The Low Sugar Con - Part 2: The Risks of a High-Sugar Diet

by Dr. David Minkoff June 03, 2020 6 min read

Surfer on a large wave going through the tunnel of the wave.

You're about to read Part 2 of The Low Sugar Con. You can catch up on Part 1: Maltodextrin HERE.

How YOU Might be Unknowingly Affected

Everyone knows that too much sugar is bad for you. You heard it from your parents, and if you have children, you avoid allowing them to have too many sweet drinks and candy, right?

Well, we have some bad news for you. The for-profit food industry has developed ways of sneaking sugar into your diet without making it obvious. In other words, you and your family are likely consuming much more sugar than you thought – and paying the price.

To understand this, we have to take a step back and walk through exactly what sugar is, what it does to your body, and how you get it. Let’s begin.


Part One: What is Sugar?

Sugar is the generic name for a group of carbohydrates that taste sweet and dissolve in water. The simplest forms of sugar are single molecules called monosaccharides (mono = one). They include:

Glucose is directly used in your bloodstream to provide energy to your cells. “Blood sugar” refers to the concentration of glucose in your blood. And yes, that means that some sugar is good and critical for your body to function at all.

Fructose and galactose are either converted to glucose or stored as fat in your body.

Compound Sugars

When a sugar has two molecules, it is called a compound sugar or disaccharide (di = two). Table sugar, confectionary sugar, and other common sugars you can buy in the store are generally compound sugars, such as sucrose.

When a compound sugar enters your body, it is broken down into glucose or stored as fat.


Part Two: Carbs

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are a broader category of food made up of sugar molecules. Carbs are generally broken down into three categories:

  • Simple Carbs: Sugars, including monosaccharides and disaccharides
  • Complex Carbs: Any carbohydrate that contains long chains of sugar molecules, including oligosaccharides (oligo = few) and polysaccharides (poly = many). Some examples of foods that include complex carbs are starchy vegetables, bread, pasta, and rice.
  • Fiber: Fiber is a special type of complex carbohydrate that your body cannot digest. Fiber helps move things along in your digestion, relieve constipation, and let your body digest carbs slower to provide slow-burning energy.

When you look at the nutrition facts on any product, you will see that the “total carbs” includes both sugar and dietary fiber as subsets. Because your body doesn’t digest fiber, many people subtract the dietary fiber from the total carbohydrates to get a real idea of how many “carbs” you are eating.

Refined Carbs

Most complex carbs in their natural state are healthy and provide slow-burning, consistent energy. Why? Because they contain fiber and other nutrients that slow the digestive process and keep everything moving at a healthy pace.

Unfortunately, most complex carbs in modern food are no longer in their natural state – they have been processed, and the fiber and other nutrition removed. This provides a sweeter taste, fluffier texture, and longer shelf life – great for marketing and selling food.

But these refined, long chains of sugar molecules are rapidly converted by your body into either glucose or fat – just like eating a spoon full of table sugar.

Some examples of refined carbs include:

  • White rice
  • White bread
  • Pizza dough
  • White flour
  • Many breakfast cereals
  • Cakes and desserts

To make it clear, look at this nutrition facts label for Ball Park Classic Burger Buns. You can see the total carbohydrates is 28 grams out of a 53 gram bun, of which 4 grams are added sugar. [1]

Now you might think, 4 grams of sugar - not bad, right? Wrong. When you look at the ingredients, you will see the first ingredient is “Enriched Wheat Flour” – which is a pretty way of saying “refined flour that we put some nutrients back into.” With less than one gram of dietary fiber, you are looking at 23 carbohydrate grams that will turn right into sugar (and then be stored as fat) as your body digests them.

So yes, you guessed it. Refined carbs are a hidden enemy, and they are everywhere.


Part Three: Added Sugar and the Glycemic Index

Your body doesn’t need a lot of sugar, and you could easily survive without a single gram of added sugar if you eat fruit, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. Your body will convert the complex carbs into glucose to maintain the optimal, healthy blood sugar level.

The measurement that determines how quickly a carb turns into sugar is called the glycemic index (GI). It is a scale that ranges from 1 to 100, with 100 being the equivalent of eating straight glucose. The range is as follows:

  • Anything with a rating of 55 or less is considered low (which is good)
  • Foods with a rating of 56 to 69 are medium
  • Foods with a rating of 70 or higher are “high” (which is bad)

White rice, for example, has a GI of around 75, while brown rice has a GI of around 65. Harvard Health has a comprehensive list of over 100 foods and their respective GI indexes.

The GI of a food will also vary depending on what else is on your plate. Mixing a high-GI food with a low-GI food can balance the digestive process. So, it’s not that you must never eat junk food – just be smart and eat it in moderation.



Part Four: How Added Sugar is Hidden

When you look at the ingredients, they are listed in sequence with the first item being present in the highest quantity, and successively lower quantities as you move down the list.

While this is a good system, food manufacturers have developed a method of loading sugar in and hiding it: they use multiple types of sugar. Instead of seeing “sugar” as the second or third ingredient, you might see four or five types of sugar lower on the list. When combined, the total “sugar” would be the second or third ingredient.

Takeaway: It’s important to read the label and recognize the different kinds of sugar.

HealthLine has a comprehensive list of the 56 most common “types” of sugar, which we recommend you check out.


Part Five: What Excessive Sugar Does to Your Body

Added sugar in food and drinks is often referred to as “empty calories,” which means calories without any health benefit. Added sugars, especially fructose (one of the most common forms of sugar in beverages and sweets – ever heard of high fructose corn syrup?), can have significant adverse effects on your health, including:

  • Food cravings: Excessive consumption of sugar (and fructose in particular) trains your body to crave more of it. Fructose can also cause resistance to leptin, which is a hormone that helps regulate hunger. [4,5]
  • Mental health: Numerous studies have shown that people who consume high quantities of sugar suffer from increased inflammation, neural transmitter dysfunction, and other physical changes associated with a higher risk of depression. [6,7]
  • Weight & obesity: Those who consume high quantities of sugar and refined carbs are significantly more likely to suffer from obesity and varying degrees of excess weight. The consumption of sugary beverages is linked to visceral belly fat – a deep layer of fat that is closely linked to heart disease. [8]
  • Teeth: Sugar is known to feed cavity-causing bacteria on your teeth, leading to long term tooth problems.
  • Energy: Consumption of excess sugar and high-GI foods is linked to a cycle of a “high” of increased blood sugar, followed by a crash of low energy. When this becomes a constant factor, it can lead to long-term energy loss, feelings of lethargy, and mood swings. [9]
  • Skin aging: Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are chemicals formed when sugar reacts with protein. AGEs are known to damage collagen and elastin, which are key for youthful, supple skin, and a diet full of sugar is known to accelerate the aging process of the skin. [10,11]
  • Liver: Fructose is processed in your liver, and an excess of fructose can overtax your liver and cause significant harm. Some studies have shown that excessive consumption of fructose can be as damaging to your liver as excessive alcohol. [12]
  • Heart: Sugar is known to trigger inflammation, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure – all of which are closely linked to heart disease. Studies have shown that your risk of developing heart disease can increase as much as 38% through daily consumption of excessive sugar. [13,14]
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Overconsumption of sugar has been known to cause insulin resistance, which is the primary factor involved in type 2 diabetes. When combined with obesity and blood sugar spikes, the chances of contracting type 2 diabetes increases exponentially with each daily soda or sweet. [14,15]


Part Six: The Solution

With sugar so prevalent in our diets, the question remains: “What can we do about it?”

Well, the answer is quite simple:

  • Read the labels on the food you buy, and avoid food items with lots of added sugar – including those that are hidden.
  • Stay away from refined carbs. Eat brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat bread instead of white bread.
  • Come up with a basic diet plan that includes sufficient dietary fiber and whole nutrition.



*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.