On average, we consume 94 grams of sugar per day—that's more than triple the World Health Organization's recommended amount of 25 grams.
When our morning coffee drink of choice immediately bumps us over our recommended sugar allowance (a grande PSL has a whopping 50 grams of sugar!), it's easy to see how quickly it all adds up.
Over 80% of grocery shelve items now have added sugar, and food manufacturers have gotten incredibly good at disguising it in the ingredient list by using terms like "evaporated cane juice," "fructose" or "tapioca syrup."
For those of us who are active, you may be tempted to think your sugar intake doesn't matter as much. After all, if the furnace is hot enough, anything burns, right? Think again.
No matter your activity level, too much sugar can wreak havoc on the body and mind in 10 major ways.
It's inflammatory.1 of 11
Under normal conditions, limited inflammation can be a good thing. It helps the body rebound from injury and repair muscle tissue. But consuming too much sugar places the body in a constant state of inflammation, hindering its ability to recover well from workouts.
Keeping your body in a chronic state of low-grade inflammation has also been linked to the development of arthritis, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer.
It can make you hungry.2 of 11
If you're trying to lose weight, the last thing you want to do is eat a substance that makes you hungrier. But sugar can do just that since it messes with your body's ability to tell when you're full. Specifically, consuming sugar impacts the production of leptin, the hormone that signals to your brain that you've had enough.
Eating a diet with too much sugar means you'll likely still feel hungry even when you are overeating.
It provides only empty calories.3 of 11
When you are focused on fueling your body for health, athletic performance or weight loss, it's important to make every calorie count. Sugar provides only "empty" calories—calories that still provide energy, but without any of the fiber, vitamins and minerals that are so important for overall health. These empty calories are readily stored as fat by the body, which can contribute to weight gain.
It's addictive.4 of 11
Sugar can create a habit that's tough to quit. Much like illegal drugs, sugar releases chemicals that activate the brain's pleasure center, creating a feel-good "high" when sugar is consumed. But like any addictive substance, over time your body will develop a tolerance for sugar, requiring more sugar to get that fix.
You can even experience withdrawal symptoms when sugar is removed from the diet, which demonstrates just how powerful its addictive nature really is.
It makes you fat.5 of 11
Fructose (a component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup) causes your liver to store fat more efficiently. Fructose can only be processed by the liver, and when we consume a diet with too much sugar, the liver quickly gets overloaded and starts turning that excess fructose into fat.
Not only does that excess fat go to our waistlines, but it also gets stored in unexpected places, such as around our organs, and can contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
It can lead to diabetes.6 of 11
Studies have found that adding just one serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage to your diet can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by a whopping 15 percent.
Though sugar consumption is not the sole factor in the development of the disease, the sheer amount of sugar in the Standard American Diet can lead to insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
It's linked to heart disease.7 of 11
Scientists have recently linked the amount of sugar in a person's diet with their risk of dying from heart disease. This has prompted the American Heart Association to recommend some pretty stringent sugar levels: five teaspoons a day for women (20 grams), nine teaspoons for men (36 grams) and three teaspoons for children (12 grams). For reference, Americans are currently ingesting around 22 teaspoons of sugar each day.
This is easy to do when a single can of soda contains up to 12 grams of sugar. Sugar itself may not strain the heart, but the excess calories contribute to weight gain, which puts more demands on the cardiovascular system.
Its substitutes aren't great.8 of 11
Don't be fooled into thinking you are in the clear if you eat sugar's "healthier" alternatives—artificial or even "natural" sweeteners can be equally detrimental to your health.
While some of the past studies that linked artificial sweeteners to cancer have since been tossed out by the FDA due to their poor design and improper execution, there are still many unknowns about the impact of these chemically manufactured sweeteners on the body.
So-called "natural" sweeteners like agave nectar aren't much better. They may come from a natural source (such as a cactus), but they are refined and processed in a similar way to high fructose corn syrup. The result is an end product that is labeled "natural," but contains an absurd amount of refined fructose—90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose.
It sets you up for an energy crash.9 of 11
How many times have you eaten that chocolate bar after lunch only to crave nap under your desk 30 minutes later? Sugar is famous for causing wild swings in energy, taking you from feel-good euphoria to zombie-like exhaustion.
This spike (and subsequent crash) can leave you craving even more sugar to perk keep you going, setting you up for a vicious cycle. To make matters worse, sugar also triggers a release of serotonin, a sleep regulator that can bring on those feelings of fatigue.
It ages your face.10 of 11
The beauty industry spends billions of dollars marketing anti-aging products. But what if you could skip the expensive creams just by cutting out sugar? When you ingest too much of the sweet stuff, the sugar in your bloodstream reacts with proteins and forms unstable molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
These not only generate free radicals, but they damage the protein fibers in collagen and elastin--two of the components that keep your skin looking young, firm and elastic. Too much sugar can lead to dry, brittle protein fibers that cause wrinkles and saggy skin.