It’s well known by now that too much sugar in the diet can be bad for your health, particularly added sugar. It has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Americans consume way more than the recommended maximum amount of added sugar and most people, kids and adults, should be cutting back. But, an important question is whether or not it is possible to be allergic to sugar.
Bad Reactions to Sugar
It’s not surprising that sugar would be called into question as an allergen. We have all experienced that feeling of having eaten too much sugar, and it doesn’t feel great. You might experience nausea, shaking and then a crash. But, if you feel worse than most people after eating something sugary, does that mean you’re allergic? The answer is: not likely. There is no evidence from research that sugar can act as a true allergen, a substance that triggers an antibody-mediated immune system reaction.
Sugar Intolerance is Real
If you do, or your child does, experience what seems like an unusual reaction to sugar, beyond the typical “sugar high” and then crash, it could be explained as an intolerance. Food intolerance is not an allergic reaction, but it is a reaction in the body, often caused by the lack of an enzyme needed to break down a particular food.
While it is not known what exactly triggers an intolerant reaction to sugar, it is well-documented. In particular, intolerance to fructose has been studied. Fructose is the sugar found in fruits naturally, but it is also present in sucrose, the sugar that is added to many processed foods like soda and baked goods.
A study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome found that fructose could be a trigger or cause of this condition, also known as IBS. IBS causes a number of digestive symptoms, like pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea. In most people it is not known what causes the symptoms, but this study has shown that fructose could be one trigger. The patients in the study were split into two groups. One avoided fructose for 12 weeks and saw significant improvement in IBS symptoms.
Right now there is no evidence that sugar can be an allergen, but research into food allergies of all types is ongoing and new information may turn up eventually. It is known, however, that sugar can cause worse reactions in some people and that these people may have sugar intolerance.
If you suspect that your child doesn’t tolerate sugar well, it can’t hurt to cut back. Most kids are eating too much added sugar anyway. Try reducing sugary beverages, including juices, desserts of all kinds, candy and processed foods with added sugar. Read labels carefully to look for sugar content and sugar as a top ingredient and avoid these foods. If your child feels better with less sugar, she may be intolerant of sugar or she may simply be reaping the benefits of a healthier diet. Either way, less added sugar is better for her health.