Why is Sugar Bad for You? 5 Reasons to Stay Off the Sweet Stuff


Why is Sugar Bad for You?

It may sound like a silly question, but most of us don't know why sugar is unhealthy. Ask the average person, "Why is sugar bad for you?" and they won't be able to give you a clear answer. Ask the same person, "Why is saturated fat bad for you?" and they will tell you that it gives you heart attacks and makes you fat (neither of which is true, by the way).

Nutritionists, doctors, and food manufacturers have taken our attention away from the dangers of sugar and other refined carbohydrates (cheap foods that generate high profits). As a result, natural dietary fats have been replaced with refined sugar to create "healthy, low-fat foods" that feed cancer cells, inflate fat cells, and starve brain cells.

Is Sugar Bad for You?

". . . we would urge medical practitioners to encourage individuals exhibiting [metabolic syndrome] to strongly limit the consumption of dietary fructose and other high-glycemic-index carbohydrates, and to stop discouraging them from consuming foods rich in cholesterol." -Archives of Medical Science, February 2011

Why is Sugar Bad for You? The Bitter Truth

Fat Chance

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

Dr. Lustig's book on the dangers of a diet high in fructose.


Sugar is Sugar is Sugar

Sugar is found in a variety of forms, which can make things confusing for people who aren't Nutrition Nerds. Regular table sugar is half fructose and half glucose. High-fructose corn syrup is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Most people think that high-fructose corn syrup is the devil, while straight sugar is healthier. This is like arguing which cigarette is healthier: regular or low-tar.

Agave nectar--the health food store darling sweetener--is worse than both HFCS and sugar. This product is about 70 to 80 percent fructose. Many argue that agave nectar won't elevate your blood sugar levels, so it's safe for diabetics: this is the power of marketing. It doesn't elevate blood sugar levels, but fructose does go straight to your fat cells and raises triglyceride levels.

Another devious tactic used by food manufacturers is the infamous "evaporated cane syrup" label. Even the FDA discourages the use of this term because it leads the consumer to believe that the sweetener is a juice, which sounds healthier. When in fact, it's only sugar.

Cut the Juice

"Over the past few years the term “evaporated cane juice” has started to appear as an ingredient on food labels, most commonly to declare the presence of sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup. However, FDA’s current policy is that sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be declared as “evaporated cane juice” because that term falsely suggests that the sweeteners are juice." -US Food and Drug Administration

Why is Sugar Bad for You?

Here Are Five Reasons:

(#1) Sugar is a Fuel for Cancer

Sugar doesn't naturally travel from your digestive system to other areas of your body. A transporter (like a biological taxi service) called GLUT5 is used to carry fructose from your small intestine to other body tissue.

Why is it important for us to know about this fructose carrier? Because GLUT5 is found in greater concentrations in cancer tissue compared with healthy tissue. Researchers find that GLUT5 in cancer cells indicates that the cells are aggressive.

"A large-scale screening of the GLUT family of transporters in malignant vs. normal human tissues and cells showed that GLUT5 was highly overexpressed in 27% of cancerous tissues tested, including tumors in brain, breast, colon, liver, lung, testis, and uterus".

The fact that a higher amount of GLUT5 is found in cancer cells seems to show that fructose for cancer is like spinach for Popeye. It causes the cells to grow stronger and cause more damage.

The human body doesn't absorb sugar very well. But the more fructose you consume, the more GLUT5 transporters are produced. The more GLUT5 transporters are produced, the more fructose you can absorb. The more fructose you absorb, the more "cancer food" you store in your body tissue.

See where this is going?

After learning about the GLUT5 transporter, its fructose-carrying job and its high concentration in cancer cells, how can we believe that anything containing unnaturally high amounts of fructose (agave nectar: we're talking to you) could be good for you?

Natural Sugar?

(#2) Sugar Causes Problems in Baby's Brains

We've all heard that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have disastrous effects on a developing fetus. But did you know that a high-sugar diet during pregnancy can do exactly the same thing?

Your body doesn't see much of a difference between sugar and alcohol; both are metabolized the same way. The only difference is that you don't get drunk from a candy bar.

{Side note: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is on the rise, even in children.}

Inflammation caused by fructose in a pregnant woman's diet affects her baby, and can lead to learning disabilities, ADHD, and other cognitive development problems.

Similar health risks are higher in babies born to women who drink alcohol during pregnancy.

But instead of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, these issues fall under what's known as fetal sugar spectrum disorder.

You might say that a high-sugar diet is even more dangerous than alcohol or smoking during pregnancy: At least these dangerous substances come with warnings, both from government-mandated labels, standard obstetrician advice, and widespread awareness.

Most of the sugar used in the US today is made from sugar beets. Most sugar beets are GMOs.

(#3) Sugar Causes Problems in Your Brain, Too

Did you know that sugar may quite literally shrink your brain? Recent studies find that those who have blood glucose levels at the high end of normal may be at a higher risk of experiencing brain shrinkage of the hippocampus and amygdala.

Even scarier, teens who have metabolic syndrome (a list of risk factors including high blood pressure and insulin resistance) and obesity not only have smaller brain tissue, but are also more likely to have difficulties with learning and memory.

This could have much to do with brain cells that can become insulin resistant. Researchers have discovered this fact in the elderly (and unfortunately, the not-so-elderly as of late) while studying the development of Alzheimer's disease. The insulin-resistance/dementia connection leads experts to call this brain disorder type 3 diabetes.

Alzheimer's disease has long been a mystery, but recent studies have found a strong connection between high-carbohydrate diets (made up mostly of sugar, wheat, cereals) and the development of beta amyloid plaques. Those who have type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing the disease.

(#4) Sugar is Addictive and Boosts Your Appetite

Science proves that sugar addiction is real. It passes the blood-brain barrier to reach parts of the brain that are affected by drugs of abuse. Sugar stimulates reward pathways in the brain, causing that feeling of "I really need something sweet" along with a bad mood that's relieved once that candy bar hits your blood stream.

This keeps you returning for more. And the more sugar and sweeteners you include in your diet, the more you require to satisfy your cravings. Those who reduce their sugar intake or eliminate refined sugar from their diets are more sensitive to the natural sweetness in foods, and a little goes a long way.

A sugar habit can send the number of calories you consume each day sky-high. Most people have no idea how much sugar they consume; this substance is hidden in virtually all processed foods including ketchup, salad dressings, and soft drinks.

How Bad Science and Big Business Created the Obesity Epidemic

(#5) Sugar Raises Heart Disease Risks

Conventional nutrition advice has caused most people to trade in foods containing natural fats for low-fat foods that are high in sugar.

Most people think that this lowers their heart disease risks, but it's actually doing the opposite.

Fructose may not elevate blood sugar levels, but it does go straight to the fat cells and elevates triglycerides.

Sugar is a sticky substance that adheres to your artery walls. As blood pressure rises, build-up pulls on the tissue, which causes injury. Your immune system sends in white blood cells and LDL cholesterol to promote healing.

Scar tissue develops (hardened arteries). More sugar in the bloodstream leads to repeated injury, leading to a buildup of LDL in the artery and eventual blockage. Poor ol' LDL is there doing its job to help heal the vessel, and it gets blamed for the damage that was originally caused by sugar.

Oxidized LDL (VLDL), which is created as a result of a high-sugar diet, low physical activity, and other lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol abuse, is a major player in the development of heart disease. Steaks and butter won't increase your VLDL, but cookies and french fries (those cooked in vegetable oil) sure will.

What About Fruit?

Because of its fiber content, fruit doesn't boost blood sugar levels as dramatically as refined carbs (except for dried fruits, which boost blood glucose levels even higher than sugar).

Fruit also contains naturally occurring enzymes and micronutrients.

Having said that, fruit isn't necessary for good health. In fact, too much fruit in the diet, like the fruitarian diet, can be harmful to your health.

Sugar places a lot of demand on the pancreas and beta cells that regulate insulin, which can cause serious health problems (look for examples in Steve Jobs and Ashton Kutcher).

{Those who struggle with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic issues may be carbohydrate-sensitive. They often experience improved health and weight management when they remove high-carb foods like fruit from their diets.}

Some might object to the claim that we don't need fruit: "But fruit is loaded with vitamins!" Yes, but so are things like carrots, eggs, and grass-fed beef. The same goes for antioxidants, which are also found free-flowing from the ground.

Everything in Moderation?

Moderation is a word that is often thrown around when it comes to diet. What is moderate consumption of an addictive substance? A few cigarettes each day? One six pack of beer and nothing more? A dozen cookies? Who decides what moderation actually is, and where is the science that supports that limit?

Break the Sugar Habit

This list of five examples is by no means exhaustive. Researchers continue to discover more possible connections between sugar in the diet and disease. Try cutting back on the amount of sugar in your diet and notice the improvements in your mental and physical health.

© Liz Davis 2013 Why is Sugar Bad for You?

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Wanna comment? Sweet! 30 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Now you are just being mean! Stop eating sugar????? Isn't there a law in this country against blasphemy of that sort? LOLOLOLOL

I know, I know, you are right, and you will be happy to know that Bev does not allow much sugar to be consumed in this household. It's like you and her are in a conspiracy against me.

No wonder I love you both. :)

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 4 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Hahah! I'm sorry, Dear. Bev and I want to keep you alive and kicking, and that's probably a bit selfish of us ;-)

Having a slice of cake or other "sinful" dessert now and then isn't likely to kill you, but unfortunately we're a sugar-addicted nation and need to be more mindful of what we're eating.

So while you're celebrating my birthday tomorrow, you may have a sugary treat with my blessing! :D

alisharenee profile image

alisharenee 3 years ago from Myrtle Beach SC

I had no idea about the Agave nectar! They market it to seem like a healthy alternative, and I'm sure most people automatically assume that it is. I haven't used it personally but I know of a lot of people who do and I'll be passing along the info! I've been hearing a lot about Stevia as well...what's your take on that? Great article!

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

People think that agave nectar is healthy because the industry promotes it as a traditional sweetener. It *is* a traditional sweetener, but it is produced commercially using methods that are far removed from traditional roots. As far as stevia goes, it's the same situation: using the leaf from a stevia plant is not the same as using a packet of Truvia. I have another hub on the regular use of sweeteners (especially non-caloric) and how they can increase your appetite for sweets. Thanks so much for your comment, alisharenee!

carol7777 profile image

carol7777 3 years ago from Arizona

We eat almost no sugar stuff..Sometimes occasionally ..but I don't buy sugar or any sweeteners...Fruit is our sugar. I think it is really bad for your health and mood...Once in a great while usually during the December holidays....So I love this hub and want to get the word out. Voting up and pinning.

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

I'm so glad to hear that, Carol! When sugar isn't a habit, a piece of fruit is very satisfying. I indulge in a treat on special occasions, too. Thank you!

Curiad profile image

Curiad 3 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

This is awesome information. I have hollered for more than ten years about how bad sugar is to our health, but mostly it has fallen on deaf ears.

Thank you for this great well written article. I will share it everywhere.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 years ago from Central Florida

I use very little sugar. What people don't realize is many of our foods contain sugars, such as breads, cereals, etc. Low-fat or fat-free foods are loaded with sugar to compensate for the lack of saturated fats. I use stevia in my coffee. One tiny packet yields me two cups of coffee. Organic honey is also a good substitute for sugar.

I'm a label reader. If it shows high fructose corn syrup or any 'ose', I don't buy it. I only buy organic cereals with no sugar added and I don't add sugar or even honey when I eat cereal. If you want sweetness, add fruit!

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

I know what you mean, Curiad. People don't like to hear that sugar is bad for them. They even get angry about it.

Thank you for sharing and commenting!


Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

I'm with you, bravewarrior. Sugar is hidden in so many products that people don't realize how much they're eating.

Fruit satisfies your sweet tooth when you don't eat a lot of refined sugar. I'm glad you avoid it, as well.

Thanks for your comment!


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sugar is bad for any individual and the biggest problem is most people don't realize it until it is too late. You have mentioned most helpful points of why sugar is bad for you, glad I am not having any of that sugar

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Yes, if people ate more natural foods like you do in your Mediterranean diet, the high sugar content would be eliminated naturally. Thank you for your comment and for being an advocate for healthy living!

WalterPoon profile image

WalterPoon 3 years ago from Malaysia

I think a sweet tongue is something we developed. Ever since I had diabetes, I've been cutting out on sugar significantly. I used to use Pal Sweet as a substitute but then realized years later that I was just wasting my money. The sweetness of Pal Sweet is destroyed under heat, in a hot water. Moreover, its ingredient, Aspartame, is made from petroleum derivatives and not cheap, either. It was psychological at first, but eventually, I gave it up. Nowadays, I use half a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee because without sugar, it tastes unpleasantly bitter. But more than that, the coffee tastes too sweet for me these days.

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Apparently a sweet tooth is something that all mammals have in common. I once read that animals also seek out sweet tastes whether they're hungry or not. I agree: there is definitely a psychological aspect. A little sugar in your coffee each day is no big deal--unfortunately, most people consume much more than that. Thanks for your comment, Walter!

WalterPoon profile image

WalterPoon 3 years ago from Malaysia

Sweet tooth, that's correct! I got it all upside down with my "sweet tongue"! I thought tongue is for tasting... I didn't realize it's the tooth!

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

LOL That's funny, Walter! I never even thought of how silly that term is.

WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 3 years ago

If I told you the diet my family and my husband's family considered normal you'd probably be shocked. But suffice it to say, everyone at some point became diabetic. So naturally I knew sugar was bad and we had to change our diets; and we restrict the kids with their sugar and carb intake in hopes it will prevent them from suffering the same fate. This is really scary stuff. So informative, I'm enjoying your dietary hubs so much.

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Thank you, Sage. It is scary how much sugar people consume on a daily basis and don't even realize it. What's scarier is that they don't know how harmful all that sugar is, believing instead that natural fats are unhealthy. I'm glad you and your family chose common sense!

Vista15 profile image

Vista15 3 years ago from Columbus, OH

...as I sit here drinking a Coca-Cola...

But it's MEXICAN Coca Cola. They use SUGAR, not High Fructose Corn Syrup. I know, you're trying to tell me ALL sugar is bad for you.

Okay... I am totally WHEAT FREE, so I don't buy packets/boxes of this and that. Therefore, I'm not getting all that extra sugar that's in all processed foods. I don't do Aspartame, Aluminum and MSG... which I think are all worse for people than regular sugar or organic or turbinated and that sort... although I did not know about the Agave nectar. I've never found it in a store, so never used it, but thought it was safe (or safer). That is the key word. Safer. Natural/Regular Sugar is SAFER than HFCS. And I drink more WATER than (Mexican) Coke.

(or Root Beer, which I make with regular sugar.)

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Oh, Vista, life is too complicated these days, isn't it? LOL

Anyway, stay away from that agave nectar (they should call it syrup) garbage. I wrote an article on that stuff for a client a couple of years ago. It's about 70 to 80 percent fructose. Not good! It is prepared nothing like the traditional food that they say it is.

I think the point of the matter is that we consume way too much sweetener of every kind. A sweet tooth is a learned habit that can be broken. The perfect diet will never happen; we can only take care of ourselves the best we can. The problem is that there are many lies in marketing that we need to sift through.

Anyway, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Enjoy your Mexican Cola! At least Mexico has banned GMOs :)

Vista15 profile image

Vista15 3 years ago from Columbus, OH

Yes, we all just do the best we can. What I worry about are the people that DON'T heed any warnings, don't read labels and say... 'Ya gotta die from SOMETHING.' And they are. (dying)

Just wanted to mention, I finished up that Hub for teens if you want to check my pages.

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Too true, Vista! We do all die of something, but we don't walk out in front of buses. Thank you--I will check out your hub!

Vista15 profile image

Vista15 3 years ago from Columbus, OH

Well. I plan on living to 150!

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

And I hope you make it! :)

VioletteRose profile image

VioletteRose 3 years ago from Chicago

I have never used agave nectar, but always thought of it as a better choice. Thanks for sharing this!

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Thank you, VioletteRose. Marketing is a powerful thing, isn't it?

VioletteRose profile image

VioletteRose 3 years ago from Chicago

Yes, it is :)

dwelburn profile image

dwelburn 2 years ago from Chesterfield, UK

Excellent writeup on sugar. Yes most people eat far too much of it and it's wreaking havoc on the health of the nation.

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 2 years ago from Hudson, FL Author

Indeed it is, dwelburn. Most people think saturated fat is the enemy and sugar is a better alternative. No wonder people are so sick these days!

Vista15 profile image

Vista15 2 years ago from Columbus, OH

Actually, wheat is worse than either.

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