Deciding to cut back on your added sugar intake is no easy task. After all, it can hide in many different foods and beverages—even the so-called "healthy" ones. Although sugar isn't considered to be a healthy food, a little sweetness is OK.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories.1 Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) of added sugar for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men.2 (As a daily average, adults are consuming nearly 17 teaspoons).3
It's important to note that these recommendations don't include naturally occurring sugars found in whole foods, such as fruit or milk. Your body spends more time digesting whole foods and processing their sugars.2
With added sugars, your body absorbs them more quickly or can't process them fast enough.4 These sugars are used to sweeten food and beverages during processing and preparation. Think soda, juice, or sweetener in your morning cup of coffee.2
Too much sugar, whether it's added or natural, can harm your health.2 In particular though, too much added sugar can place you at a greater risk for heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions.3
Reducing the amount of added sugar you consume can lead to weight reduction and more. Here are seven possible benefits of cutting out sugar.
Helps regulate your blood sugar
In order for your body to process blood sugar, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Think of insulin as a key: it allows the sugar to enter your cells. But when lots of sugar enter your bloodstream at once, the pancreas releases lots of insulin to try and keep up. If this happens often enough, you can develop insulin resistance: when your cells gradually stop responding to insulin, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream.4
Eventually, insulin resistance can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Several studies have found that people who frequently consume sugar-sweetened beverages have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.5
Reducing your added sugar intake, exercising, and following a healthful diet can improve insulin sensitivity. When your cells are more sensitive to insulin, they require less insulin to absorb blood sugar. This can help regulate your blood sugar levels and decrease your risk for diabetes.4
Aids in weight management
As long as you stay below the recommended daily amounts for added sugar, consuming it is unlikely to cause weight gain. However, several studies show that diets high in added sugar are associated with obesity and being overweight.6
In particular, diets high in added sugar are linked to belly fat. Also known as visceral fat, belly fat wraps around your abdominal organs. It is linked to chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.7
For your long-term health, limit sugar-sweetened foods and beverages. Go for things that are low in added sugar, such as sparkling water, fruits, and vegetables. This can help you manage your weight and reduce belly fat.3
Improves your oral health
A sweet tooth can get you into trouble if you're not careful about removing the sugar that sticks to your teeth. Over time, bacteria in your mouth can break down the sugar to produce an acid. This acid gradually destroys the surface of your teeth, causing dental cavities. Too much bacteria can also lead to infected or inflamed gums, resulting in gum disease.8
Reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet to less than 10% of your total calories each day can reduce your risk of developing cavities, as recommended by the WHO.9
Regardless of your sugar intake, you should practice good oral hygiene by flossing daily, brushing your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste, and visiting a dentist at least once a year.10
Reduces your risk of liver disease
Studies show that consuming excessive amounts of added sugar is linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This type of liver disease is unrelated to alcohol, heavy metal poisoning, or a viral infection.11
It's your liver's job to break down fructose, a type of added sugar. But excess fructose—particularly from sweetened beverages—that reaches the liver is turned into fat. Eventually, when too much fat is stored in the liver, you can develop NAFLD.11
However, reducing your added sugar intake can help reduce your risk for liver disease.11
Helps your heart health
Added sugars are both indirectly and directly linked to heart disease. Diets with greater than 20% of total calories from added sugars are associated with high levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat. Elevated triglycerides can boost your risk for heart disease.12
One study examined daily added sugar consumption and heart disease risk in more than 11,000 people over about 15 years. Participants who consumed 25% or more of their daily calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who consumed less than 10% of calories from added sugar. This was found to be likely regardless of age, sex, race or ethnicity, and physical activity level.13
Even if you are already at a healthy weight, reducing your intake of added sugar can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides at healthy levels. This can also decrease your risk for heart disease.13
May reduce acne and improve skin health
Another reason to reduce your sugar intake: It may improve your skin health. Too much sugar means your body releases more insulin and insulin-like hormones. These hormones can trigger skin-related changes: your body might produce more androgen hormones (like testosterone) and more sebum (oily substance)—both of which can lead to acne.14
Cutting back on added sugar might also help slow your skin from aging. When you reach early adulthood, the collagen and elastic proteins in your skin naturally age, leading to creases, sagging, and wrinkles. Sugar, along with grilled, fried, or roasted foods, might contain more substances that react with the collagen and elastic fibers in your skin. The more sugar you consume, the quicker your skin can become stiffer and lose elasticity.14
Although reducing added sugar cannot reverse wrinkles, it can slow the skin aging process. Eating certain herbs and spices, such as cloves, ginger, garlic, and oregano may help slow the appearance of wrinkles as well.14
May lower your risk of depression
What we eat may affect how our brain functions, thus impacting our mood. For example, eating healthy diets that emphasize fish, whole grains, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables (ie. Mediterranean diet) is associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms.15
Several studies also suggest that sugary beverages are linked to a higher risk of depressive symptoms and depression. This may be because too much sugar can be addictive: When you eat it, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine—hormones that make you feel good in the moment. Over time, this can impact your mood.15,16
However, other studies have found no relationship between sugar intake and depression risk. More research is needed to examine how sugar can affect your mood.15,16
A Quick Review
Reducing your sugar intake may support a healthy weight, decrease your risk of depression, and reduce your risk of heart disease, among other health benefits.
The good news is that you don't necessarily have to quit sugar completely. A limited amount of added sugar each day is fine.1,2 Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to manage your sugar consumption, especially if you have a specific health condition related to blood sugar or are at risk of developing one.17
- United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025.
- American Heart Association. How much sugar is too much?
- American Heart Association. How too much added sugar affects your health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Wang M, Yu M, Fang L, Hu RY. Association between sugar‐sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes: A meta‐analysis. J Diabetes Invest. 2015;6(3):360-366. doi:10.1111/jdi.12309
- Low Y, Lacy K, Keast R. The role of sweet taste in satiation and satiety. Nutrients. 2014;6(9):3431-3450. doi:10.3390/nu6093431
- Yi SY, Steffen LM, Terry JG, et al. Added sugar intake is associated with pericardial adipose tissue volume. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2020;27(18):2016-2023. doi:10.1177/2047487320931303
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral health conditions.
- World Health Organization. Sugar and dental caries.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral health tips.
- Vreman RA, Goodell AJ, Rodriguez LA, Porco TC, Lustig RH, Kahn JG. Health and economic benefits of reducing sugar intake in the USA, including effects via non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a microsimulation model. BMJ Open. 2017;7(8):e013543. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013543
- Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients. 2016;8(11):697. doi:10.3390/nu8110697
- Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among us adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563
- Katta R, Desai SP. Diet and dermatology: the role of dietary intervention in skin disease. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(7):46-51.
- Huang Q, Liu H, Suzuki K, Ma S, Liu C. Linking what we eat to our mood: a review of diet, dietary antioxidants, and depression. Antioxidants. 2019; 8(9):376. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox8090376
- Knüppel A, Shipley MJ, Llewellyn CH, Brunner EJ. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):6287. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Manage blood sugar.
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