What Happens to Your Body If You Stop Eating Sugar, According to Nutritionists
Most of us are eating far too many sweet treats, they say.
Many of the foods we eat every day are filled with added sugar. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that the average American eats 77 grams of sugar per day—far more than recommended. This common dietary habit has been linked to a wide range of medical problems, experts warn. "To live healthier, longer lives, most Americans need to move more and eat better, including consuming fewer added sugars," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news? Limiting your added sugar intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calories comes with a whole host of major health benefits. What's more, "naturally occurring sugars and carbohydrates, such as those in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains," are protective—not harmful—to your health, says Lindsay Delk, RD, RDN, the food and mood dietician.
Read on to learn how your body could benefit if you stop eating added sugar, and why making even incremental change can have a profound effect on your health.
You'll lower your risk of heart disease.
According to Delk, diets that are high in added sugar can cause increased levels of inflammation in the body, and this can strain the cardiovascular system. "By reducing or eliminating added sugars in your diet, you may see a decrease in overall inflammation levels," she tells Best Life. "Lowering chronic inflammation in your body can reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure."
In fact, a 2014 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that high-sugar diets—those in which subjects consumed 17 to 21 percent of their total calories from sugar—were linked to a 38 percent increase in deaths from cardiovascular disease, compared with lower-sugar diets where less than 8 percent of the subjects' calories came from added sugar. The more sugar the subjects ate, the more their risk for heart disease increased.
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You'll lower your risk of diabetes.
Delk adds that those who cut sugar from their diets are also at lower risk of diabetes and other metabolic diseases. A report from the Mayo Clinic which reviewed data from animal experiments and human studies confirms that added sugars such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup have been implicated as one of the greatest driving forces behind the development of diabetes mellitus and related metabolic problems.
"Added fructose in particular (eg. as a constituent of added sucrose or as the main component of high-fructose sweeteners) may pose the greatest problem for incident diabetes, diabetes-related metabolic abnormalities," the report states. However, whole foods that contain fructose such as fruits and vegetables "pose no problem for health and are likely protective against diabetes."
You'll improve your liver health.
Your liver will also thank you to stop eating so much added sugar, experts say. "Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat," explains Frank Hu, MD, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who worked on the 2014 heart health study. "Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease," he warns.
It is currently estimated that 80 million to 100 million Americans are living with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition which can raise your risk of both Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, changing your diet can greatly reduce your risk: A 2019 study on children living with fatty liver disease found that after eight weeks of consuming a low-sugar diet, subjects saw a 31 percent average reduction in liver fat compared to the control group.
You'll get fewer cavities.
Your dental health will also benefit if you decide to strike added sugar from your diet. That's because when you eat sugary foods, harmful bacteria coats your teeth with plaque in order to help metabolize the sugar. These ultimately produce acids in the mouth that wear down the hard tissues of the teeth, known as enamel and dentine. By reducing your added sugar intake, you can help reduce the buildup of plaque and slow the process of decay.
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You'll most likely lose weight.
High-sugar diets have been linked to higher incidence of overweight and obesity, so cutting back on your sugar intake could be a simple way to help manage your weight, experts say. Besides sugary foods being high in calories, they can also affect your blood sugar and the hormones that control appetite and satiety.
"By reducing your intake of added sugar, you may be able to lose weight as you reduce your overall caloric intake," says Delk. By swapping sugary snacks for more nutrient-packed foods, you'll also take in more crucial vitamins and minerals, while ingesting fewer harmful ingredients found in processed foods.
Your mood may improve.
Eating a high-sugar diet has also been linked with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, studies show. In fact, a 2017 report found that eating high levels of added sugars had an "adverse effect on long-term psychological health" due to unstable blood sugar regulation.
That's why eating less added sugar in your food and beverages could benefit your mental health. Though your doctor or mental health professional may additionally recommend medication, talk therapy, or other interventions, "cutting back on added sugars may help to ease stress, reduce irritability, and improve your mood," Delk says.
You may also experience some unpleasant side effects.
Though curbing your sugar intake is likely to benefit your health in the long-term, Delk notes that many people experience symptoms of sugar withdrawal in the short-term. "If you stop eating added sugar all at once, you may experience headaches, the inability to concentrate, a lack of motivation, fatigue, irritability, and mood changes," she tells Best Life. However, she notes that these unpleasant symptoms tend to pass quickly, and the benefits of reducing your sugar intake are likely to far outweigh any immediate discomfort.
Speak with your doctor or a nutritionist to learn more about how eating less sugar may improve your health—and how to change your diet sustainably for long-lasting benefits.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.
- Source: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much
- Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/added-sugars.html
- Source: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(15)00040-3/fulltext
- Source: https://sph.umich.edu/pursuit/2019posts/mood-blood-sugar-kujawski.html