Why is sugar bad for you? Part 1

Libby Limon BSc NT mBANT / Apr 11, 2016

It is now pretty much universally agreed that sugar consumption is one of, if not the major causes of the global obesity crisis. Sugar, especially free or refined sugars have been rising in our diets for last 200 years, since they became cheap to produce and readily available. Prior to that we really didn’t have access to sweet treats aside from a little honey and fresh seasonal fruit. In the last 30 years alone refined sugar added to processed foods has increased by 30%.


Free or refined sugars are added to everything from ready meals, to soft drinks, sweets, chocolates, breakfast cereals, even savoury breads and condiments. Professor Capewell, a leading figure in the Action on Sugar campaign research showed that 34.6% of global disease is linked to poor diet.

So why is sugar so bad for your health? Are some sugars worse than others? What are the alternatives and how can you reduce sugar in your diet? Libby Limon, VITLs Head of Nutrition brings you the complete 3 Part Guide to Sugar.

Part 1. Why is sugar bad for you?

Sugar is an easily absorbable molecule that our bodies can quickly and efficiently convert into energy. If we have a high need for energy, i.e. you are running a marathon, however the problem arises when we consume quick release sugary food without that energy need.

Glucose vs Fructose

The two main types of simple sugars in our diet, fructose and glucose. Fructose is naturally found in most fruits and vegetables (including sugar cane) and honey. Foods that contain table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup and fruit juice also contain fructose.

Fructose in nature is usually consumed with fibre in the form of whole fruit, which limits our natural levels of consumption. When taken away from the whole fruit to become free sugar it can have very damaging effects. It does not raise blood sugar, but has to be processed directly in the liver. As a result, excessive consumption of fructose has been strongly linked to non-alcoholic liver disease. Studies suggest that it leads to added fat in the belly, and inflammation, which is linked to an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Glucose, also known as grape or blood sugar, is present in all major carbohydrates like starch and table sugar.

Glucose is blood sugar. If it is consumed in high levels it raises our blood sugar levels to beyond the body’s comfort zone, stimulating the release of insulin, a hormone that tells the body to take the extra sugar into storage. There are a number of resulting health issues that can arise from this. Once in storage, the excess sugar will eventually be turned into and be stored as fat. Over production of insulin can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity, this means you need to produce more and more insulin, and can lead to diabetes eventually. Also developing poor blood sugar regulation, means you are likely to suffer from low blood sugar leading to cravings, overeating and weight gain especially around the abdominal area. Insulin is pro-inflammatory and therefore can lead to longer term health issues.

Sugars in Liquids

Sugar in beverages is one place where we consume high levels of sugars without noticing. The obvious ones are sodas, but fruit juice, flavoured milks, Starbucks style coffees and mixers such as tonic are all major culprits. It is believed that our hunger mechanisms do not register the calories from diluted sugars in the same way that we do from wholefoods, meaning you can add hundreds if not thousands of extra calories to your diet everyday without even noticing.

Next up - Part 2, where we look at good sugar alternatives. 

PS. Did you know that low levels of chromium and vitamin D could contribute to poor blood sugar control? Start your free trial of the VITL Nutrition Pack today and make sure you're getting the right balance of all the nutrients you need for optimal health.