What Nutrition Practitioners Should Know About Sugar and Inflammation

Sugar and Inflammation

By: Natalie Baugh


Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that our bodies need. They work in perfect harmony with the other macro and micronutrients to keep humans alive and well. Yet, in the last decade, the quality of the carbohydrates that are being mass-produced by the food industry in the United States has taken a continuous downturn. “Ultra Processed” foods are highly refined, altered and adulterated foods (Mercola, 2016). Currently, it is estimated that 57.9% of an average person’s energy comes from an “ultra-processed” diet.  Furthermore, the World Health Organization lists the recommended daily intake for sugar to reach no more than 25 grams per day. Recent statistical records show that 82.1% of people far exceed the recommended daily intake for added sugars (Baraldi, 2016). In addition, it was estimated that over half of American adults, about 117 million people, have at least one chronic disease (Chronic Disease Overview). New journal studies show high correlations between increased sugar intake and chronic disease. One example of evidence for this connection is the correlation between increased inflammation and a heightened immune response when a diet high in added sugars is consumed.

            The Immunologic Research Journal conducted a study in 2007 comparing the immunological effects sugar has on gut inflammation by using T cell receptor α knockout (TCRα KO) mice as comparison tools. Biological markers showed that chitinase 3-like 1 and galectin-4 increased inflammatory intestinal conditions and further activated pathogen growth, while inhibiting non-pathogen bacterial growth (Mizoguchi, E., 2007). An overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria creates a dysbiosis within the gut microbiota. The gram-negative pathogenic bacteria produce lipopolysaccharides that are characterized as phagocytes by macrophages resulting in an inflammatory response (Razi R., 2015). Further evidence showed that glycosylation of glucose produces Amadori adducts which, when stabilized, have shown to produce an autoimmune and inflammatory response (Boger, D., 2015). Furthermore, the Institute of Science at Nirma University in Ahmedabad, India showed that certain inflammatory markers including interleukin-6, TNF-α and C-reactive protein emphatically parallels to the insulin resistance syndrome, further increasing the risk for Type 2 Diabetes (Kumar Jena, P., 2016).

            From these findings, correlations between inflammation and added sugars are clear. Yet, how is this applicable to the clinical setting? Glucose is the most prominent provider of energy to the body. However, excess glucose can cause negative consequences in inflammatory responses. Therefore, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highly suggests that nutrition practitioners advise a balanced diet with as minimal added sugar intake as possible. Certainly, added sugars should not make up more than 10% of the patient’s daily intake (Nestle, 2016). Instead, practitioners are to encourage patients to consume a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Examples of whole complex carbohydrates include Whole Wheat Bread, Couscous, Millet, Oatmeal, Quinoa, Sorghum, Barley, Rye and Brown Rice. Due to the high fiber content of complex carbohydrates, blood glucose levels do not spike as high, and the body is able to use the glucose more efficiently (Schmitz, 2012). This not only promotes the supplying of all the essential nutrients, but it also avoids inhibiting the healing response to any ailments that the patient may have (Clegg, D., 2016).



Baraldi, Larissa G. & Others (2016) Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2016;6:e009892 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009892

Boger, D. (2015). When sugar is not so sweet. Science. 350(6258), 275-276

Chronic Disease Prevention (2012) Center for disease control.

Clegg, Deborah J., Frank, Aaron P. (2016) Dietary guidelines for americans- eat less sugar. The Journal of American Medical Association. 2016;315(11):1196. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.0968.

Kumar Jena, P., & Prajapati, B. (2016). Influence of gut microbiota on inflammation and pathogenesis of sugar rich diet induced diabetes. Immunome Research, 12(1)

Lindmeier, C. (2015) WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children. World Health Organization

Mercola, J(2016) More than half of the American diet is ultra-processed junk food. Mercola.com

Mizoguchi, E., & Mizoguchi, A. (2007). Is the sugar always sweet in intestinal inflammation?, Immunologic Reseach, 37(1) 47-60

Nestle Marion (2014) WHO tries added sugar guideline again: 10% of daily calories! Food Politics

Razi R, Mir Z, Dilshad R, Zahra FT, Atif AB (2015) Naturally Occurring Enzyme Inhibitors: A Smart Way to Fight against Micro-Inflammation in Human Gut. Interdiscip J Microinflammation 3:131. doi:10.4172/2381-8727.1000131

Schmitz, A. (2012). "Digestion and Absorption of Carbohydrates", An introduction To Nutrition section 4.2. Prince.



Natalie Baugh