There's a reason sweet foods taste so nice: they contain sugar. And while we enjoy consuming sugary foods, sadly it's not particularly good for us.
We know that too much refined sugar eventually equals weight gain, and we also know sugar is the devil for our teeth. But did you know that sugar can affect your body in an array of other ways, too? Here's how:
1. It can affect your mood
To help you stay focussed throughout the day, your brain requires a steady supply of energy in the form of glucose from carbohydrates. But when you opt for sugary carbs, these will "send blood sugar levels soaring, then crashing, which in turn leads to fatigue and low mood," explains dietician Helen Bond, who's working in partnership with sugar alternative brand Splenda. "To help prevent a roller coaster in mood, it is important that we all seek out complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain breads and cereals, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, couscous, pulses and beans, which release their energy slowly," she explains. A slow release of energy will in turn keep your blood sugar levels steady, which is better for refuelling the brain consistently and enhancing mood.
2. It may accelerate ageing
Research suggests that the balance of foods we eat – or don’t eat could lead to premature skin ageing. Dr Nicholas Perricone, dermatologist and author of The Wrinkle Cure believes that sugar causes skin ageing by creating cellular inflammation throughout the body. "Sugar molecules bind to collagen, in our skin in a process called glycation. Glycation creates inflammation that breaks down collagen, resulting in wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity. Skin then becomes stiff and inflexible and more vulnerable to sun damage, wrinkles and sagging," says Helen, explaining Dr Perricone's theory. But the dietician points out that, as it stands, it's just that: a theory. "In reality there is no strong evidence to show or prove this. Glycation is a normal process and the damage takes place over a lifetime, so cutting out sugar from your diet wont stop you getting wrinkles, but it definitely will help keep your teeth and waistline healthy," Helen adds.
3. It could have an effect on your fitness
Everything you eat and drink has an effect on your body when you exercise, and a high sugar diet could have an indirect impact on your fitness levels. "Carbs are important to give you energy during exercise, prevent early fatigue and replace the fuel that you’ve burned," explains Helen, clarifying: "but in balance it's important to eat the right carbs – especially wholegrain versions. High-sugar diets tend to be low in nutritional value, as well as being highly calorific, and won’t provide you with the essential nutrients to allow you to exercise harder, go faster, get stronger and recover faster."
4. It can cause bad skin
High GI foods - which are digested quickly and make blood glucose levels rise just as fast - also cause high insulin levels, "which is thought to lead to hormonal changes that cause and exacerbate acne," notes Helen. The dietician advises that if you are suffering with acne or other skin problems, the 'secret weapons' you want are "low GI carbohydrate foods, such as porridge oats, wholemeal bread, wholegrain pasta, quinoa, sweet potatoes, buckwheat noodles, brown rice, barley, oatcakes and pulses." These, Helen notes, "release energy slowly and steadily, filling you up without piling on the pounds and provide you with skin-friendly B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin and biotin and prebiotics.
5. It can negatively affect your digestive system
Foods that contain natural sugar, like fruits, usually come hand-in-hand with fibre, vitamins, minerals and water. "This combination is good for our digestive health, and will have beneficial effects on the balance and diversity of our gut bacteria which could affect our overall health, too," explains Helen. But foods that are high in refined sugar are the opposite; they tend to be low in nutrients and fibre, "which is not good news for our digestive health and preventing constipation," says Helen, adding that a high-sugar diet can result in bloating for this reason.
6. It can increase your chance of getting a yeast infection
The internal fungus candida is responsible for most vaginal yeast infections, and as Helen points out: "A poor diet – particularly one that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates - will feed candida, and cause it to flourish." So if you're a regular sufferer of yeast infections, and you're guilty of a relatively high-sugar diet, try cutting out the white stuff.
7. It will make you feel more hungry
"Sweets and sugary carbs like chocolate or biscuits are digested rapidly, and enter the blood stream quickly causing spikes in blood sugars," explains the dietician. "Sugar and refined carbs are not filling, and the lows that follow will leave you feeling hungry and reaching for the sweet stuff again," she adds.