What are the Effects of Sugar?

Sheri Cyprus

The effects of sugar have been much studied; many of the results are inconclusive. It’s definitely true that sugar provides the body with no nutrients, only calories. For this reason, sugar is known as an empty calorie food that should be eaten in moderation. The problem is that so many packaged and processed foods today contain such high amounts of sweeteners that the effects of sugar on the diets of many people are harmful.

Sugar cubes.
Sugar cubes.

If people fill up too much on sugary, low-nutrient foods it’s easy to not get enough healthy foods in the diet. A habit of eating a lot of sugar can also mean that people get used to having everything sweet; they often add too much sugar to otherwise healthy foods. For example, sugar is typically added to tomatoes, tomato sauce and ketchup. Sugar is a cheap food for manufacturers to use and it appears in salad dressings, peanut butter and many other foods. Sugar can be “hidden” in so many packaged, prepared and processed foods that it’s easy for many people to underestimate how much sugary food they’re actually consuming.

Dates, which are used to make a sugar substitute.
Dates, which are used to make a sugar substitute.

On top of the sugar-laced foods used in meals, most people also have desserts, soda and candy than contain mostly sugar. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, the limit of a person's daily sugar consumption, based on a 2,000 calorie diet, should be about 10 teaspoons (40 g). But USDA studies have shown that Americans average closer to 20 teaspoons (80 g) of sugar a day. One serving of soda has at least 10 teaspoons of sugar and some brands contain much more.

Eating hard candies can quickly raise blood sugar.
Eating hard candies can quickly raise blood sugar.

While sugar consumption doesn't cause diabetes, it does complicate it. Diabetics can't process sugar properly because it causes the sugars in their blood to be either too high (hypoglycemia) or too low (hyperglycemia). The wide swings in high and low blood sugars can cause serious health problems, such as blindness, loss of limbs and coma. Glucose, or sugar, tolerance tests are given when doctors suspect patients have diabetes. In a glucose tolerance test, the body’s sugar level is tested after an individual drinks a sugary substance.

Diabetics monitor blood sugar levels to help prevent hyperglycemia.
Diabetics monitor blood sugar levels to help prevent hyperglycemia.

Studies of the effects of sugar on behavior date back to 1922. Since then, many studies have been done on hyperactivity or attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) and the effects of sugar in children. Mostly, these results are inconclusive.

Sugar consumption has been shown to cause tooth decay. It’s important to note that other foods can also rot teeth if adequate brushing and flossing aren’t done. Foods leave bacteria on the teeth that can cause cavities. Brushing and flossing the teeth should be done after meals. Eating too much sugar can cause weight gain that may lead to obesity.

Sugar has been linked to tooth decay and proper brushing and flossing techniques should be observed.
Sugar has been linked to tooth decay and proper brushing and flossing techniques should be observed.

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Discussion Comments


@umbra21 - I seriously doubt that will ever happen. Maybe there will be junk food taxes or something like that, but I can't see how they could possibly monitor sugar production in every country.

And the effects of sugar aren't that dramatic. If people would improve their diets and exercise in general they would be fine with the average amount of sugar that gets consumed.


@croydon - I've heard multiple times that it's almost impossible for people to permanently lose weight, but I think that it's a function of the modern world. If you've got access to lots of sugary foods, your body is naturally going to want to eat them and you will suffer all the negative effects of sugar. And there are few people in the world right now who have no access to sugary foods, if they have access to food at all.

Which is why I think that sugar is going to end up being a heavily legislated substance. If you are habituating children to eating lots of sugar, it's almost the same as giving them cigarettes. Once they are addicted, they are going to be lifelong addicts and it will eventually kill them. The trick is to ensure that they don't have access to it in the first place.


I heard a really interesting TED talk a while ago by a doctor who was speculating that type 2 diabetes is actually caused by genetics or some other reason, rather than by poor food choices, which is the current understanding.

He was talking about how the fact that we simply tell people at risk of diabetes to change their habits rather than actually giving them concrete help is giving them a nearly impossible task. The effects of sugar on a person like that are much more drastic than they would be on someone who doesn't have the same risk factor.

It really made me think about how diseases are classified and how people are judged for their choices.

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