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What Are the Pros & Cons of Sugar?

By Jody Braverman ; Updated July 27, 2017

Sugar provides a quick source of energy, but that's about the only thing it has going for it. In all its forms, sugar offers little to no nutrients and extra calories that lead to weight gain and its associated health problems. Sugar also causes heart disease, tooth decay, weakened immunity and various other conditions. While a little is OK, you're better off without it.

Quick Source of Energy for Athletes

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, the macronutrient your body uses as its main source of energy. Table sugar, corn syrup, honey and other sweeteners are all simple sugars. Your body breaks them down and metabolizes them quickly. They are almost immediately available for use as energy, unlike complex carbohydrates, which your body breaks down more slowly. Many athletes, especially endurance athletes, rely on simple sugars to keep them going through long, strenuous workouts or competitions because they're easy to digest.

Energy Crashes

Simple sugars aren't a good source of energy for the average person. Because your body breaks them down so quickly, they promote a spike in blood sugar -- great for the marathon runner but not so great for you when you're sitting at your desk. In response to the surge of sugar into your bloodstream, your pancreas releases extra insulin to help usher the blood sugar into cells. This results in a precipitous drop in blood sugar and energy, which can leave you fatigued and unable to concentrate. It can also increase your hunger, especially your cravings for more simple carbs.

Source of Empty Calories

Most types of sugar, from table sugar to honey, offer few, if any, nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein or fiber, but they still offer 4 calories per gram, just like other carbohydrates. That's why they're referred to as "empty calories." Most empty-calorie foods are calorie-dense, so eating just a small handful of jelly beans may provide you with the same amount of calories as a large salad, but without all the nutrients or feeling of fullness. You may continue to eat the jelly beans -- or the cake, or drink the soda -- without ever feeling full, all the while taking in a lot of calories. When your body doesn't use those calories for energy, they turn to fat.

Promotes Leptin Resistance

Leptin is a hormone your body produces that signals satiety. It's what allows you to feel full and put down your fork instead of continuing to eat. Eating a lot of fructose, found in sodas, candy and other processed foods, may make you leptin resistant, according to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology in November 2008. As a result, you may eat too much without feeling full, which can lead to obesity and its associated diseases.

Chronic Diseases

Sugar is associated with the development of several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Although eating too much sugar isn't a direct cause of type 2 diabetes, being overweight is a major risk factor. If you have prediabetes, regularly eating too much sugar can trigger the full-blown condition, according to ConsumerReports.org. In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2014, researchers recorded a significant relationship between added sugar intake and risk of death from cardiovascular disease. During the 15-year study, participants who consumed more than a quarter of their calories from sugar had more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed less than 10 percent of calories from sugar.

Other Negative Effects

Sugar promotes plaque buildup and the breakdown of tooth enamel in combination with bacteria in your mouth, which can lead to cavities and tooth decay. Excess sugar consumption also weakens immune function. Consuming the equivalent of 8 tablespoons of sugar -- the amount in 30 ounces of soda -- can reduce white blood cells' abilities to kill germs by almost half, reports the Ask Dr. Sears website. Sugar -- especially sugary sodas -- may even accelerate the aging of your cells, leading to disease development, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health in December 2014.

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