re not overweight, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found. In the 15-year study of more than 10 000 people, researchers found that those who ate 25% of their daily kilojoules from added sugars – typically in the form of processed foods like soda, cereals, breads, dairy desserts and fruit drinks – were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who at less than 10% of their kilojoules from added sugars.
Past research suggests that overloading on sugar can increase your blood pressure, triglycerides levels and inflammation in your body – all precursors to cardiovascular disease, the study authors say.
2. Too much sugar might make you break out more
Foods with a high glycemic index (GI) ranking – which is based on their potential to spike your sugar levels – may be behind your pesky breakouts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
High GI foods are generally higher in added sugars or refined carbs, and include things like white bread, white rice, potato chips and ice cream. While a lot more research needs to be done to understand the complex relationship between your diet and acne, multiple studies have found that following a low-GI diet may help improve your skin, according to a review published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Why? Higher sugar levels leads to more production of the hormone insulin, which in turn, increases sebum, or oil, production in your skin.
Eating a diet rich in low-GI foods – like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which don’t cause as big a blood sugar spike – may actually reduce the size of your oil glands and decrease inflammation in your skin, the review concluded. And that can mean smoother skin.
3. Too much sugar makes your belly bigger
Unsurprisingly, sugary foods pack on the kilos – so much so that sugar has been identified as one of the main culprits behind America’s obesity epidemic. In fact, in a meta-analysis of 68 trials and studies, researchers concluded that people who ate however they wanted typically weighed more when they loaded up on sugar and less when they didn’t consume as much.
Why? Sugary drinks don’t keep you feeling full like naturally sweet foods do, so you’re more likely to go overboard with a sweetened beverage, which, of course, packs in the extra kilojoules. And sugary foods (we’re looking at you, delicious chocolate chip cookies) are typically higher in kilojoules than the more nutrient-dense stuff, the researchers say.
The more extra kilojoules you eat, the heavier you’ll be. To put it in perspective, just one gram of sugar equals about 16.7kJ, according to the AHA. So if you eat something with 15g of sugar in it, you’re downing 251kJ from the sugar alone. Plus, once you eat one cookie, you won’t really want to stop. Your brain craves sugar more than fat and can cause you to overeat, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests.
4. Too much sugar can cause kidney stones
Steer clear of sugar in bubbly form, too: People who sipped on one or more regular sodas daily had a 23% higher risk of developing kidney stones than those who drank less than one serving a week, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. That’s because the soda’s fructose content can increase how much calcium, uric acid and oxalate you pee out, the researchers say, which boosts your risk of stones. Skeptical? Keep in mind that passing a stone may be more painful than childbirth for some guys.
5. Too much sugar destroys your teeth
After you wash down that pie with punch – or have any type of sweets in excess, for that matter – the bacteria in your plaque create acids that wear down your tooth enamel, which can form cavities over time, according to the American Dental Association.
Good news is you don’t have to give up sweets completely. If you want to treat yourself, aim for a max of 10% of your daily kilojoules to come from added sugars, suggests Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragon.
Learning when to eat sugar can help, too: Eating a little fat, fibre and protein before you enjoy dessert blocks the sugar from sinking into your plaque.
6. Too much sugar can harm your liver
Booze isn’t the only thing that can wreck your liver. People who eat too much sugar may be at risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), or the buildup of extra fat in your liver cells, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Hepatology.
Researchers in Italy and the UK analysed the diets and biopsied the livers of 271 obese children and adolescents diagnosed with NAFLD. They found that fructose consumption was associated with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more serious type of NAFLD. Nearly 90% of the kids reported drinking soda one or more times a week, while almost 95% typically noshed on pizza, biscuits, yoghurt and other foods high in sugar, the researchers found.
Too much fructose leads to an excess of uric acid in your blood, the researchers say, which is a predictor of NAFLD. In fact, high uric acid levels were present in nearly half of the patients with NASH in the study.
While this specific experiment didn’t look at adults, NAFLD is definitely something that affects you the older you get. In fact, one quarter of men over 40 have it – and nearly 80% of people with NAFLD aren’t diagnosed, research from Baylor College of Medicine shows. That could be serious, because if NAFLD advances, it can lead to cirrhosis, scarring of the liver which may lead to cancer over time, according to the American Liver Foundation.