A true sugar overdose, where you can experience a potentially fatal reaction after consuming too much sugar, typically only affects people with diabetes — but consuming high amounts of sugar over the long term can have adverse health effects. Here's what the experts say about your sugar fix.
Sugar 'Side Effects'
There are two main sugar groups to consider when you look at your diet: natural sugars, such as those found in fruit, and added sugars, found in processed products such as cereal. Sugar plays an important role in your body, but too much of it can be more harmful than helpful. As such, experts recommend limiting your intake of added sugar.
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"Sugar, or carbohydrate, is the most abundantly utilized energy substrate in the body," says Shena Jaramillo, RD, a dietitian with Peace & Nutrition in Ellensburg, Washington. "However, if we consume sugar in excess, our body will begin to store these additional calories in the form of fat. This can lead to weight gain over time."
A diet high in added sugars has been linked to a number of health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, added sugars may be linked to issues like obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. However, health experts don't put the blame solely on added sugars and say that reducing their consumption without also cutting back on other potential culprits would hold little benefit, as explained in research published in November 2016 in the journal Nutrients.
Can You Overdose on Sugar?
"Although eating too much sugar in one time can give you a 'sugar high,' there is no real toxic effect that could send you to the emergency room unless you have diabetes and don't have your insulin around," says Darshan Shah, MD, a surgeon, author and CEO of Beautologie and Next|Health in Malibu, California.
Have you ever felt that you had some sort of sugar intoxication? Here's a scenario: Your nephew or roommate brings back bags of candy from a holiday party. Maybe you chow down on several handfuls of candy, almost mindlessly, while working at your computer. Some time goes by, and suddenly you begin to feel, well, icky.
The term "sugar high" describes the sudden loss of energy and other symptoms you might experience after consuming lots of carbs, especially simple sugars, Sanford Health says. Your blood sugar spikes, then crashes — potentially causing irritability, headaches, trouble concentrating, distraction and feeling jittery or shaky.
How to Limit Sugar
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American adult consumes 77 grams of sugar each day — typically from sugary beverages. The AHA recommends that adult men limit their added sugar consumption to 36 grams (150 calories) a day and that adult women keep added sugar to 25 grams (100 calories) a day.
Limiting your sugar consumption can also help you mitigate another major side effect of high sugar consumption: dental issues. Sugar is linked to cavities, explains Chicago-based dentist Henry Hackney, DMD, of Authority Dental. "Sugar has also been the leading cause of halitosis (bad breath)," Dr. Hackney says. "Studies in all facets of medicine prove that sucrose (table sugar) is the main food source for the bacteria found in dental decay."
However, if you have a high-sugar diet, it may be more difficult than you think to cut back. "Since the main source of fuel for our brains is glucose (sugar), consuming excess sugar in large quantities over time may lead to headaches and drowsiness when we discontinue this behavior," Jaramillo explains. "Our bodies will create a real dependency on constant large quantities of excess sugar intake, and the habit can be difficult to break.
You can cut back on sugar by swapping out added sugar for more nutritious alternatives — or reducing the amount of sweetener you use altogether. For example, if you typically add sugar to your morning coffee, start by reducing the amount you use or switching to a different type of sweetener.
"In moderation I recommend maple syrup, coconut sugar and honey," says Amy Shapiro, RD, CDN, a dietitian, nutritionist and founder of Real Nutrition in New YorkCity. "For calorie-free options, I prefer stevia and monk fruit. Fresh fruit and unsweetened dried fruit are great options too."
- Shena Jaramillo, RD, registered dietitian, Peace & Nutrition, Ellensburg, Washington
- Darshan Shah, MD, surgeon, author, CEO, Beautologie and Next|Health, Malibu, California
- Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, Real Nutrition, New York City
- Henry Hackney, DMD, general dentist, Authority Dental, Chicago
- Mayo Clinic: “Added Sugars: Don't Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners”
- American Heart Association: “How Much Sugar Is Too Much?”
- Sanford Health: “Sugar Crash Effects and How to Fix Them”
- Nutrients: “Relationship Between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding”