Why Is Sugar Dangerous? Harmful and Hidden Side Effects Explained

Heather Campbell
 min read

Why is sugar dangerous? How can something so common be dangerous at all?

Why Is Sugar Dangerous? Harmful and Hidden Side Effects ExplainedSugar is really in everything. Not only in candy, cakes, and cookies but also in soup, bread, meat, pasta sauce, yogurt, drinking yogurt, salad sauce, etc.

Sugar is the only kind of carbohydrate that contains fructose, and that fructose can lead to liver fattening. More and more scientific evidence is emerging that shows that consuming a lot of added sugars has a strong long-term link to fatty liver, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and caries.

Fortunately, there is a strong movement among scientists and physicians who no longer want to be fooled.

Dean Schillinger is at the forefront of this field, an internist at San Francisco General Hospital in California.

He states that before the 1990s, their nursing unit was full of AIDS patients, and now it is mainly filled with diabetic patients. An evolution that took place before his eyes in less than a generation.

Read on to understand how and why sugar is dangerous and get to know the harmful, hidden side effects.

Why is sugar dangerous? Introduction

Prediabetes and diabetes are a real epidemic.

More than 10% of adults have diabetes in California, and nearly half of all adults have some form of prediabetes. That’s almost half of the entire state. It’s a dire situation that’s happening on a large scale.

Minorities and low-income people are at even greater risk.

Also shocking is that quasi 25% of adolescents in California have prediabetes. So there is a pretty good chance that within a decade or so, they will also have type 2 diabetes (unfortunately, at a very young age).

According to Schillinger, something has changed in our environment. Diabetes can be caused by other habits such as sitting more and eating more. Still, the significant increase in added sugar to our diet could also be the cause.

Related: What exactly does a healthy diet consist of? Find out in our other article: What Are the Building Blocks of a Healthy Diet? Macronutrients List

More and more scientific evidence is emerging that shows that consuming a lot of added sugars has a strong long-term link to fatty liver, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and caries.

Powerful sugar lobby at the root of the problem

Scientists such as Cristin Kearns of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) are finding out bit by bit how the food and soft drink industry has been able to promote sugar products for years and knowingly hide the health risks under the table.

To illustrate this, remember that as early as the 1990s, UCSF gained considerable notoriety for exposing the fact that the tobacco industry had known about the dangers of smoking for decades but that this information was intentionally hidden from the general public.

This, of course, to avoid loss of revenue.

The sugar industry has been united in the US since 1943 in what is known as the Sugar Research Foundation, or Sugar Association.

After much digging and research, scientist Kearns learned that the Sugar Association had launched a massive PR campaign in 1976 to convince the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) about the safety of sugar.

The Sugar Research Foundation, which is supposed to be an allegedly objective platform for research on the effects of sugar on our health, paid 3 Harvard University scientists a sum of what would now be worth $50,000.

The assignment was to summarize existing evidence on the connection between sugar, fat, and heart disease.

They published their summary in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). In it, they minimized the role of sugar on health, and fat was put forward as the true culprit.

Kearns argues that it was clearly a biased evaluation. She spent a year reviewing all the linked studies, including communications between the sugar industry and the researchers.

According to Kearns, this article in the NEJM influenced both public opinion and the scientific community’s opinion and that these underhanded tactics led to the hype around low-fat diets and went hand in hand with a considerable increase in obesity and diabetes.

The general public was encouraged to eat low-fat products when these products were and still are loaded with sugar.

Counter-reaction: Striking observations

Diabetes experts Schillinger and Kearns published a study in The Annals of Internal Medicine.

They describe the analysis of 60 studies between 2001 and 2006 that examined whether sugar-rich soft and fruit drinks contribute to obesity and diabetes.

There appeared to be 26 studies that could not find a connection. And here’s the spicy detail: All of those 26 studies were funded by the soft drink industry or done by scientists who had financial ties to the industry.

Of the 34 studies that did show a connection, that is, those that indicated that sugary soft or fruit drinks cause obesity and diabetes, only one was connected to the soft drink industry. The rest consisted of independent studies.

Sugars and carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are chains made from a variation of 3 different chunks (molecules):

  • Galactose: Present in milk and other dairy products
  • Fructose: This is fruit sugar that is naturally present in fruit, granulated sugar, and glucose-fructose syrup
  • Glucose: This one we know from our blood sugar and is the best known because it is the most common and the only one our bodies really burn

The best-known carbohydrates are:

  • Starch: Long chains of glucose linked together (such as potatoes, rice, and pasta)
  • Lactose: Present in dairy products (1 molecule of glucose and 1 molecule of galactose)
  • Table Sugar: (1 molecule of glucose and 1 molecule of fructose)

Carbohydrates are fuels to keep our bodies functioning.

Carbohydrates versus fats

Carbohydrates can be compared to firelighters and small, dry wood chips used to light a barbecue, stove, or fireplace.

Anyone who has ever made a fire knows that you need small wood chips that can catch fire quickly.

Well, you can compare the carbohydrates to those little wood chips. They catch fire quickly, but they also burn up very fast!

Fats also give us energy but in the opposite way! In fact, fats are similar to hard-to-flame coals. But once they burn, they burn longer and give off energy for a much longer time.

Examples of foods containing carbohydrates

  • Fruit drink
  • Fruit juices
  • Flan
  • Sweetened yogurt products
  • White wine
  • Milk beverages
  • Sweetness
  • Candy
  • Liqueur
  • Energy drinks
  • Yogurt drinks
  • Nutella
  • Chocolate milk
  • Toast
  • Grain products
  • White and brown bread
  • Chips
  • Appetizers
  • Chocolate (milk)
  • Jam
  • Croquette
  • Hamburgers
  • Hotdogs
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Pastry
  • Sprinkles
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Spiced shortcrust biscuits
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pancakes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Lentils
  • Legumes
  • Wraps
  • Crackers
  • Salad sauce
  • Pumpkin
  • Salsify
  • Rice
  • Bulgur
  • Some meats
  • Sausage
  • Pasta
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Desserts
  • Ice cream
  • Soft drink
  • Instant tea
  • Beer
  • Sauces
  • Ready-made soup
  • Satay sauce
  • Yam
  • Corn
  • Fruit

Table sugar in the spotlight (glucose and fructose)

Table sugar is made of two chunks: glucose and fructose. And the scientific name for sugar is sucrose.

Glucose is often called sugar or blood sugar but is thus somewhat different from table sugar.

When table sugar is broken up in the intestine into two chunks, glucose and fructose, they are absorbed separately through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Intestinal cells can only absorb separate chunks (i.e., not chains like sucrose or starch).

Thus, when the so-called blood sugar level is measured, the number of glucose molecules in a milliliter of blood is measured. Fructose is not counted in the blood sugar and therefore does not produce elevated blood sugar.

Grape sugar is made from loose glucose chunks. Those separate chunks can then be absorbed very quickly from the gut into the bloodstream. Therefore, dextrose gives a quick blood sugar spike.

As a result, it is often used in patients with type 1 diabetes who have low blood sugar levels after, for example, taking too much medication.

Fruit sugar or fructose

On fructose, the scientific community is clearly divided even if they agree that sugar is dangerous.

Sugar or granulated sugar is made 50% of glucose and 50% of fructose.

And High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is actually pretty similar to granulated sugar but has a slightly higher percentage of fructose, around 55%. And therefore also consists of 45% glucose.

Starting in the 1980s, soft drinks and numerous other products started using this HFCS (with a slightly higher percentage of fructose) instead of granulated sugar.

It sounded healthier, but it was actually mostly a lot cheaper, more than anything.

Proponents of fructose

Proponents of fructose abound.

It hardly occurs in blood circulation and does not raise your blood sugar.

Hence, it is even touted as a sweetener for people with diabetes.

It is also touted by proponents as a neutral sweetener that leaves your sugar levels alone.

It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s also called fruit sugar for a reason because it occurs naturally in fruit.

Opponents of fructose

However, according to fructose opponents, the gut has a limited capacity to process fructose.

Fructose is a component of plants that humans cannot digest. Other organisms have the capabilities to digest fructose, but humans do not.

The microorganisms in our gut, our intestinal gut bacteria, can do this. So these, unlike us, can process the fructose, but not in large quantities!

So this is an excellent reason to keep your microbiome in order.

Liver fattening due to excess fructose: Explanation

If we eat or drink fructose too much or too quickly (via soft drinks), that capacity is exceeded, and the fructose goes directly to the liver.

However, the liver can only convert a minimal amount of fructose into glucose.

Glucose is used in every cell of our body and is an essential substance in our body. It is so vital that if we don’t eat it, our bodies can make it themselves.

But this is very different with fructose because our bodies do not need fructose directly. The fructose found in fruit is packed with fiber.

Here’s how Mother Nature deals with it best. The fibers form a gel-like barrier and keep the fructose in fruit from being absorbed immediately in the first part of the intestine. So this protects the liver.

The fructose can then safely travel further through the small intestine and, under ideal conditions, then comes into contact with the intestinal bacteria further down the intestine.

It is quite different when fructose enters the small intestine in excess and without safe packaging (packed in fiber), as in sugary drinks.

The small intestine cannot handle the excess, nor are there fibers to inhibit absorption.

The excess fructose simply passes through the intestinal wall like a tsunami and enters the liver directly (via the portal bloodstream).

The liver is surprised by this large amount of fructose, and the excess is converted to fat.

And this is (an abbreviated version of) why adults (and even children) get fatty livers these days. See why sugar is dangerous?

Why is sugar dangerous? Conclusion

The final discussion on fructose is far from over. Meanwhile, you see people even eating less fruit because of fructose anxiety.

The fructose we ingest through fruit is negligible. And the fiber in fruit stops fructose from being a problem.

The difference between eating more carbs or eating more sugar should be evident by now!

As a reminder, sugar is the only kind of carbohydrate that contains fructose (and that fructose can lead to liver fattening).

In this sense, sugar has a unique and contested position within the carbohydrate group (because there are both proponents and opponents of fructose (of which sugar is 50%).

And this is exactly why sugar is dangerous.

Tip: Apart from ensuring a healthy diet, we should also get enough exercise to achieve a healthy lifestyle: What Are the Benefits of Exercise and Developing a Healthy Active Way of Life?

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More