5 Ways Sugar is Destroying Our Health (and What We Can Do About It)



For many years, those sweet white crystals have shared an intrinsic link with our culture.

If our children do well, we give them sugary snacks as a reward.

Christmas time? Milk chocolate and candies are some of the most popular gifts. We even eat egg-shaped milk chocolate to celebrate Easter.

But that’s not all.

Did you know that 74% of processed food contains added sugar?

Shocking though it is, the vast majority of everything that comes in a packet has extra sugar added in.

While many people realize sugar may lead to obesity and possibly diabetes, the true extent of the harms of sugar is less known.

This article will look at the multitude of ways in which sugar destroys health, along with what we can do about it.

The Harms of Sugar

Sugar has a range of negative impacts on our entire biological system; here are 5 of the most important to be aware of.

1. Sugar is Addictive Like a Drug

While it may sound exaggerated, sugar really is like a drug in that it exerts similar biological effects on our brain.

When we eat sugar, it stimulates the ‘reward center’ of our brain to release dopamine. Significantly, this makes us feel pleasure and creates a biological urge for us to seek this feeling out again.

This food reward system used to be beneficial for survival when we lived in the wild, as it helped us find foods that we had subsisted on in the past.

However, nowadays we have hyper-palatable food on every street corner and we can eat as much as we want.

As a result, many people experience sugar addictions and have a hard time giving up sweet foods.

The science is also strong on this; there are many studies which show that sugar addiction is real, and one study even found that 94% of cocaine-addicted mice choose a sugar solution over cocaine water.

Worse still, sugar withdrawal can be extremely difficult to break, and many people can’t cope without the sweet stuff in their lives.

In short; many people are overweight — not because they want to be — but because they cannot give up unhealthy foods.

How Can We Beat Sugar Addiction?

Should this sound like you, one way in which we can help beat sugar addiction is through a diet high in healthy fats. These foods provide a higher level of satiety that often removes the urge for snacking.

After first giving up sugar, if you have any cravings then healthier snacks can also curb these hunger pangs. Nuts, dark chocolate, jerky, and eggs are all nutrient-rich foods that can help in this regard.

 2. Sugar Encourages Cancer Growth

Just as many people love the taste of sugar, so do cancer cells.

In fact, various studies show that without sufficient glucose, cancer cells find it hard to fuel their growth.

If we think about the modern diet compared to thousands of years ago, it’s not difficult to see why cancer rates are skyrocketing.

Hunter-gatherers, for example, probably only got a small amount of sugar from fresh fruit (when they were lucky enough to find some).

In contrast, we start fueling ourselves with sugar from the moment we wake up until the last thing at night.

Sugary breakfast cereals, mid-morning snacks, lunches full of sandwiches and pastries, more refined carbs for dinner, and maybe a snack in front of the TV at night. That’s even forgetting the fact that many people enjoy sugary coffees, some of which contain almost 100g of sugar alone.

Essentially, sugar feeds cancer. For this reason, anyone trying to prevent (or reverse) cancer would do well to avoid simple sugars and refined carbohydrates.

There’s no essential need for sugar in our diet, and despite food industry claims of it being “healthy as part of a balanced diet”, there is nothing healthy about it.

To sum up; a moderate amount of sugar is not healthy, it’s moderately damaging.

Restricting Sugar Makes Life Difficult For Cancer Cells

A diet providing minimal glucose is also a diet low in fuel for cancer’s growth. While it’s silly to suggest that we can 100% avoid cancer (it’s multi-factorial), sugar restriction certainly helps make things more difficult for cancer to grow.

3. Sugar Has Direct Links to Heart Disease – Irrespective of Diabetes and Obesity

Diabetes complications can include vascular damage and progression of cardiovascular disease. This knowledge is not new, but what many people don’t know is that sugar has strong independent links to heart disease.

In other words, it is still damaging to your heart whether diabetic or not.

In fact, a myriad of recent studies show that sugar negatively impacts the cardiovascular system

With September 2016 came a shocking revelation; in the 1970s, Harvard scientists who authored an influential study were paid to downplay the links between sugar and heart disease in.

As a result of this, saturated fat incorrectly took the blame for something in which sugar was likely the culprit.

Over the past century, sugar consumption has increased by a massive scale. In fact, the only time in which sugar consumption was relatively low was during rationing in the war years (incidentally, cardiac-related deaths dropped during this time).

To look after our hearts, sugar is one of the very last foods we should think about eating.

Rather than eating sugary candy, nature provides us with the sweet natural taste of berries, and they’re actually good for us.

What Foods Are Heart-Protective?

Despite the general narrative that fat is “bad” for us over the past decades, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Naturally occurring fats — from plants and animals — are perfectly healthy. Coupling these with a variety of fresh produce and foods high in polyphenols provides everything we need to thrive.

4. Sugar is a Major Contributor to Type 3 Diabetes (Alzheimer’s Disease)

Perhaps you haven’t heard of ‘type 3 diabetes’ before; however, that’s precisely what many experts believe Alzheimer’s disease is.

Just like type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance, it’s postulated that Alzheimer’s disease is insulin resistance of the brain.

Increasing evidence has been gathering for this, and many recent studies show this strong link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s.

Just like the epidemics of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, Alzheimer’s rates are also surging around the world and increasing year-on-year.

In fact, predictions put the number of Alzheimer’s cases growing by 193% between 2000 and 2050.

So, what causes insulin resistance?

The major culprit, yet again, is sugar.

While all carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance in excess (especially large amounts starchy foods), sugar is the most dangerous.

Case in point: those who eat the most sugar have a much higher risk of Alzheimer’s.

Reducing Alzheimer’s Risk

As with our overall health in general, eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods is one of the best things we can do.

To reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, it’s especially important to cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates.

5. Sugar Causes Premature Aging: Both Inside and Out

As stated, sugar can play a direct and indirect role in the etiology of several diseases.

However, the oxidative damage sugar inflicts on the body also impacts our biggest organ: the skin.

So, if the increased susceptibility to obesity and disease doesn’t scare you away from sugar, maybe a prematurely aging face might?

One of the reasons this happens is that sugar damages collagen, as well as determining the type of collagen you have.

Type 1 collagen is most delicate, and oxidative stress easily damages it. On the other hand, type 3 collagen is very firm and resistant to damage.

Unfortunately, sugar intake causes glycation in the body and this can transform the ratio of collagen we have.

In our youth, we all predominantly have type 3 collagen but this ratio changes as we age – older people tend to have a much higher proportion of type 1 collagen.

This is also the case for people consuming the most sugar, who have a significantly lower ratio of type 3 to type 1 collagen.

Youthful Looking Skin

As the damage caused by sugar extends to our skin, cutting sugar out is one of the best things we can do if we want to age gracefully.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, the harms of sugar negatively impact our whole body.

In contrast to what you may hear about “balance”, sugar plays no part in a healthy diet.

It is an entirely unessential nutrient that does way more harm than good.

I'm a nutrition educator and work with a range of organizations to design and implement nutrition education programs. Nutrition and helping people lead a healthier life is a huge passion of mine.