Eating too much sugar? You may be deficient in these nutrients (SQ-140)
What’s life without an occasional treat of brownie or an ice-cream? Whether you are celebrating or feeling sad or depressed, indulging in a sinfully sweet treat would never fail to put you in a happy mood. While eating sugary delights might make you ecstatic, eating too much sugar is not so fantastic for your health.
Excessive sugar intake, especially refined or added sugar from processed food, damages your health in so many ways. It increases your risk of chronic illnesses including obesity and heart disease. Too much sugar also weakens your immunity, affects bone health and impacts your mood, energy levels and mental well-being.
That’s right … those mood and energy boosting effects are only temporary.
But did you know eating too much refined sugar also makes you deficient in some nutrients. Yes, you read that correctly. Soft drinks, salad dressings, cookies, cakes, bread, cereals, granola bars, and readymade sauces contain a lot of added sugars and artificial sweeteners, adding to your total sugar intake and robbing your body of vital nutrients.
Excessive sugar not only interferes with the absorption of certain key nutrients but also robs your body of some important ones. These vitamins and minerals – including B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc – play a key role in keeping you healthy.
Let’s explore how excessive consumption of added sugars play havoc with your nutrition profile.
How sugar contributes to nutritional deficiency?
According to this 2016 study, excessive sugar intake drives nutrient deficiency in a number of ways. 
1. Depletes nutrients
Your body relies on many vitamins and minerals as co-factors, such as B vitamins, zinc and magnesium, to process carbohydrates and release energy. So, when you are eating too much processed foods that is laden with added sugars (not to mention artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial dyes), your body ends up utilizing a lot of these important vitamins and minerals to break down the excess sugar and release energy. But they are adding nothing in return. On the other hand, eating foods that have natural sugars nourishes your body with all kinds of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
In a nutshell, processing of fructose and added sugars place an additional burden on the system as it utilizes the body’s stores of essential nutrients to produce energy, while providing zero to little nutrition. This also causes damage to the mitochondria and depletes ATP within cells.
Another way added sugars depletes nutrients is by increasing the growth of bacteria and yeast, which competes for nutrition in the cells.
2. Reduced intake of nutritious foods
When you are eating too much sugar, it leaves little room for nutrition-rich food in your diet. It mars your desire and appetite for healthy foods while fuelling cravings for more sugar and carbohydrates.
3. Leads to poor gut health and impaired absorption
Studies show that processed foods, that are invariably loaded with large amounts of added sugars and fat, contribute to poor gut health. And you need a healthy gut for proper absorption of nutrients.
Added sugars including artificial sweeteners irritate and inflame intestinal lining. In addition, it also alters the gut composition – tipping the balance in favour of bacteria and yeast . This imbalance between good and bad bacteria (also known as gut dysbiosis) causes more sugar cravings.
Excessive sugar and gut dysbiosis can lead to a leaky gut. It is a condition where the lining of your intestines develops holes or spaces, allowing unwanted content (toxins, undigested food particles and bacteria) from inside of the of intestines to spill into the bloodstream. This causes inflammation in the gut with symptoms of chronic diarrhoea, constipation, or bloating. If not treated, leaky gut can cause food allergies and a host of health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and celiac disease.
All these conditions interfere with the absorption of nutrients causing nutritional deficiencies. Chronic stress, gluten, dairy, antibiotics, steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers, and zinc deficiency also increase the risk of leaky gut.
4. Creates increased sugar cravings
There is another angle that explores the relationship between high sugar intake and nutritional deficiencies. Research suggests sugar is highly addictive and it creates strong sugar cravings even when you aren’t really hungry, building a vicious cycle of increased sugar intake and further depletion of nutrients in the body.
“Excessive intake of added sugars create nutritional deficiencies through a number of mechanisms. It uses the body’s pool of nutrients to release energy, while providing no nutritional value of their own. It creates sugar cravings, causes gut inflammation and digestive issues which contribute to poor absorption of nutrients and also forces nutritious food to take a backseat.”
Too much Sugar intake may deplete these nutrients
Eating sugar in excess can trigger vitamin D deficiency. How does it work? Animal studies show that sugar, especially fructose, increases enzymes that trigger vitamin D breakdown in the kidneys. In addition, fructose also decreases enzymes that are required for vitamin D synthesis.
Role of vitamin D in the body
- Supports bone health as it helps in calcium absorption.
- Strengthens immunity
- Lowers inflammation
- Reduces risk of autoimmune disorders
- Reduces risk of upper respiratory infections
- Supports thyroid health
- Helps in healthy pregnancy
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to body-wide pain, achy joints and muscles, and excessive fatigue. Chronic deficiency, if not addressed in time, can weaken immunity and increase the risk of infections and allergies. It can also cause depression, dry eyes and thyroid problems.
“Animal studies show that too much sugar intake interferes with vitamin D synthesis and likely also reduces vitamin D levels.”
Vitamin D supports skeletal health as it helps the body to absorb calcium in the intestines. But as we learned, sugar (in the form of fructose) affects your vitamin D levels. This, in turn, affects your body’s ability to absorb calcium. In addition, high fructose intake increases the exertion of calcium (along with magnesium).  
Role of calcium in the body
- Growth and development of healthy bones
- Blood clotting
- Healthy muscle contraction, including that of the heart
- Transmission of nerve impulses
- Production of hormones
Calcium deficiency causes bones to become weak and brittle, a condition called osteoporosis. It can cause painful muscle spasms, twitches, arrythmia and even mental confusion.
“High intake of fructose depletes vitamin D, which leads to reduced absorption of calcium in the body. In addition, excessive fructose also causes the body to flush out calcium and magnesium in the urine.”
Overconsumption of sugar flushes out calcium and magnesium in urine, depleting these important minerals from the body. It also supresses re-absorption of calcium and magnesium in the kidneys. One study suggests that excessive intake of sugar increases the risk of osteoporosis by depletion of active vitamin D, calcium and magnesium. 
Role of magnesium in the body
- Facilitates over 300 bio-chemical reactions
- Helps in energy synthesis
- Involved in the production of DNA, RNA
- Required for the production of glutathione … the master antioxidant
- Helps with calcium absorption
- Helps with vitamin D absorption as it converts vitamin D into its active form and also activates enzymes necessary for vitamin D metabolism
- Regulates stress hormones, thus reducing stress
- Aids in healthy sleep
Magnesium deficiency can lead to painful muscle contractions, arrythmias, migraine, increased risk of fractures, heart disease, and blood sugar imbalances. And in terms of nutritional deficiency, inadequate magnesium levels give rise to vitamin D deficiency as well as glutathione deficiency – which add to the burden of chronic diseases, cause poor immunity and contribute to toxin build-up in the body.
“Not only does sugar cause magnesium excretion, it also blocks re-absorption of nutrients in the kidneys.”
Vitamin C and glucose have similar chemical structures and they compete for transport proteins that carry both molecules into the cell for uptake and absorption.
When you eat, your food is converted into glucose. The pancreas releases hormone insulin that moves the glucose floating in the bloodstream into the cells, thus keeping blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
Insulin also ferries vitamin C to the bloodstream and into the cells for optimum absorption. Excessive intake of sugars will cause blood sugar levels to rise and at this point insulin favours transportation of glucose molecules. As a result, vitamin C does not reach the cells, leading to reduced absorption.
Role of vitamin C in the body
- Acts as a powerful antioxidant
- Boosts immunity
- Required for iron absorption
- Helps in the production of collagen, a protein that gives structure and strength to the connective tissues in skin, blood vessels, ligaments, tendons and cartilages
- Helps in wound healing
- Keeps skin, eyes and bones healthy
- Supports heart health
- Recycles glutathione, another potent antioxidant
Vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy, impaired wound healing, weakened immunity, and poor skin health. And if your levels of vitamin C remain chronically low, it can lead to anaemia due to reduced absorption of iron.
“Vitamin C and glucose compete for the same transport proteins for their entry into the cells. During sugar spikes, insulin inhibits vitamin C uptake and promotes cellular absorption of glucose.”
Your body converts food into energy with the help of many vitamins and minerals. Out of these, B vitamins, play an exceptionally important role in this process. Vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B3 (niacin) are specially needed for carbohydrate metabolism. This means if you are eating a lot of refined sugar and refined flour, you are using a lot of B vitamins to convert this fuel into energy.
The B family of vitamins play an important role in energy production, and in keeping your nervous system in tip-top shape. These water-soluble vitamins also assist in the absorption of other nutrients. For example, vitamin B2 helps in the absorption of B6, iron and folic acid. In addition, Vitamin B complex stimulates the production of hormones and neurotransmitters required for healthy cognitive functions.
Deficiency of B vitamins can lead to impaired absorption of other nutrients as well as poor functioning of the nervous system.
“More added sugar in your diet means your body uses more of the B vitamins, as they are required for converting carbohydrates into energy.”
Excessive intake of fructose, commonly present in packaged and processed foods, can drain a-tocopherol (the active form of Vitamin E) from the body. 
Role of vitamin E in the body
- Works as a powerful antioxidant
- Boosts immunity
- Supports skin and hair health
- Protects skin from sun damage and inflammation
- Helps in synthesis of red blood cells
Vitamin E deficiency can impair immunity, impact vision and cause muscle fatigue. Low vitamin E levels can also cause fertility problems.
“Research suggests fructose may deplete vitamin E in the body.”
How to overcome sugar cravings?
Sugar carvings can be hard to resist. But eating right and making some lifestyle changes can help you overcome sweet cravings and fix your sugar addiction.
- Stay hydrated
- Eat more protein and healthy fats that will keep you full for a long time and reduce unnecessary cravings for sugar and carbohydrates.
- Eat small, healthy meals at regular intervals, leaving no room for unhealthy cravings in between meals.
- Always go for whole foods, as refined foods that are stripped of fibre and nutritional content often contain added sugars.
- Beware of foods that may contain hidden sugars. Barbeque sauces, low-fat yogurt, pasta, bottled smoothies, breads, dried fruits, granola bars, and salad dressings are some unexpected sources of added sugars.
- Be innovative in making your desserts. Try combining unsweetened dark chocolate with fresh fruits. Strawberry, bananas and almonds go really well with chocolate and provide you with important vitamins and minerals at the same time.
- Use dates, jaggery (gur), honey or maple syrup instead of added sugars to sweeten your food.
- Take care of nutritional deficiencies. While excess sugar causes a shortage of nutrients in the body, certain deficiencies create more cravings to eat something sugary. In fact, chromium and magnesium are known to regulate sugar levels.
- Don’t consume unhealthy snacks that contain added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
- Sleep on a regular schedule, as sleep deprivation may increase your cravings for refined carbohydrates, fats and sugary delights.
- Read labels properly and learn how to spot hidden sugars that come with a variety of names.
- James J DiNicolantonio and Amy Berger. Added sugars drive nutrient and energy deficit in obesity: a new paradigm. Open Heart. 2016
- Reetta Satokari. High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria. Nutrients. 2020
- Nguyen et al. Effects of i.v. insulin bolus on urinary calcium and oxalate excretion in healthy subjects. Horm Metab Res. 1998
- Nguyen et al. Increase in urinary calcium and oxalate after fructose infusion. Horm Metab Res. 1995
- DiNicolantonio et al. Not Salt But Sugar As Aetiological In Osteoporosis: A Review. Mo Med. 2018 May-Jun
- Lois Baker. Study Shows Glucose Consumption Increases Production of Destructive Free Radicals, Lowers Level of Key Antioxidant. News Releases. University at Buffalo. 2000