The Bittersweet Truth
How Sugar Affects the Digestive System
We know that a diet high in sugar can contribute to health complications like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But eating too much sugar can also wreak havoc on your digestive system.
Sugars are found naturally in foods like fruits, grains, certain vegetables, and dairy products. But when we talk about sugar, we tend to think of sweet treats, like cookies, donuts, and what we use to sweeten our morning coffee. This type of sugar is referred to as refined or added sugar. How does refined sugar affect the digestive system? Let’s take a look.
Refined Sugar Can Affect the Natural Balance of the Gut Microbiota
A diet high in refined sugars can disrupt the natural balance of the gut microbiota in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The gut microbiota, also called the gut flora and the gut microbiome, is a collection of microorganisms that inhabit the GI tract. When the gut flora is balanced, it helps protect the body from infectious pathogens and helps maintain mental health. An imbalance in the gut microbiota can make someone vulnerable to certain infections.
For example, eating large quantities of refined sugar long-term can cause an infection called candidiasis in the gut. Sugar feeds yeast (in this case candida), which can cause overgrowth and may lead to infection. Usually, healthy gut bacteria keep candida from being able to overgrow. But when someone eats a diet high in sugar, they are creating the perfect environment for candida to thrive. Candidiasis can lead to bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and gas cramps.
Eating Too Much Refined Sugar Can Harm Your Liver
Sugar can also affect the organs of the digestive system, like the liver. Fructose, a sugar found in fruits, is oftentimes extracted and added to foods in a concentrated form. For example, fructose is extracted from corn to make corn syrup, an added sugar used in many processed foods.
Fructose is digested by the liver. When fructose is consumed naturally with fruit, it’s consumed with fiber and other nutrients that are beneficial to the digestive system. When fructose is consumed in a concentrated state, like in a soft drink, it can damage the liver, leading to liver toxicity.
How Can You Decrease Sugar Intake to Improve Digestive Health?
We don’t expect you to cut out all sugar from your diet. But if you want to improve your digestive health, consider lowering the amount of refined sugar you consume and increasing your intake of sugar from whole foods, like fruits and whole grains. When we consume these types of foods, we’re consuming healthy fibers along with the naturally occurring sugars they contain. Some examples of how to do this include:
- Swapping out an orange in place of drinking orange juice (orange juice is very high in sugar and can cause blood sugar levels to spike)
- Sweetening baked goods with applesauce, bananas, or dates instead of white refined sugar
- Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting the consumption of processed foods that are full of added sugars
We’d love to know: What sugar-free recipes do you love to prepare, or what do you and your family do to curb sugar cravings? Share your favorites with us on Facebook and be sure to check back to see what others are saying for more ideas!