There are a number of reasons why sugar has got a bad reputation in recent years. The most obvious reason is that we can see that most people are not really healthy. Foods that contain sugars are sweet and give us a quick dopamine release, making us enjoy them and want to eat more. Maybe you heard that sugar is more addictive than most drugs? No matter how addictive, one thing for sure is that the majority of us do like sweets such as baked goods, sugary drinks and ice cream.
Some people may consume added sugar and have no bad effects. The important difference here is that they are likely using the sugar during their activity. If you are a serious swimmer, marathon runner or triathlete then you can easily be burning all of the sugar that you consume. But most of us do not fall into that category so we shouldn’t use their example and consume added sugar. And when I say “added sugar” — for example, an apple does not have added sugar but apple juice does. Adding sugar to foods also adds calories as well so you can easily gain weight, but we should also be concerned about how sugar can affect our immune system.
Healthy eating habits are very much connected to healthy immune systems. Researchers found out that astonishingly only 12% of people in US are metabolically heathy. Measuring metabolic health looks specifically at blood glucose, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, waist circumference and triglycerides, although if you have unhealthy blood glucose levels then that can cause imbalances in other health markers as well.
When we eat almost any type of food, our blood glucose levels rise. However, it very much depends what types of food you eat as to how much and when they rise. You can watch how your body reacts to certain foods, and you’ll see that some foods always make you feel more tired after eating them, some make you feel more sensitive, or sleepy, or happy, or full. All of these reactions can be a sign as to whether the food filled you up with correct nutrients or not. And if you have high blood sugar levels, such as over 120 mg/dL (or 6 mmol/L), for longer periods of time periods during the day this will affect your hunger levels and cause you to reach again for more sugary foods. When the body is trying to deal with high blood glucose levels your body becomes much more vulnerable.
Added sugar can also cause inflammation and affect the gut microbiome as well, which can negatively affect the immune system and lead to an increased risk of metabolic disease. And while inflammation is the body’s defense mechanism to protect and promote cellular repair, a prolonged inflammatory state with an impaired immune system can cause tissue and even organ damage. Researchers don’t yet fully understand how intestinal microbiota regulate metabolic syndrome, but they are thought to protect against the development of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and pre-diabetic phenotypes. A high-fat, high-sugar diet promotes metabolic disease by depleting these microbes. Studies have shown that eliminating sugar from high-fat diets can likely protect us from obesity and metabolic syndrome.
So we still have a lot to learn and need more studies to understand the complete relationship between excess sugar intake and immunity, but we already have enough studies to show that excessive sugar can cause serious health problems.
Maybe you can start to pay more attention to the food labels and just see which foods have added sugar. Remember, the ingredients are listed on food labels in order of weight, so the higher up in the list an ingredient is the more of it there is in the product. Remember too that sugar has more than 60 different names, including high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, dextrose, beet sugar, barley malt and agave nectar. If you look closely at the labels you will be surprised how many products contain added sugar high up on the ingredient list! If you want to add some sweetness without sugar then you can try other, healthier sugar alternatives such as raw honey, allulose, molasses, coconut sugar, dates, raw stevia or monk fruit.
“The association between sugar-sweetened beverages intake, body mass index, and inflammation in US adults”; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00038-020-01330-5
“Associations of Dietary Intake on Biological Markers of Inflammation in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review”; https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/2/356
“Microbiota imbalance induced by dietary sugar disrupts immune-mediated protection from metabolic syndrome”; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092867422009928
“Only 12 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy”; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181128115045.htm
“Type 2 Diabetes and its Impact on the Immune System”; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7475801/
“SugarScience is the authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health”; http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/
“Hidden in Plain Sight — Added sugar is hiding in 74% of packaged foods”; https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight/#.Y2BJPS-B2Mw