Sugar, Carbohydrates and Your Health

Sugar still remains as one of the most misunderstood part of our diet. On one hand it provides vital energy for healthy body function and fuels the brain, on the other hand it often contributes to calorie excesses and weight gain. Excess sugar poses serious risks to health. Here we look at some of the health issues surrounding sugar and some measures that are being taken to mitigate that risk.

10 11 Ways Sugar Harms Your Health

glass of sugary soft drinkSugar is possibly the biggest cause of obesity. For years people have been told to go on low fat diets to lose weight, but in reality the average person do not get most of their energy from fat, most of it comes from sugar!


Sugar in excess causes many health problems. Although the biggest health problem society is facing today is the obesity crisis caused by energy surplus in most people’s diets. In short, sugar makes you fat and kills.

1. Sugar Causes Blood Glucose To Spike And Plummet

Unstable blood sugar level often leads to mood swings, fatigue, headaches and cravings for more sugar.

2. Sugar Increases the Risk of Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease

Large-scale studies have shown that consuming high-glycaemic index foods in excess increase the risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. These are food containing sugar that quickly affect the blood sugar level.

3. Sugar Interferes With Immune Function

Animal studies have shown that sugar suppresses the immune system response.

4. A High-Sugar Diet Often Results In Chromium Deficiency

If you consume a lot of sugar and other refined carbohydrates, you probably don’t get enough of the trace mineral called chromium, and one of its main functions is to help regulate the level of sugar in the blood. Chromium is found in a variety of animal foods, seafood and plant foods. Refining starches and other carbohydrates rob these foods of their chromium supplies, so think wholegrain!

5. Sugar Accelerates Aging

It even contributes to that tell-tale sign of aging: sagging skin. Probably another reason ever-young celebrities like Yasmin LeBon steer clear of the sweet stuff. Some of the sugar you consume, after hitting your bloodstream, ends up attaching itself to proteins, in a process called glycation. These new molecular structures contribute to the loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues, from your skin to your organs and arteries. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold.

6. Sugar Causes Tooth Decay

With all the other life-threatening effects of sugar, we sometimes forget the most basic damage it does. When it sits on your teeth, it creates decay more efficiently than any other food substance, and all the money in the world can’t reverse this process.

7. Sugar Can Cause Gum Disease, Which Can Lead To Heart Disease

Increasing evidence shows that chronic infections, such as those that result from periodontal problems, play a role in the development of coronary artery disease.

8. Sugar Affects Behavior And Cognition In Children

It is believed that one trigger of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be consumption of sugar. All high GI foods cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, which causes a temporary surge of energy and at the same time, hyperactivity. Soon after this energy surge, comes a dip in energy, with the end result being hypoglycaemia. This will inevitably lead to irritability, poor sleeping habits and lack of concentration.

9. Sugar Increases Stress

When we’re under stress, our stress hormone levels rise. These chemicals are the body’s fight-or-flight emergency crew, sent out to prepare the body for an attack or an escape. These chemicals are also called into action when blood sugar is low.

10. Sugar Takes The Place Of Important Nutrients

According to nutrition scientists, research has shown that people who consume the most sugar have the lowest intakes of essential nutrients –– especially vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-12, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Ironically, those who consume the most sugar are children and teenagers, the individuals who need these nutrients most.

11. Soft Drinks Raise Blood Pressure

We had to add no.11 due to some new research released. The high sugar content of many fizzy soft drinks is partly responsible for raising blood pressure in some people. In fact, researchers have shown that for each can of soft drink drunk each day, blood pressure increases.

The problem is with all sugar based soft drinks, not just fizzy / carbonated drinks. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Hypertension and the research was conducted in the USA and UK.

In addition to the raised blood pressure, those that drink a sugar based drink each day also consumed more food calories too, with an additional 400 Calories consumed every day.

The study concluded that sugar from any sources is likely to increase blood pressure and the associated risk of stroke and heart disease.

As always, the key to good health is a balanced diet with treats well moderated. There was a time when a soft drink was a weekly treat, now many people consume several every day. This trend has to be reversed if people are to start living longer and healthier lives again.

Unhealthy High GI Carbs Cause Women Heart Problems

We know that high GI foods (i.e. foods high in sugar content) are one of the main causes of weight gain. A research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has shown that women that consume a high carb diet are more likely to develop coronary heart disease. Following a low GI diet helps to reduce heart disease risk as well as to lose weight.

The study, called The EPICOR Study, followed 47,000 Italians and found that women who ate a lot of pizza, bread and rice had twice as many cases of heart disease as those that consumed a lower than average amount. Men seemed to be unaffected by the high carb diet.

What is the Glycaemic Index?

High GI foods are foods that are high on the glycaemic index. These are foods which  cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly once ingested. Even though Dr. Atkins warned against these types of food 30 years ago, the production of processed foods and refined carbohydrates continues to increase today.

“Thus, a high consumption of carbohydrates from high-glycaemic index foods, rather than the overall quantity of carbohydrates consumed, appears to influence the risk of developing coronary heart disease.”

The theory is that high-glycaemic foods may prevent the good cholesterol from acting, meaning that the bad cholesterol can do more damage.

What are the Main Problem Carbohydrates?

In the study it was determined that the main sources of the high GI carbohydrates that led to heart disease are:

  • White Bread – 60.8%
  • Sugar, honey or jam – 9.1%
  • Pizza – 5.4% (the main problem being the white bread dough it is made from)
  • Rice – 3.2%

How To Avoid Dangerous High GI Foods?

The only way for women to decrease their risk of heart disease is to eliminate the problem foods. Although GI can vary and a balanced diet helps, the only sure way to reduce risk is to stop eating the worse foods. White bread, sugar, honey and jam are the main problems. Replacing the bread with wholegrain varieties is vital. As tasty as those croissants, French sticks, ciabattas and white loaves are, they are just not healthy. They cause bloating and weight gain and increase your chances of having a heart attack.

What are the Low GI Carbs That You Can Eat?

There are many low GI foods that you can eat instead. Here were have a list of low GI foods. The great thing about low GI foods is that they also help to prevent hunger so that you feel full for longer and eat less. This is the main reason people can lose weight while eating a low GI diet.

Why You Should Not Eat White Bread or White Rice

One of the questions we are most often asked is this: “can I still eat white bread if I am exercising?” The answer is always No. However, how many people ignore this advice? And why?

To understand why you crave food and why you put on fat it is important to understand why you want to keep eating the wrong things. White bread is for all intents and purposes 100% sugar. Sugar is what makes us fat. White rice is not as bad as white bread (which is a processed food) but it is far worse than brown rice.

Our brains require sugar for energy, so naturally we crave sugar. However, our brains have not caught up with the modern world and do not realize that there is always ample sugar available so we do not need to overindulge. When we overindulge all that extra sugar is stored as fat.

So we prefer the taste of white bread because it provides an instant sugar rush to the brain. What is not used is stored as fat.

There is nothing good about white bread. Whole wheat / brown bread is better, although even this is still relatively high in sugar compared to healthy vegetables.


To lose weight it is important to reduce sugar intake. Remember that all carbohydrates are converted into sugar, with no exceptions. Sugar makes you fat. So the only way to lose weight is to eat a low GI diet, so learn the Glycemic Index.

Eating Bread Is Linked To Increased Cancer Risk

Latest cancer research, as reported by the BBC, reveals once again that a balanced diet is essential for good long-term health. Italian researchers have discovered that people who tend to consume more bread than average are at a greater risk of developing cancer of the kidney.

The Italian study examined data from more than 2,300 people. The results shown that increased pasta and rice consumption could also moderately raise the risk of developing cancer. Some foods such as vegetables and poultry seem to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

This study will come as a concern for Italians especially because of their love for pasta and bread. Although many Italians follow a more “Mediterranean diet” with fresh, in season fruits and vegetables and lean meats and dairy, they also consume a lot of bread and pasta.

However, Cancer Research UK said it was the first time such a claim had been made and warned people not to be alarmed. More research should be carried out to test the results further.

One of the problems today is that many people “fill up” on bread, and very often white bread made from refined flour. It has been known for many years that making bread a large part of carbohydrate intake can lead to weight problems and constitutes poor diet due to its limited nutritional benefits. But now research reveals that it has the potential to cause, or at least increase the likelihood, of cancer forming.

The research report also suggested that the increased risk was due to the high glycaemic index of bread:

“High GI foods raise blood sugar levels dramatically which is thought could feed the growth of tumors in some way”

When foods which are high GI are consumed and digested, blood sugar levels rise rapidly (blood glucose). This causes a sudden increase in insulin, which leads to sugars being taken up from the blood into fat storage. When people consume many high GI foods their blood sugar levels are constantly rising and falling and the pancreas has to work hard to produce insulin to remove the sugar from the blood.

When blood sugar levels remain high for a prolonged period damage can occur to blood vessels (microvascular and macromolecular damage), which is a common problem for people who are suffering from diabetes. However, until now there has not been any indication that short periods of raised blood sugar may cause any health problems.

Further research is definitely needed within the methods used in the Italian study. Ed Yong, of Cancer Research, criticized the methods used in the study saying that it used an unscientific method of collecting the data. The study required people to recall what they had eaten over a long period, so is prone to a lot of error. Hopefully more conclusive proof will be announced in the next few years.

White Rice Causes Diabetes – Brown Rice Protects

It is official, what we have been saying in the past is now scientifically proven. White rice raises the risk of developing diabetes. The latest research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that eating brown rice instead of white rice can cut the risk of developing diabetes by 33%.

White rice has a high GI and therefore causes a sudden rise in blood sugar when eaten and this is one of the key triggers for the development of type 2 diabetes.

The study looked at 200,000 Americans. The results showed that people who ate 5 or more servings (150g or 5.3 ounces) each week were 17% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who only ate white rice very rarely (less than once per month).

Eating brown rice actually had the opposite effect though. The research suggests that a diet high in brown rice can help to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Eating just 2 portions of brown rice per week resulted in a reduction in diabetes of 11%.

Replacing white rice completely led to greater reduction in diabetes risk. Replacement foods include brown rice, wholemeal bread, rolled oats and pasta. This simple change in diet results in a 33% reduction in diabetes risk.

Dieticians suggest that at least half of our carbohydrate intake should come from whole grains to help cut cases of type 2 diabetes. However, in American and the UK approximately 70% of all rice consumed is white rice. Advice on how to lose stomach fat also suggests that wholegrain diet is consumed to aid weight loss.

A healthy and well balanced diet that is high in fibre with fresh fruits and vegetables, low in salt, sugar and saturated fat helps to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Remaining active is also essential. Following our Guide To Losing Weight is a good way to start getting in shape and reducing the risk of developing serious illness. Take control of your diet and exercise once again.

Sugar Warning Over Breakfast Cereals

Healthy food campaigners have issued a new warning over the unhealthy levels of sugar in breakfast cereal. Some brands of breakfast cereals provide more sugar in a bowl of cereal than in a similar sized portion of cake or ice cream. Some of the worse performing brands included Kellogg’s Crunch Nut,  Cornflakes and Coco Pops. Even Special K that for years has been promoted as a healthy breakfast cereal contains more sugar than some cakes according to the research carried out by mySupermarket Limited.

Sugar Content of Various Breakfast Cereals

All of these sugar contents are based on the information on the nutrition label and are per 40g serving, so if you eat more than 40g you need to calculate how much sugar you are really eating.

  • Kellogg’s Coco Pops – 14.8g (per 40g serving)
  • Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – 13.6g
  • Kellogg’s Coco Rocks – 12.8g
  • Weetabix Minis Chocolate Crisp – 11.3g
  • Vienetta ice cream cake 11g per slice
  • Scoop of vanilla ice cream – 10g
  • Nestle Cheerios – 8.6g
  • Jam doughnut – 8.6g
  • Kellogg’s Special K – 6.8g
  • Nestle Shreddies – 6.2g
  • McVities chocolate cake – 5.4g per slice
  • Kellogg’s Rice Krispies – 4g
  • Kellogg’s Cornflakes – 3.2g

Shockingly a jam doughnut contains less sugar than Weetabix Minis Chocolate Crisp or Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

Cereals are certainly the easy option at breakfast time. No cooking is required, they can be eaten immediately, are available all year round, and easy for children to prepare a bowl for themselves. They are the most convenient breakfast available, with the exception of eating plain fruit.

Some cereals can be healthy, such as a good quality muesli (although dried fruit is high in fructose).

In response to this report a spokeswoman for Kellogg’s said: “Breakfast cereals are low in fat, low calorie and are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. They are also the primary source of some nutrients such as iron for children in the UK.”

Although as we know, the idea that “low fat” is healthy is wearing thin. Cereals will always be low fat as they are primarily vegetable. However, sugar is possibly even less healthy than saturated fat.

This research is similar to the findings of Becca Wilcox who revealed the dangers of sugar in the BBC documentary The Sugar Conspiracy. Dr. Atkins warned us about the dangers of sugar 40 years ago. Why is nobody listening?

Kellogg’s Reduce Sugar and Increase Vitamin D Content of Their Breakfast Cereals

In August 2010 Kellogg’s announced that they were making some changes to their breakfast cereals. For many years people have considered breakfast cereals to be the healthy option as they contain almost no fat. However, the real problem is sugar. Breakfast cereals contain refined carbohydrates and often corn glucose.

Kellogg’s have announced that for Coco Pops, which is one of the most popular cereals aimed at children, sugar content will fall from 35% to 29.75%. This is actually a very small reduction and means that the cereals will still contain twice as much sugar as recommended by the government’s Food Standards Agency.

“The Kellogg Company UK today is announcing significant enhancements to its Kellogg’s Coco Pops cereals including a reduction in sugar, the addition of vitamin D and the launch of Coco Pops Choc N’ Roll cereal, with nutrition credentials that pass the stringent Food Standards Agency’s nutrient profile.” Source: Kelloggs.co.uk

Sugar is possibly as bad for your health as saturated fat. Shocking, but true.

Sugar is also the biggest cause of weight gain. Sugar and many of the foods that it is derived from, has no nutritional value. It is just pure energy that if not used is converted to fat. Processed foods, junk foods and fast food all contain huge amounts of sugar. Why? Because sugar is a relatively cheap energy source. People want to feel satisfied when they eat, and it is much cheaper to add sugar to food than meat or dairy.

Hopefully this move from Kellogg’s will set a precedent and more food companies will start to reduce the sugar content of their products. Cereals are still the most convenient meal at breakfast for rushed parents to prepare for their children and toast or bread do not fare much better than cereals when it comes to sugar content. Ideally you should start to day with some protein – eggs are ideal – and some fresh fruits, such as grapefruit, apples, pears, grapes, kiwi, oranges and prunes, which are all low GI.

Kellogg’s also announced a new product to their range, Coco Pops Choc N’ Roll. The Choc N’ Roll product is a chocolate cereal that has less salt, less sugar, less saturated fat, more fibre and wholegrains than the traditional Coco Pops. It is a healthier version for more health conscious parents.

A bowl of fresh fruit with a dollop of natural yogurt is a great start to the day, much healthier than breakfast cereals and should keep you feeling fuller for longer. Add a boiled egg or two and you have a well balanced, healthy breakfast that will help you lose weight and build muscle, if you are exercising.

Why You Should Try A Reduced Carbohydrate Diet

Not so long ago the low carb diet was all the rage. Atkins and other plans such as the Zone and South Beach said that limiting bad carbs (often all carbs during the initial induction phase of the diets) was a good way to lose weight. This trend followed the more traditional low fat / high fiber diets. However, studies have now proved that neither system is actually best.

Studies do suggest that low carb diets are more effective at reducing weight in the short term, but this could be down to the fact that it is so often such a major change in eating habits that people find it easier to stick to the plan. It is more of a psychological diet tool than a physical one.

However, the recent report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition did not focus on the role of fats and proteins in helping to reduce hunger and manage food cravings, or the fact that many people are addicted to sugar and eliminating sugar for 2 weeks can cure the addiction and stabilize blood sugar levels, which also stop sugar cravings.

Ultimately, any diet is about reducing the calories consumed until you reach your ideal weight, and then maintaining that weight with a calorie controlled diet. Exercise is essential too, as this helps us to maintain our ideal weight by ensuring that the food we eat is burnt off.

The main advantage of going on a diet rather than just cutting back on calories though is the psychological one. If you change your eating habits then you are more likely to stick to the plan. It is too easy to sneak in snacks or the odd slice of bread / biscuit when you are attempting to control calories without any guidance.

Low carb diets are certainly not as popular as they once were, and even with the increased popularity of the Dukan diet the low carbohydrate approach is still considered to be an unhealthy option.

However, low carbohydrate diets do have several benefits over other systems, such as calorie controlled diets. These are the main advantages of a low carb approach to eating:

  • High carbohydrate diets lead to reduction of fat burning, and therefore weight gain.
  • High carbohydrate diets cause blood sugar spikes and dips, resulting in hunger pangs, binge eating, and weight gain.
  • High carbohydrate diets require less metabolic energy, and therefore more weight gain.
  • Very Low carbohydrate diets increase lipolysis, and burn fat.
  • Fat requires more metabolic energy, therefore less energy is converted back into fat.
  • Low carbohydrate diets control insulin levels, and reduce blood sugar imbalances, and control appetite. You feel less hungry.
  • It is not natural to eat as much sugar as we do.
  • Fats and proteins are vital to good health, are natural in foods, and eaten with green salads, actually help to prevent weight gain.

A Note About Popular Diet Systems

It is important to make clear that with most popular diet systems, there is much more to them than it is commonly known. For example, few people realize that the Atkins Nutritional Approach consists of four stages: Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss, Pre-Maintenance, and Maintenance.

It is only during the induction stage that carbohydrates are severely restricted. This is to ensure that you move from a sugar burning metabolism to a fat burning one. After some weight is lost, but not before the target weight is reached, you move into “ongoing weight loss”, where more carbohydrate foods can be consumed.

The idea is to find a balance, so that you consume maximum carbs while still losing weight. Consumption of healthy salads is highly recommended under Atkins, and this means that many people actually eat healthier than normal! Also, Exercise is a fundamental part of the Atkins approach.

Atkins always used to say that “Exercise is not an Option”, simply meaning that it is compulsory if you wish to maintain a healthy weight and good general health, in the long-term. The Motley Health Fitness and Weight Loss Plan actually puts exercise first, before diet even begins.

Why Does It Not Work For Some People?

Those that speak out against the low carbohydrate diets will often cite examples of where the diet did not work. There are several reasons why the diet may not lead to desired weight loss:

  • The dieter cheated – they consumed something not on the list of allowed foods. Under the Atkins diet, there is a list of foods which can be eaten during induction. Everything not on the list is not allowed. But many people still drink fruit juice, carrots, processed meats, offal, caffeine, beer etc. All of these can lead to insulin responses, preventing weight loss.
  • Medication. There are many medications which unfortunately prevent weight loss. Many female contraceptives hinder weight loss. In fact, anything that results in hormonal changes can prevent weight loss. Women really do have a tougher time losing weight than men. They also have less muscle, and muscle demands more energy.
  • Some people give up too soon. In most people, carbohydrates will be depleted within two days, but some people may take a little longer. And these are likely to be frustrated with zero results, and grab a sandwich, or smoothie, and then go back to the diet. But each time this occurs, they are setting themselves back by another two days.
  • Some people ignore the advice to exercise. Exercise is essential, even if it is just walking for 20 minutes a day. People that are very overweight find it hard to exercise, but those that are very overweight can lose weight very quickly once lipolysis starts, and even gentle to moderate walking will lead to fast results.

Why the emphasis on Atkins?

Why the emphasis on the Atkins diet plan? Firstly, Dr. Atkins was the first to popularise the low-carb diet. He developed this nutritional approach after studying both cardiology and internal medicine (i.e. digestion etc.), and after seeing many patients overweight.

He was aware of studies carried out in the 1960’s that showed that high protein diets aided weight loss, and he prescribed these diets to his overweight patients.

Many of his patients had tried and failed on low-fat diets, and had dangerously high cholesterol levels. For almost all of his patients, the high protein approach led to not only weight loss, but a reduction in bad cholesterol, increase in good cholesterol, and reduction in other factors that have been shown to increase heart disease, stroke and cancer risk.

So, in short, there are decades of empirical evidence showing that low carbohydrate diets work, and are good for you.

Finally, please ensure that you seek medical advice from a professional if you plan a low carbohydrate diet. For people on medication a low carbohydrate diet may not be advisable. If you are already suffering from diabetes, then it is also not advisable. Speak to your GP / doctor / health adviser first.

It’s Time to Give Sugar The Boot

Now that you know the negative impacts refined sugar can have on your body and mind, you’ll want to be more careful about the foods you choose. And the first step is getting educated about where sugar lurks. Believe it or not, a food needn’t even taste all that sweet for it to be loaded with sugar.

The best way to lower total sugar intake is to eat a low to medium GI diet, with the emphasis on nutritious fruits and vegetables. This diet improves health and helps you lose weight.

Sugar is added to food because it is a cheap energy source. Food manufacturers have profit margins to consider and sugar is now mass produced in huge mega farms across the world. The easiest ways to reduce your sugar intake are to:

  • Stop buying processed food
  • Stop eating junk food
  • Stop drinking soda and fruit juice
  • Follow a low GI diet plan

When it comes to convenience and packaged foods, let the ingredients label be your guide, and be aware that just because something boasts that it is low in carbs or a ‘diet’ food, doesn’t mean it is free of sugar. Take care of your diet and your health, and give sugar the boot!

References

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(7):640-647. Abstract.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Sugar Intake of Individuals, and Their Blood Pressure – 
International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure” by Ian J. Brown; Jeremiah Stamler; Linda Van Horn; Claire E. Robertson; Queenie Chan; Alan R. Dyer; Chiang-Ching Huang; Beatriz L. Rodriguez; Liancheng Zhao; Martha L. Daviglus; Hirotsugu Ueshima; Paul Elliott; for the International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure Research Group. Hypertension. 2011, Published online before print February 28, 2011, doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110

Eating bread ‘raises cancer risk’ retrieved on Friday, 20 October 2006

More like this in the Diet and Nutrition section

  13 comments for “Sugar, Carbohydrates and Your Health

  1. Leon
    June 27, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Ok, I am confused! The article mentions various comments by the medical field about low carbs. They also mention this, ” This research helps to back up the basic message that our diet should contain more starchy carbohydrate, not less. For long-term health at least one-third of what we eat should be bread, rice, potatoes, pasta or other starchy food.” Prof. Alan Maryon-Davis, UK Faculty of Public Health

    But I read other information on your site to cut out white bread, white rice, etc altogether because it is a cause for fat. So what to do?

    thanks

  2. MotleyHealth
    June 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Leon, it is indeed a paradox. I think that the problem is need. A typical overweight westerner today is simply getting far too much food, and the energy from staples such as bread, rice and pasta is not actually needed. In poorer communities the staples are still a vital energy source, not a surplus. There are still many people in the world who suffer from being underweight and malnourished.

    If you are overweight then you need to cut down on your total calories, and cutting out carbohydrates which provide little nutritional benefit is the first step, along with reducing other foods which pose risk to long-term health (namely salt and saturated fat, which are also found largely in processed meats).

    Too much sugar does cause weight gain and pose risk to health. So does too much fat and too much protein.

    In short – a balanced diet is needed.

  3. Leon
    June 28, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Thanks for the response! I was thinking the same but wasn’t too sure about my thoughts. Thanks for your expert response and keep up the good work!

    Leon

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