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13 Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar

Payton Baker, RD, MS, LMNT

Published in Nutrition

9 min read

December 9, 2021
January 23, 2023

Are you craving sweets? Do you have the urge to find things in the pantry that may satisfy your sugar cravings? And do you find that you’re suddenly more tired or irritable for no apparent reason? If your answer to any of these questions was ‘yes,’ you’re not alone.

The answer to all of it may even be on your plate! Sugar intake is on the rise, and it can be challenging to know just how much is too much when it comes to your daily meals.

So, how much sugar is too much? And how can you know that you're eating too much? Read on to find out.

What Type of Sugar Has The Most Negative Effect On The Body?

a box of chocolate candies

Are all sugars created equal? The short answer is no. There are two broad kinds of sugar, which can be further broken down into subtypes: Natural occurring sugars and processed sugars.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits (fructose) and dairy (lactose). They have barely any negative impact when you ingest them in recommended quantities unless you have an intolerance—but more on that later! They're often accompanied by vital vitamins and minerals for your body's processes. 

Processed sugars often originate in natural places but are altered in various ways. Fructose and sucrose are the most common ones here. You can identify processed sugars as "high fructose corn syrup" and "table sugar" on food labels.

Both high fructose corn syrup and sucrose have natural origins (corn, sugarcane, and sugar beets) but are altered to make a cheaper and more sweet product. You can accidentally over consume these sugars since they've become a common ingredient in most popular foods today.

Reading food labels is an excellent way to gauge what's in your food, but this can get a little tricky with sugar. Sugars are listed under carbohydrates and now are broken down even further into “added sugars” which shows processed sugars that are added into the food. It all gets trickier when you consider this: more than 60 different names for processed sugar can be hidden in your foods! 

Common Foods High in Added Sugars

two sticks of chocolate ice-cream on plates

It may take some detective skills, but you can discover these hidden sugars and sweeteners by looking at the ingredients on the nutrition facts label. Here are three shortcuts that can be helpful when you're looking through the ingredients to identify the processed sugars:

  • If it ends in "-ose."
  • "Sugar," "syrup," "juice," or "concentrate" is in the ingredient name.
  • It is a honey" or "nectar."

Foods that may be high in processed sugars include:

  • Sauces/Condiments
  • Juices
  • Sweets and baked goods(cakes, cookies, ice cream)
  • Yogurts
  • Nut butter
  • Flavored milk
  • Dried fruits
  • Specialty coffees, iced teas, and energy drinks
  • Protein bars
  • Breakfast cereals and instant oatmeal

13 Signs You Are Consuming Too Much Sugar

donuts and marshmallows

1) You Experience Weight Gain or Struggle To Lose Weight

Have you ever wondered why belly fat is the hardest to get rid of? A high sugar intake and increased insulin levels can cause the body to change from "fat burning mode" to "fat-storing mode." And guess where your body's favorite storage place is? You guessed it, it's the abdomen! This type of fat accumulation is called visceral fat (the most stubborn fat of all). It can lead to other health concerns such as heart disease and diabetes. 

2) You Have Digestive Issues

High sugar intake can cause uncomfortable digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas. Sugar alcohols and high fructose corn syrup are processed sugars that tend to cause distress because your body cannot process them efficiently.

They move through your intestines unchanged, and when they reach the large intestine, gut bacteria feed on them in fermentation. This process can cause a build-up of gas, often accompanied by cramping, bloating, and pain.

People who have Celiac disease, Chrohn's disease, and other digestive intolerances produce a high amount of mucus in the intestines, which slows digestion and prevents the absorption of some sugars. Lactose (a combination of glucose and galactose) is a naturally occurring sugar that many people have difficulty digesting.

Lactose intolerance occurs when your body does not produce the enzyme required to break down lactose, resulting in gas, bloating, and other digestive discomforts. 

3) You Feel Moody, Irritable, or Depressed

a person laying on a sofa, wearing headphones, looking worried

Have you ever heard of the term ‘sugar crash'? This is a common problem with high sugar intake that can lead to mood swings and irritability.

When you eat high sugar foods that are then broken down into glucose for energy, your body releases a large amount of insulin to process and remove the glucose from the blood and move it into the cells. This insulin overload reduces the amount of glucose in the blood too quickly, causing your body to release adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones to compensate.

Adrenaline then sends a signal to your body to make more glucose to increase your levels. The fluctuation causes mood swings and irritability. Studies have also found that this cycle of glucose fluctuation can lead to depression over time.  

4) You Have Trouble Sleeping

This study found that when people consume high amounts of sugar, they sleep less deeply and are more restless. High carbohydrate diets increase tryptophan (promotes sleep) and suppress orexin (responsible for alertness), which makes you doze off.

But they also may provide more readily available energy to burn so your brain stays in REM sleep longer than in deep restorative sleep. This may lead you to wake up feeling tired or sluggish. 

5) You Deal with Cavities and Poor Oral Health

You know that gross filmy feeling you get after eating or drinking something with a lot of sugar? The sugar molecules combine with saliva and bacteria in your mouth, leading to plaque on your teeth.

When plaque is left on your teeth, it can dissolve the enamel and cause cavities and gum disease. Sugar intake is currently one of the leading causes of dental issues like tooth decay and cavities in adults and children. 

6) You Experience Skin Breakouts or Premature Wrinkling

a person putting on their make-up

Sugar contributes to increased inflammation, which breaks down the collagen and elastin in your skin, leading to wrinkles and sagging skin. When you consume sugar, your body releases insulin from the pancreas to absorb and transfer it to your liver.

Your pancreas can only process so much sugar, so if you eat more than your body can process, it can cause inflammation. High blood glucose levels can cause a cross-linking of collagen fibers called glycation of the skin.

When this happens, the skin loses elasticity, leading to wrinkles. Acne, dermatitis, psoriasis, and rosacea can also be triggered by the inflammatory response in your body. 

7) You Crave More Sweets (Especially after Dinner)

You may already know a bit about the cycle of sugar crashes and how they impact your mood. But remember that the other thing sugar does is cause us to want more of it. When adrenaline is released, its function is to produce more energy (sugar) for your body. This leads to cravings, which start the cycle over. 

Imbalanced hormones and glucose instability are often the leading causes of late-night cravings. People naturally crave sugar in the evenings when the body slows down. Having a nighttime snacking habit is common, but remember that it's associated with many health issues, including a higher risk of being overweight or obese.

8) You Feel Constantly Hungry

Sugars are the easiest fuel source for your body to break down compared to protein, fiber, and healthy fats. This means that you will be hungrier faster and crave more of them. When you eat sugar, it also causes a hormone called dopamine to be released in the brain, making you feel happier.

Coupling this with the sugar crash you experience can lead to compulsive snacking and insatiable hunger. These foods also tend to be calorie-dense (more calories for a smaller portion), leading to higher calorie intake throughout the day. 

9) You Have High Blood Pressure

a person checking their blood pressure

Have you had issues with high blood pressure that don't get any better, no matter how much you limit your salt intake? You may be limiting the wrong element. High sugar intake has been shown to reduce nitric oxide in your blood vessels, causing them to constrict instead of expanding and improving blood flow.

This restriction leads to higher blood pressure and poor circulation. Poor circulation to the brain can limit brain function, causing brain fog and memory loss. 

10) You Experience Regular Brain Fog

Have you ever considered that the tired, foggy feeling you have that makes it difficult to concentrate at work could be high blood sugar? When your glucose levels are elevated, it can affect your brain's serotonin and GABA levels. When these increase, you will feel more tired. 

Once your glucose crashes after the elevation, you can experience the adrenaline increase to bring the sugar level back up, which causes stress and concentration issues. Your brain likes to have things stay consistent, so these elevations and crashes can lead to a breakdown in brain cells, nerve damage, and inflammation.

When inflamed, brain function becomes difficult, resulting in memory loss. 

11) You Have Joint Pain

Do you have chronic aches and pains? High sugar intake may be the culprit. Research shows that consuming foods that are high in sugar can cause inflammation. Remember earlier when we talked about visceral or belly fat?

It releases inflammatory proteins and hormones, which create chronic inflammation.  Most forms of joint pain and muscle aches involve inflammation. Even when joint pain is caused by an injury, it can worsen if you overeat sugar.

We touched on glycation earlier while discussing aging and wrinkles, and it also plays a role here. Glycation is a process where sugar bonds with proteins to create "advanced glycation end products" (AGEs). A buildup of these AGEs in joint tissues can cause changes to cartilage, making it more prone to developing damaged areas and osteoarthritis.

Finally, a high-sugar diet can lead to the loss of magnesium, potassium, and calcium in the urine, responsible for muscle contraction and relaxation.

12) You Develop Fatigue

a person sleeping sitting at the table in front of a laptop

High sugar consumption inhibits the production of orexin, which is a chemical in your brain that stimulates the feeling of being awake. The more sugar you eat, the more sleepy you will feel. The same research discovered that protein consumption helps to counteract this sleepiness, so if you consume more protein, it will help you stay awake.

13) You Notice Food No Longer Tastes Sweet Enough

Eating high amounts of sugar ultimately causes your brain to regularly expect a large amount of sweetness. This makes it challenging to enjoy foods that are less sweet because your brain is expecting more.

Sugar substitutes containing artificial sweeteners can be much sweeter than natural sugars, so you may skip those if you're attempting to break the habit.

What To Do After Eating Too Much Sugar

If you find you've eaten too much sugar in one sitting, what should you do? One tip is to replenish your system by promptly hydrating with water or other sugar-free fluids, as well as consuming foods with a high water percentage. Additionally, consider incorporating protein and fiber-rich foods into your diet and engage in light physical activity to help regulate blood sugar levels and mitigate the effects of a potential spike in glucose levels.

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Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Reviewed by: Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health and has since been passionate about helping people translate this complex glucose data into actionable changes anyone can implement into their everyday lives.

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