Let’s talk about sugar Posted by Justine Clarabut on 24 May, 2019

With Diabetes Awareness Week starting on 10th June, we thought we’d take a look at the effects of too much sugar in our diets!

Sugar has had alot of hype recently in the press and being labelled as ‘addictive’ and ‘bad’! Too much sugar in our diets is linked to many serious diseases and health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation and tooth decay!

Sugar is addictive

It activates the same reward system in the brain as alcohol and certain drugs, such as nicotine and cocaine. Sugar causes the release of dopamine (commonly known as the feel good hormone!) Sugar gives us an instant high and a boost. This is one of the reasons we turn to it when we crave comfort and reward. A sugar rush triggers an increase in insulin which the body releases to bring blood glucose levels back to normal. This can then cause a ‘sugar dip’ and leave us craving yet more sugar. The result can be serious binge eating leading to weight gain and obesity.

Added sugar

Added sugars are typically any sugars that are added during the processing of foods. Natural sugars are found in fresh fruit, some vegetables, dairy products and dairy substitutes such as almond milk. The difference is that added sugar is calorie dense which quickly turns to fat if the body does not need it for energy. Whereas, an apple contains natural sugar but it also contains nutrients that will impact how your body breaks down that natural sugar; for example, the fibre content in an apple will slow down digestion and so prevent a sugar spike; yoghurt contains protein which helps to process the natural sugar… and so on. Nature’s web of complex nutrients is there for a reason! We will binge on food items with a high added sugar content but we don’t tend to binge on just one type of natural food!

Diet and Energy

Our bodies break down most carbohydrates into glucose (sugar).  Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream, where the hormone called insulin helps it to travel into the cells of the body where it can be used for energy. Glucose is particularly important for the brain as it provides a major source of fuel to the billions of neuronal nerve cells. We also need some sugar in our diet for a supply of ready energy to fuel our muscles. Interestingly, the body will go to sugar first as it is faster to break down into energy than say fat or protein. Hence the ‘quick fix’ of a sugary snack!

Even if you don’t crave sugary foods, many of us don’t realise how much sugar is in processed foods; we may think we are eating healthily but there is hidden sugar in cereals, table sauces, pasta sauce, bread, soups and more. Low-fat foods that we think are better for us also contain high levels of sugar to make them more palatable! Sugar equals high calories with no nutritional value!


Diabetes is a life long condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. There are 2 main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes is where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin.

Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. However, if your blood sugar level is above the normal range, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases. Diagnosing diabetes as quickly as possible is very important. If left untreated, it will get progressively worse.

In the UK, around 90% of adults with diabetes have type 2 which is often linked to being overweight or inactive. The exact cause of diabetes is not entirely known. Research suggests that obese people (BMI over 30) are up to 80 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with a BMI of less than 22.

Measures to prevent long term health conditions

Blood glucose screening may seem inconsequential or only important if an individual shows symptoms. However, the reality is that a large amount of people are unaware they have high glucose levels in their blood. This can lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions. A simple test gives instant results which can be acted upon straight away. For more information on health screening click here.

Of course, the biggest preventative measure for type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions, is diet and exercise! Cutting back or omitting ‘added sugars’ is essential to maintaining a healthy body and mind. The NHS Live Well/Eat Well programme has some great information on cutting out sugar in your diet – read more here.

References and further reading