top of page

Sugar: What is it doing to your health?

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Jar of colourful candy

🍩🧁🍬Sugar - We crave it, we tend to eat lots of it, but what is it doing our health?

Although the brain needs glucose, too much of this energy source has been linked to the ageing of cells, and memory and cognitive deficiencies.

How is sugar affecting your mental performance?
  1. Lack of focus You’re likely familiar with the boost felt after consuming something sugary, as well as the crash that occurs about 20 minutes after, leaving us feeling unfocused and easily distracted.

  2. Mood crash As well as a momentary boost in alertness, sugar can also give us an emotional high that is also short-lived, giving way to sluggishness, irritability and disinterest, and all because of dopamine. Sugar messes with this neurotransmitter, which controls the reward and pleasure centres of our brain, and knocks it off kilter.

  3. Memory impairment As well as affecting our cognitive performance, high blood glucose levels can affect the brain's functional connectivity and brain matter, and can cause the brain to atrophy or shrink. It can lead to small-vessel disease, which restricts blood flow in the brain, causing cognitive difficulties and, if severe enough, may spur the development of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

  4. Personality changes Our bodies utilise key nutrients to keep our emotions in check, in particular B vitamins and chromium. Unfortunately, high sugar levels can block these naturally-balancing substances and lead to uncharacteristic outbursts of irritability and aggression.

  5. Addiction Sugary foods stimulate the same areas of the brain as do drugs of abuse. Sugar makes our dopamine levels rise, which in-turn makes us want to consume even more, and as energy and mood levels spike and fall, you may crave even more sugar-high foods to help lift you again. And so the cycle continues.

Sugar sources in our diets

Sugar-sweetened drinks including soft drinks, cordials, vitamin waters, fruit drinks, energy and sports drinks, are the biggest contributor of added sugars in the Australian diet.

There are many foods such as fruit and dairy products that contain significant amounts of sugar but are also a good source of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. It is the added sugars found in foods such as soft drinks, cakes, biscuits and confectionary that should be avoided. These foods lack the vitamins, minerals and fibre of foods naturally high in sugar.

Although both glucose and fructose are types of sugar, fructose doesn't stimulate the pancreas to release insulin the way glucose does, and it doesn't cause ghrelin levels to drop or leptin levels to rise, so your body doesn't know when it's had enough. Without those internal controls, you're liable to gain weight.

Finally, fructose may also reduce your enjoyment of food. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, signals pleasure and studies show that if you eat too much fructose you damp-down your dopamine receptors so that it takes more and more fructose to feel pleasure. That's how sugar can easily become an addiction, which is why it's so hard to give up. For this reason, sugar can cause people to lose control over their consumption.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting the intake of foods that have added sugars such as jams, confectionery, biscuits, cakes, ice cream and syrups, as well as drinks such as soft drinks, energy drinks, cordials, fruit drinks, flavoured waters or sports drinks.

How much sugar is too much?

Can you eat a little bit of sugar each day without harm, or should you avoid it as much as possible?

Guidelines indicate women should consume no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons/25g), men no more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons/37.5g) and children aged 4-8 should consume no more than 130-170 calories (3-4 teaspoons/12.5-17g) of added sugar a day.

Sugar (or glucose) is a form of carbohydrate and provides our body with kilojoules (energy). It is a naturally occurring substance in many foods such as fruit, honey, vegetables, legumes and milk and is also added to many processed foods to improve taste and texture.

Sugar is added to processed foods to sweeten them (and get us to eat them), and is also used to extend shelf-life by slowing the growth of bacteria. This is where most peoples’ intake occurs!

Foods high in added sugar often have minimal nutritional value. Sugar gives a burst of energy that our bodies can use quickly, but the effects of sugar fade fast and can leave us craving more to provide another burst of energy.

If you consume more sugar than you burn up in physical activity your body converts it to fat, which can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Not to mention the immediate effects of sugar on your behaviour, mood and brain!

So eat less processed sugary foods and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables!


how much sugar is hiding in your food

Do you know how much sugar you’re eating every day?


Sugar content

Chocolate milkshake 178mL

62g (15 teaspoons)

Raisins 1/2 cup

43g (10 teaspoons)

10 Gummy worms

43g (10 teaspoons)

Fruited yogurt 237mL

43g (10 teaspoons)

Coke or Sprite 356mL

33g (8 teaspoons)

Orange juice (unsweetened) 250mL

20g (5 teaspoons)

1 double cheeseburger

9g (2 teaspoons)

1 plain doughnut

8g (2 teaspoons)

Added vs natural sugars – there’s a big difference

Do you know what you’re eating?

Sugar masquerades under many different names, so check your food labels

– sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dehydrated cane juice, dextrose, syrup, cane sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, molasses, agave nectar, barley malt and caramel.

These are all different ways of saying “SUGAR”!

Sneaky isn’t it?! And the higher up the ingredient list it appears, the larger the quantity of it in the product.

Tips to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet:

💧Make water the drink of choice and avoid sugar-sweetened drinks.

🍉Choose foods naturally high in sugar if you need a sugar hit, rather than food with added sugars, such as fruit.

👩🏼‍🍳Instead of using sugar in recipes, you can try things like cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract, vanilla, ginger or lemon.

🍓Ensure your fridge is full of fresh fruit and vegetables to encourage these foods as snacks instead of biscuits, cakes or confectionery.

📰Use the nutrition information panel and ingredients list on packaged foods to choose those lower in added sugar.



Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page