09 Mar What Happens When You Eat Too Much Sugar?
According to the World Health Organisation, most people in the UK eat more than twice the amount of sugar that is recommended as a part of a balanced diet.
Our attraction to sugar is simple to understand – we enjoy sweet treats because in the natural world, sweetness means a food is safe to eat.
The sudden burst of energy that sugar provides is also highly addictive and provides quite a rush!
Unfortunately, consuming an excessive amount of sugar can negatively impact your body, contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses.
This article will explain what happens to your body when you eat too much sugar and identify the medical problems associated with eating too much sugar.
What does sugar do to your body?
Despite all of the bad press, sugar is not an inherently evil substance.
It provides the body with a quick burst of energy that can useful when you are playing sports or feeling exhausted at work.
The problem is the sheer amount of sugar that many people are consuming.
To understand why sugar can be a problem, its important to understand what happens when you consume it.
After eating sugar, enzymes in the small intestine will break it down and turn it into glucose.
Glucose is a very simple form of sugar that is an important energy source in all living creatures.
The body releases the glucose it has created into the bloodstream, where it is transported to cells in the muscles and organs to provide energy.
The amount of sugar in the blood is regulated by Beta cells, which are found in the pancreas.
Beta cells store and release a hormone called insulin.
Insulin will travel through the bloodstream and tell cells to open up and accept glucose so it can be converted to energy.
The insulin in your bloodstream also asks some cells to store glucose as glycogen, a simple carbohydrate.
Glycogen provides your muscles with a quick burst of energy when they need it.
The liver also helps to regulate the amount of glucose in the bloodstream by storing excess glucose as glycogen.
It can then release glucose back into your bloodstream when your body needs more energy.
It is important to understand that the liver can only store a certain amount of glucose.
The rest is converted into fatty deposits which accumulate in the liver.
Once the liver is full, these fatty deposits will flow into the bloodstream and be deposited in different parts of the body – on your thighs, belly, hips, arms and so on.
What are the effects of excess sugar?
Excess sugar consumption affects the body in a number of ways:
Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes
When you eat a large amount of sugar, the body is asked to pump out a lot of insulin.
This can eventually lead to insulin resistance, where cells no longer respond to the signals that insulin is sending.
At this point they will not be able to accept glucose from the bloodstream effectively.
Insulin resistance can cause your blood sugar levels to rise to dangerous levels and is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes.
Multiple studies have found that excessive sugar consumption is linked to weight gain.
Weight gain is caused by the liver producing those fatty deposits which make their way into the bloodstream and to other parts of the body.
Sugar is a particularly dangerous food because of the effect it has on the brain and hormone production.
When you eat sugar, the brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical that gives you a burst of positive feelings.
This can be quite addictive, causing sugar cravings.
In simple terms – the more sugar you eat, the more you want!
This can lead to obesity if unchecked.
Sugar also makes it more difficult to tell if you are full.
A 2011 study found that saturated fats and sugar interfered with your body’s internal signals that relay a sense of feeling full.
That means having a coke with your McDonalds means you will eat more before feeling full and feel hungry again sooner after eating.
Scientists have discovered that diets with a high-glycemic load can cause acne in some people.
A high-glycemic load is a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, which sugary foods can create.
Depression and anxiety
Eating sugar triggers a mild inflammatory response in the body.
Some researchers believe that this response may increase the risk of certain mental disorders including depression and anxiety.
Researchers have discovered that people who consume a lot of sugar have a higher risk of heart disease.
One paper found that people who obtain between 17% to 21% of their calories from sugar had a 38% greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
A high sugar diet overloads the liver and makes it create fatty deposits.
This can cause a stress response in the liver and lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
How much sugar should we eat?
The World Health Organisation suggests that we get about 5% of our daily calorie intake from sugar.
That means an adult should consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day, which is about six teaspoons of sugar.
That is less than the amount of sugar in a single can of Coca Cola (39 grams) or a king-sized Mars Bar (48 grams).
However, it is important to understand that the amount of sugar you can safely consume is directly correlated to the amount of exercise you perform.
If a bike rider who has just finished a 100 kilometre ride drinks a can of coke, all of that sugar will be used to restore their blood sugar levels and put more glycogen into the muscles and liver.
If a sedentary person drinks a can of coke, you can expect the excess energy to be stored in the liver or converted to fatty deposits.
The key is to balance the amount of sugar you consume with your physical activity and your weight loss goals.
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