Sugar: The Sweetest Cause of an Unhealthy Gut

There are a lot of common, everyday factors that can disrupt your gut health. And an unhealthy gut can negatively affect your immune system, mental health, weight, mood, hormone balance, skin, and so much more. 

Some of the top contributors to an unhealthy gut are stress, antibiotics, processed foods, poor sleep…and sugar.

A diet high in sugar decreases the amount of good bacteria in your gut, which can potentially lead to an increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases as well as chronic inflammation.

The American Sweet Tooth

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. And keep in mind: that’s not even factoring in naturally occurring sugars we consume from things like fruit and milk. That staggering 22 teaspoons is only counting the amount of “added sugar,” or sugar that has been added to food products on top of its natural sugar amount.

There are 4 grams of sugar in 1 teaspoon — which means many Americans are consuming upwards of 88 grams of added sugar each and every day.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day for men, and no more than 6 for women. The USDA is a little more lenient — they recommend a maximum of 10-12 teaspoons per day for both men and women.

All in all, most of us are currently doubling or even tripling the recommended daily maximums of added sugar in our diets, day in and day out. And we need to trim that amount down BIG TIME — and not just for better gut health, but for better overall health.

A Bit of Sweet Talk

You’re probably familiar with the term “refined sugar” from nutrition labels on many of the foods we buy. Simply buying the brand with the least amount of refined sugar in it sounds easy enough, right? 

Wrong. It’s never that easy. Why?

Sugar and sugary sweeteners disguise themselves by wearing a variety of different names. But underneath those natural-sounding nom de plumes is nothing but added sugar. 

Here are some of the most common you’ll find: 

  • Agave syrup
  • Barley malt
  • Beet sugar
  • Birch syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Caster sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Golden sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Molasses 
  • Panela
  • Palm sugar

And even though many of these are marketed as “healthy sweeteners,” they are loaded with sugar.

Don’t Sugarcoat the Bad News

As mentioned above, a diet high in sugars can throw off that delicate balance of good and bad bacteria within our microbiome. How? Sugar is mostly absorbed in our small intestine. A moderate amount can be digested without much of a problem. But when we ingest too much sugar, the small intestine can’t absorb it all so the sugar travels further down into the large intestine…where billions of delicate microbes live.   

These microbes in the large intestine are responsible for breaking down the essential fibers in fruits, grains and vegetables. But when sugar gets down there, it can prevent your system from digesting and absorbing all those necessary vitamins, minerals and prebiotics your body needs, and allow bad disease-causing bacteria to grow wild in the gut. 

Ever heard of putting sugar in a car’s gas tank to destroy the engine? It’s the same principle with your large intestine. When sugar gets in there, it can lead to a whole host of health problems, including Leaky Gut Syndrome.

There are some excellent powdered supplements and probiotic supplements that can help repair the damage done to your gut from excessive sugar intake. But no remedy is ever as good as preventing the problem itself. 

Pretty Please, with NO Sugar on Top

You’re probably thinking that the best way to go about decreasing your sugar intake is to limit or cut out all those deliciously sweet snacks and foods we all love so much — like candy, cookies, soda pop and ice cream. That’s definitely a great start.

But there are a ton of things we buy at the market every week that are surprisingly loaded with sugar and sweeteners. Some of these healthy-sounding products actually contain more sugar than a can of cola.

Here is a list of the most surprising foods that are loaded with added sugar:

  • Breakfast cereal (up to 25g of sugar per bowl)
  • Frozen dinners/meal kits (one popular BBQ dinner product has 53g of sugar)
  • Vitamin waters/sports drinks (as much as 32g of sugar per 20-ounce bottle)
  • Marinara/pasta sauce (about 8-12g of sugar per serving)
  • Fruit juices (up to 30g of sugar per glass)
  • Flavored coffee drinks (sometimes as high as 50g of sugar per 12 ounces)
  • Canned fruit (one can of sliced peaches has over 120g of sugar)
  • Jam/jelly (as high as 12g of sugar per tablespoon!)
  • Yogurt (some brands have up to 45g of sugar per container)
  • Condiments (some popular BBQ sauces and ketchups contain one teaspoon of sugar for each tablespoon of sauce)

I hope this sheds some light on foods you need to be aware of. Now that you know this secret language on nutrition labels, you can spot all those sugars masquerading as “healthy sweeteners.”

Probiotic supplements are a great way to rebalance your microbiome and strengthen your gut lining. But reducing your daily sugar intake (9 teaspoons of sugar for men, 6 for women) is highly recommended.

Let me know how you’ve reduced your sugar intake and what sweet alternatives you have found. Post a message on my Facebook page!

Yours in good health,

Dr. Pedre & your NatureM.D. Wellness Team