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Why Sugar is Bad for You

Updated on September 10, 2012

It will probably come as no real surprise to learn that eating a lot of refined, white sugar is bad for you. You are probably already aware that enough scientific studying has been done on this particular food product over the last several decades to fill an entire library with data on the subject. What you’re probably not aware of is the sheer scale of the widespread use of refined white sugar in all kinds of foods. Some of them may not be so surprising, bit others will shock you! So while you probably already know that eating too much refined sugar is bad for you, you need to be aware of what foods it lies hidden in.

To really give you something you are unlikely to want to hear, if you want to make an improvement to your health and also lose weight as well as avoiding the possibility of contracting type II diabetes, your intake of refined white sugar will have to be drastically cut down. This hub page takes a close look at some of the reasons and asks the question: "Why is sugar is bad for you?" And why you really do need to cut the level of your intake of this product right down to size.

What Exactly is Sugar?

The well known, granulated white sugar that just about every one of us has in our kitchens comes mainly from sugar cane or to a lesser extent sugar beet. In its raw state, cane sugar is a dark coloured, thick syrup better known as black molasses. It is this syrup which is refined to produce the clean looking granulated form we all know but along the way, all of the original goodness, the nutrients contained in its original form are removed in the refining process. This leaves a handy product that is very sweet to the taste but is devoid of any goodness whatsoever.

As someone who wants to improve their health, or maybe lose some weight, there are two main varieties of sugar that you should be aware of. They are:

  • Intrinsic Sugars
  • Extrinsic Sugars

Intrinsic Sugars are those sugars that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables and are called intrinsic because they reside within the cell structures themselves. The good news is that you do not need to cut back on these sugars if you want to lose weight or get healthy because they’re natural. They also come with a variety of wholesome vitamins and minerals plus dietary fibre which are all essential to the body’s normal functioning. Simply put, these are good sugars to include in your diet.

Extrinsic sugars are those sugars not contained within the cell structures of the above mentioned natural foods. Instead they themselves fall into two main groups. These are:

  • Milk Extrinsic Sugars: these occur naturally in milk products
  • Non Milk Extrinsic Sugars (NME): these are added to foods

NME sugars are added to foods for a variety of reasons, but are mainly added to sweeten them, to increase their bulk or to preserve them. From a health and weight loss viewpoint, it is these NME sugars which should be avoided. The reason is they contain no useful nutrients for the body, so are metabolized and stored as fat. The problem for dieters when this happens is the body never gets to use its stored up fat because we never get hungry, so it just keeps piling it on.

That’s the main reason you gain weight when you eat large amounts of NME sugars. However, if you cut down hard on these sugars and exercise regularly, your body will have no choice but to use up the stored fat and then you will start to lose weight.

Negative Health Aspects of Consuming Refined Sugar

What are the negative health aspects of eating refined sugar and why you should avoid sugar for better health?

Sucrose in its refined form, when consumed is broken down by the body into glucose and other simpler sugars that are used by the body for producing energy. When this is done in small quantities, there is no real problem, but when sucrose is taken in and broken down into large amounts of simpler sugars, the blood gets a rush of these sugars which causes an imbalance in blood sugar levels.

As a general rule of thumb, the more refined the sugar you eat is, the more likely your body will react negatively way to it. In this sense, blood sugar levels are constantly rising and falling sharply when you ingest too great a volume of NME sugars. This is countered to some extent by the body’s own regulatory system in the form of insulin. Insulin is a hormone manufactured by the islets of Langerhans within the pancreas. Its main job is to regulate blood sugar levels. So when those levels get too high too quickly, insulin is released in large quantities to break those sugars down fast and return the blood sugar levels to equilibrium.

What happens is that you get a fast rush of energy from the sugar as it’s processed and released into the bloodstream. This is rapidly followed by a rapid drop in energy as the insulin does its work. You then eat more food or drink more liquids that contain high levels of NME sugars and the process begins again.

What this does is put a terrible strain on your pancreas in the constant creation and release of insulin. Eventually, the strain becomes too much and insulin production becomes erratic, meaning that blood sugar levels can no longer be effectively regulated. This leads to the onset of type II diabetes, which if not diagnosed and is allowed to degenerate further can lead to type I diabetes, which means having to manually injecting insulin to stay alive.

The Alternatives to Refined Sugar

Here is the big dilemma for those who want to enjoy good health and successful weight loss. The commonly used alternatives to refined sugar in processed foods and fruit drinks are artificial sweeteners, such as Saccharin, Aspartame or Sorbitol. These come with more health risks than the ones they are there to prevent and are a subject for a separate page all of their own.

Suffice it to say, all artificial sweeteners should be avoided if you want to be healthy. So should refined sugar, although a small amount daily will not harm you.

Other alternatives, if you need to eat something sweet are unrefined honey, some unrefined brown sugars (although many of these still contain a high level of sucrose) and raw, black molasses.

Unrefined honey contains many of the B vitamins and other nutrients and the sugars it contains are pre-digested into fructose and glucose which are more easily digested by our bodies and converted to instant energy. They are less likely to be stored as fat as long as the body is active.

Molasses are also packed with goodness in the form of vitamins and minerals which are all refined out when white granulated sugar is produced from this raw substance. While molasses is sweet to the taste, it also has a raw flavour that some people like and others don’t, so it’s a matter of personal preference whether you can use it as a substitute for refined sugar or not.

All in all, you should be very aware of what you are eating when it comes to refined sugars and other sweeteners, so read the labels of all foods carefully before buying. The best rule of all is to avoid as many processed pre-packaged foods as possible, as well as fizzy soda drinks and other flavoured juice concentrates and stick only to natural, fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh fruit juices with no added sugar and definitely no artificial sweeteners!


Submit a Comment

  • dwelburn profile image

    David 6 years ago from Birmingham, UK

    Lively discussion going on here.Completely agree with you; sugar is the scourge of modern society, and the main cause of the epidemic in obesity and heart disease today.

    It's the fructose component that is the main problem, as it is metabolised completely differently than glucose, and much more likely to be turned into fat, as well as create a whole load of extra health problems.

    However it is better as you say to eat it in it's natural form, but even then we don't want too much of it.

  • Alex Simring profile image

    Alex Simring 6 years ago from Australia

    Thanks for highlighting the dangers of refined sugars. More and more medical evidence is pointing to refined carbohydrates being linked to metabolic disease. I think fructose needs to be reduced-although it's the sugar found in fruit, our body has less fructose receptors and doesn't deal with excessive fructose consumption well-it tends to get turned into fat. The problem is with fructose such as high fructose corn syrup being added to so many foods. Avoid soft drinks at all costs!

  • profile image

    Video Rob 7 years ago

    Some great information here. I keep refined sugars to a minimum.

  • Glemoh101 profile image

    Glemoh101 7 years ago

    I agree with you completely , thanks for this great hub.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 7 years ago from England

    Thanks for your message Jim.

    I'd like to point out that there is no misinformation, or as you quite nicely sensationalised by using the term "serious misinformation" - its just a hub warning people of the everyday health issues that come with consuming too much refined, white sugar. It's not a medical manual.

    It looks like you missed the part where I actually mentioned the fact that sucrose and fructose have to be broken down by the body before it can be used.

    Your information reinforces much of what is already here and adds a little to it, so thank you for your contribution.

  • profile image

    Jim Collins 7 years ago

    There is some serious misinformation in this article. The only sugar the human body can use directly in cells is glucose. Other sugars must be broken down. Fructose is only broken down in the liver and creates toxic byproducts in this process. Sucrose is a simple disaccharide of one glucose and one fructose molecule. Stomach acid breaks the weak bond so sucrose can be treated and 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Watch this lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics on the metabolic dangers of refined sugars (all sucrose, HFCS and agave nectar among them).

  • profile image

    diabetescaring 7 years ago

    I agree with you, good info! Less white sugar is better. Many fruits and vegetables contain natural sugar, if we know how to cook, we don't really need to use sugar as the natural sugar from the fruit and vegetable is more than enough.

  • Iggy Sarducci profile image

    Iggy Sarducci 7 years ago from Wherever I am now

    Great work, Janice!

  • fucsia profile image

    fucsia 8 years ago

    I agree with you.

    to sweeten food and drink I use fructose: is good, is natural and has a low glycemic index!

  • martycraigs profile image

    martycraigs 8 years ago

    Definitely an important post for some people to stumble across--lot's of us are eating way too much sugar! I like to think I'm not in that category, though I'll admit I have my weak days. I think it's good that you included some of the sugar alternatives, though each alternative has it's own associated health consequences...not always good.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    gramon, I'm not going to argue with you as you've made your mind up.

    The hub is about refined white sugar and its potential dangers of overdoing it. One of those danger is type II diabetes and I agree with you its not the only cause, but it is a contributing factor. If the hub were about type II diabetes specifically, then I would have presented far more contributing facts to support any claims or conjectures I deem necessary to make it as factual as possible.

    If anyone is particular about obtaining absolute facts as are currently known by medical science, then I would recommend reading the relevant and excellent medical journals that are published periodically. Hub pages are written in the main (but not always) by lay people who have a keen interest in their chosen subjects and while they may or may not be "qualified", they do have extensive knowledge that they are interested to impart through this medium and that knowledge is often complete and factual.

  • gramon1 profile image

    Guillermo Ramon 8 years ago from Miami

    I read the following

    "To really give you something you are unlikely to want to hear, if you want to make an improvement to your health and also lose weight as well as avoiding the possibility of contracting type II diabetes, your intake of refined white sugar will have to be drastically cut down."

    I interpreted this as an assertion that sugar causes diabetes. Any way, you can not avoid the possibility for type II diabetes by avoiding sugar. Type II diabetes is genetic. Obesity is a major contributing factor to type II diabetes. It is also true that sweets are quite related to obesity. Yet, it is not the sugar that contributes to obesity. The combination of fats and sweets is the major contributor to obesity. However, starches mixed fats will do just as much. You can have a potato with butter and cheese and get as fat as having a chocolate moose.

    I am not attacking you. But I think that people desserve to know that sugar is not the problem.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    Gramon, I appreciate your input and am happy to approve your comment as all points of view are valid and help to provide a balanced view of things. But you really should read what I have written more carefully before calling into question the validity of the facts as I have presented them.

    For a start, nowhere in this article have I mentioned that sugar causes diabetes. I'm afraid you invented that idea yourself.

    My whole point here is that in the West, the general diet contains far too much REFINED sugar. I'm not talking about natural sugars causing problems, only refined sugar. This is the whole nub of this article and the health problems that eating too much refined sugar leads to.

    Make sure you are certain of your facts before you start telling people that they are wrong about things that they haven't even written.

    And do not patronise me by telling me that I "mean well" as if I am some silly peasant girl and that I am spreading wrong information. The information I have presented here is exactly correct and factual and your insinuation that is not is what is completely wrong.

  • gramon1 profile image

    Guillermo Ramon 8 years ago from Miami

    Too many of the facts listed here are totaslly incorrect. I know you mean well, but you are spreading wrong information based on rumors. This information ends up becoming part of the generally accepted body of knowledge, and the world simply follows it. Sugar DOES NOT CAUSE diabetes of any kind. Check

    Sugar is sucrose that becomes glucose, as you said. But the facts end there. Glucose is easily regulated by our body if we eat it regularly. If our levels are low and we get ssome glucose, the body does rush to consume it. But this is because glucose is so essential for us to live. Glucose is our energy. It keeps our body sustaining a regular temperature. Our brain thinks using glucose. The production of myelin requires glucose and its derivative, glucosamine. Collagen, the basic fabric of our body is made with glucose and glucosamine. Glucose contributes to transport monocytes. Do you realize that diabetic people end up with poor defenses because of their poor defense levels. Glucose and its derivative, glucosamine are essential for muscle formation. OK, I could go for hours. But I'll just blog it soon.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    You're welcome Dave. Its surprising how easy it is to drop a lot of the bad foods and switch to healthier stuff that tastes just as good. You can still treat yourself to something totally bad every now and again as long as the majority of what you eat is good stuff!

  • heydave profile image

    heydave 8 years ago

    Wow Janice, I'm glad I discovered your hubs...espeically as I am attempting to live a healthier lifestyle.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    Hi Sammy, molasses is a funny thing to work with and not everyone likes the taste. Its sweetness varies from brand to brand which is probably why there isn't all that much information out there about using it in cooking as a direct substitute for refined sugar. As a rule of thumb, I tend to guess roughly weight for weight an equivalent measure of molasses. When I make things like cakes or cookies, I tend to use wholemeal flour and honey (again equivalent measures to sugar) for lighter things and molasses for darker fruit cakes.

    As another healthy switch, I don't use butter or margarine either, but extra virgin olive oil instead. My cakes still taste great and they're actually healthy. They're low GI and low fat but they still pack too many calories... ho hum, life would be boring if we got too strict, wouldn't it!

  • Sammy193 profile image

    Sammy193 8 years ago

    Hi, Nice hub btw... I do have a question though since you mention you use molasses as a sweetener. How sweet is molasses compared to refined sugar and what kinds of foods are using it in? I love to cook and bake and never follow a recipes sugar measurement. Do you know of anywhere there is more information on substitutions for these recipe ingredients and measurements?


  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    You're welcome bheater.

    From what I understand, pure alcohol on its own doesn't contain sugar as its the by product of the fermentation process which breaks the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Its what you mix the alcohol with that causes the weight gain. Mixers like ginger ale, fruit juices, coke, lemonade etc are all high sugar and the diet drinks are loaded with aspartame which in my opinion is even worse than the sugar it replaces.

    I haven't tried agave so can't comment - my usual substitutes are honey or molasses. Both are sweet, contain nutrients and are a much better choice than refined sugar, but you'll still gain weight if you eat too much!

    It depends on how strict you want to be. I don't personally want to totally exclude sweet things, just cut them down to levels that are manageable and stay within my calorie count for the day so I don't gain weight.

  • profile image

    bheater 8 years ago

    Very good hub on sugar. I agree with you totally, in Refined Sugar is simply not good for you.

    Two quick comments...

    1) there are some natural sugars that cause weight gain. The biggest one I know of is alcohol....high sugar, empty calories. What is you opinion on that one?

    2) I have used Agave as a natural sweetener works great! It's available in most stores now.

    Thanks for your info!

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    That's normal as most people like sweets too! When you realise what's in them, it can take a little of that sweetness away!

  • profile image

    Nisha shan 8 years ago

    It is an excellent hub. I like sweets and so far I have no idea about the demerits of eating the foods rich in sugar. Very informative.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    It could be that if you're used to eating a lot of sugar every day then suddenly stop, your body may take time to get accustomed to the new diet and that would likely affect your sleep patterns.

  • Vizey profile image

    Vizey 8 years ago

    I am in total agreement with you. One should eat sugar as little as possible. One of the disadvantage of eating less sugar is that you don't get enough sleep in nights.

  • Janice White profile image

    Janice White 8 years ago from England

    Luba, you missed the point.

    One, sugar is not cocaine for heaven sake. Do not ever make that comparison.

    Two, in any diet you should always allow yourself some leeway. If you don't, you'll risk getting so bored with it that you'll quit.

    I mentioned allowing a very small amount of refined sugar as sometimes you simply cannot get away from it as it exists in so many modern foods that it would drive you crazy examining every scrap of food you eat.

    I did not mean use a teaspoon or three direct on your food, so don't put words where there are no words.

    And FYI, I already Googled how bad sugar is for you to get some contrasting info for this hub page. My mind does not need changing thank you very much.

  • profile image

    luba 8 years ago

    I have to agree with everything in this article except for the use of refined sugar in small amounts. What is that,,,a tsp or 2 or 3. It is like using a small amount of cocaine. Google " How bad is sugar for you" and read the 124 reasons how sugar is ruining your health...maybe that will change your mind.


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