Sugar Intolerance | Symptoms and Testing
Medically reviewed by Sian Baker, Dip ION mBANT mCNHC
on April 01, 2023. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Check My Body Health blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Sugar intolerance is a condition in which a person has difficulty digesting sugar and other simple carbohydrates, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and nausea. This can occur due to a deficiency of certain enzymes that break down sugars in the gut. Unlike a food allergy, sugar intolerance does not involve an immune reaction and is not life-threatening, but it can still cause significant discomfort.
What health conditions can too much sugar cause?
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar on a regular basis can contribute to a number of health problems, including:
- Obesity: Excess sugar consumption can lead to weight gain and obesity, which can increase the risk of several chronic diseases.
- Tooth decay: Sugar is one of the main causes of tooth decay, as it provides a source of food for the bacteria that form plaque on teeth.
- Type 2 diabetes: Excessive sugar consumption can lead to insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Heart disease: A high sugar intake is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as it can raise blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Excess sugar consumption can lead to a buildup of fat in the liver, which can increase the risk of liver damage and other liver-related health problems.
- Chronic inflammation: Sugar can trigger inflammation in the body, which can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s important to note that it’s not just the amount of sugar consumed, but also the frequency and the source of the sugar that can affect health outcomes. Consuming large amounts of sugar from processed foods and sugary drinks can be especially harmful.
What are the different types of sugar?
There are several types of sugar, including:
- Monosaccharides: These are the simplest form of sugar and include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
- Disaccharides: These are composed of two monosaccharides and include sucrose (table sugar), lactose (found in milk), and maltose (found in grains).
- Oligosaccharides: These are short chains of simple sugars and include raffinose (found in beans) and stachyose (found in potatoes).
- Polysaccharides: These are long chains of simple sugars and include starches (found in potatoes, rice, and other carbohydrates) and glycogen (stored in the liver and muscles as a source of energy).
- Artificial sweeteners: These are sugar substitutes that are used to sweeten foods and beverages. Some common examples include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose.
It’s important to note that the body processes different types of sugar differently, and some types of sugar are more harmful to health than others. For example, fructose, the sugar found in fruits, is metabolised differently than glucose, and consuming large amounts of fructose can contribute to the development of health problems such as obesity, insulin resistance, and liver damage.
Amongst sugar intolerances, lactose intolerance and fructose intolerance are the most common.
Glucose is a type of monosaccharide, or simple sugar, that is the primary source of energy for the body’s cells. It is also known as dextrose. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive system and is used by cells for energy production through cellular respiration. The level of glucose in the blood is regulated by hormones such as insulin and glucagon. When blood glucose levels are too low, the body releases glucagon to stimulate the liver to release stored glucose into the bloodstream. When blood glucose levels are too high, insulin is released to promote the uptake of glucose by cells and the storage of excess glucose in the liver and muscle tissue. Abnormal regulation of glucose levels can lead to conditions such as diabetes.
Sucrose is a type of disaccharide, or complex sugar, composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. It is commonly known as table sugar and is used to sweeten food and beverages. Sucrose is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets and is widely used in the food industry for its sweet taste and ability to preserve food.
When sucrose is consumed, it is broken down into its component glucose and fructose molecules in the small intestine, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream. The level of glucose in the bloodstream is regulated by insulin, which promotes the uptake of glucose by cells for energy production and storage. Excessive consumption of sucrose can contribute to the development of health problems such as obesity, insulin resistance, and tooth decay.
Fructose is a type of monosaccharide, or simple sugar, that is commonly found in fruits, honey, and some processed foods. Unlike glucose, which is metabolised by most cells in the body, fructose is primarily metabolised by the liver.
Fructose is often added to processed foods and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. Unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or increase blood glucose levels to the same extent, which can result in decreased appetite and food intake. However, consuming large amounts of fructose can contribute to the development of health problems such as insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and obesity.
It’s important to note that although fructose is naturally present in fruits, consuming moderate amounts of whole fruits is generally considered to be part of a healthy diet due to the fibre, vitamins, and minerals that they contain. Excessive consumption of fructose from processed foods and drinks, on the other hand, can be harmful to health.
Galactose is a type of monosaccharide, or simple sugar, that is one of the building blocks of lactose, the sugar found in milk. When lactose is consumed, it is broken down into glucose and galactose in the small intestine, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.
Galactose is also produced in the body from other sugars, including glucose, and is used as a source of energy by cells. Like other simple sugars, excessive consumption of galactose can contribute to the development of health problems, including weight gain, insulin resistance, and liver damage.
It’s important to note that galactosemia is a rare genetic disorder that affects the ability of the body to metabolise galactose, leading to an accumulation of galactose in the blood and the development of various health problems. Individuals with galactosemia must avoid foods that contain lactose and galactose.
Lactose is a type of disaccharide, or complex sugar, that is found in milk and dairy products. It is composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of galactose. When lactose is consumed, it is broken down into glucose and galactose in the small intestine by the enzyme lactase. These monosaccharides are then absorbed into the bloodstream and used as a source of energy by cells.
Lactose intolerance is a common condition in which individuals lack enough lactase to break down lactose in the small intestine, leading to symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea after consuming dairy products. Lactose intolerance is more common in some populations, such as Asian, African, and Native American populations, than in others.
Individuals with lactose intolerance can manage their symptoms by avoiding or limiting their consumption of dairy products or by taking lactase supplements to help digest lactose. Some dairy products, such as hard cheeses and yogurt, contain lower amounts of lactose and may be better tolerated by individuals with lactose intolerance.
Maltose is a type of disaccharide, or complex sugar, composed of two glucose molecules linked together. It is found in a variety of plant products, including grains and legumes, and is produced during the process of brewing beer and whiskey.
When maltose is consumed, it is broken down into glucose in the small intestine by the enzyme maltase. The glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream and used as a source of energy by cells.
Excessive consumption of maltose can contribute to the development of health problems such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and elevated blood glucose levels. It is important to note that individuals with glucose intolerance or diabetes may need to limit their consumption of foods that contain maltose and other forms of sugar.
Xylose is a type of monosaccharide, or simple sugar, that is found in small amounts in some fruits, vegetables, and in wood. It is also produced in the body from other sugars, including glucose, and is used as a source of energy by cells.
Xylose is less well known and studied compared to other simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose. However, it has been shown to have some potential health benefits, including a lower glycemic index compared to glucose, which means that it has a slower and milder effect on blood glucose levels.
In addition, xylose has been studied for its potential prebiotic effects, meaning that it can support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. However, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of xylose on health and the potential benefits and risks associated with its consumption.
What’s The Difference Between A Sugar Cane Intolerance And A Sugar Cane Allergy
A sugar cane intolerance and a sugar cane allergy are two different conditions.
A sugar cane intolerance is a digestive issue that occurs when the body is unable to properly digest the sugar found in sugar cane. This can lead to symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea after consuming products that contain sugar cane. A sugar cane intolerance is not a true allergy and is more commonly referred to as a sensitivity or intolerance.
A sugar cane allergy, on the other hand, is a type of food allergy that occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to proteins found in sugar cane as if they were harmful. This can lead to symptoms such as itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Whilst sugar cane allergy is possible it is very rare.
It is important to note that while sugar cane intolerance is a digestive issue, a sugar cane allergy is a true medical condition that requires medical attention and management. Individuals with a sugar cane allergy should avoid products that contain sugar cane and be prepared to manage symptoms if accidental exposure occurs.
What are Common Sugar Cane Intolerance Symptoms
Common symptoms of a sugar cane intolerance include:
- Bloating: A feeling of discomfort and fullness in the abdomen caused by an accumulation of gas in the digestive tract.
- Abdominal pain: Pain or discomfort in the abdomen that can range from mild to severe.
- Diarrhoea: Loose or watery stools that occur more frequently than usual.
- Nausea: A feeling of unease or discomfort in the upper abdomen that may be accompanied by vomiting.
- Flatulence: Excessive gas in the digestive tract that can cause discomfort and embarrassment.
- Constipation: Infrequent or difficult bowel movements.
These symptoms typically occur within a few hours to a few days after consuming products that contain sugar cane. The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and may be influenced by factors such as the amount of sugar cane consumed, the individual’s overall health, and their gut microbiome.
It is important to note that these symptoms can be caused by a variety of factors, including food intolerance, and digestive issues. If you are experiencing symptoms after consuming sugar cane, it is recommended that you seek medical advice to determine the underlying cause and appropriate course of treatment.
Is Glucose Intolerance The Same As Diabetes?
Glucose intolerance is not the same as diabetes. However glucose intolerance is an umbrella term which refers to metabolic conditions that result in the body having higher than normal blood sugar levels including diabetes; prediabetes, impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes. Glucose intolerance does not have clear symptoms however it may lead to symptoms similar to diabetes such as fatigue, increased thirst, frequent urination and slow wound healing.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by elevated blood glucose levels as well as the body’s inability to properly use and store glucose. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, leading to a complete lack of insulin and the need for daily insulin injections.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin and the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep up with the body’s needs. This type of diabetes is often associated with a sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
Glucose intolerance can lead to the development of diabetes over time therefore if you have concerns about your blood glucose levels or diabetes, it is important to seek medical advice for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
What to eat if you have sugar cane intolerance
If you have a sugar cane intolerance, it is important to limit or avoid products that contain sugar cane. This includes not only table sugar (sucrose) made from sugar cane, but also other products such as syrups, molasses, and some processed foods and drinks that contain sugar cane.
Instead, focus on eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats. Some specific foods to consider include:
Fresh fruits and vegetables: Apples, berries, leafy greens, carrots, squash, and more.
Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, and more.
Lean protein sources: Chicken, fish, tofu, legumes, and more.
Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Dairy or non-dairy alternatives: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and alternatives such as almond milk and soy milk.
It is also important to read food labels carefully to avoid products that contain sugar cane or its derivatives. Consider using alternative sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit, or erythritol, which are low in calories and have a lower glycemic impact compared to sugar.
Remember to speak with a healthcare professional for personalised dietary recommendations, especially if you have other medical conditions that need to be considered.
What foods should I avoid with a sugar cane intolerance
If you have a sugar cane intolerance, you should avoid foods and drinks that contain sugar cane or its derivatives, including:
- Table sugar (sucrose)
- Brown sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Cane syrup
- Agave nectar
- Some processed foods and drinks that contain sugar cane, such as baked goods, sweets/candy, soft drinks, and fruit juices.
It is important to read food labels carefully to identify products that contain sugar cane or its derivatives. Some alternative sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol can be used as a lower glycemic index alternative to sugar.
It is also recommended to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action, especially if you have other medical conditions that need to be considered.
Is There A Sugar Intolerance Test?
While we do not test for sugar cane intolerance, Check My Body Health’s Advanced Food Intolerance Test measures IgG reactions to 134 ingredients.
*A food intolerance is defined by Check My Body Health as a food-specific IgG reaction.