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How Long Does Sugar Stay in Your System?
  /   Dr. John Snow

How Long Does Sugar Stay in Your System?

Sugar tastes good. It’s normal to enjoy a piece of cake on your birthday or a few holiday cookies baked by someone you love. If you’re only eating sugar on special occasions, you probably don’t have much to worry about. But if you’re like most Americans who consume an excessive amount of added sugars every single day, that’s when things get tricky.

When you eat sugar, it starts to impact your body within a few minutes. These effects can be harmful. The duration of these effects may vary from person to person. If you’re constantly eating sugar, they can technically last all day. 

But before you “treat yourself” to another scoop of ice cream, here’s what you need to know.

Sugar Is Found in Most Foods We Eat

Sugar is natural, but not all sugar is made equally. Pure sugar from sugar beets or sugarcane is processed into refined white sugar, the sugar commonly added to baked goods and drinks.

Sugar processed from corn is also referred to as high-fructose corn syrup. It is used to sweeten beverages like soda or flavored latte syrups. These sugars, also known as added sugars, are rampant in most food items we eat.

Sugar is also found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy. This sugar has similar effects on your body, but it’s part of a bigger nutritional picture. For example, bananas have 15 grams of naturally occurring sugar. Bananas also contain dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and a wealth of potassium. 

That’s the most significant difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. 

Foods with added sugars aren’t whole foods and don’t do anything to help promote your overall health. If you never ate them again, you would be perfectly fine. However, foods with naturally occurring sugars, like whole fruits and dairy, contain essential nutrients that help power your body.

Many people don’t realize that the human body treats these sugars the same. The sugar from a banana can stay in your system just as long as the sugar from a cupcake.

When we talk about how long sugar stays in your system, we’re referring to all sugar. It doesn’t make a difference where the sugar comes from. It may remain in your system for the same amount of time.

How Sugar Becomes Blood Sugar

Everything you eat is digested. It starts in your stomach and gradually wakes its way through your intestines and out of your body. During this process, your body releases the nutrients from the food into your bloodstream, where they reach their intended destinations.

Vitamin C reaches your skin and your gums, where it works to promote optimal health. Meanwhile, vitamin B12 helps your body produce healthy red blood cells.

Protein is broken down into smaller pieces that eventually become the building blocks for tissue and muscle. Sugars are broken down into monosaccharides, which don’t do anything to benefit your body.

When monosaccharides enter your bloodstream, they contribute to your blood sugar. Blood sugar, or blood glucose, is an easily accessible form of immediate energy for all your internal organs.

Everyone needs to have sufficient blood glucose for their body to function correctly, but having too much blood glucose can be dangerous.

What Happens to Your Blood Sugar After You Eat?

After you eat, your blood glucose levels rise. This process is slow, as it can take the body over an hour to fully process the sugars from the food you eat. After about 90 minutes of eating, your blood sugar levels are at their highest. This process is normal, expected, and necessary. 

When you eat whole foods (especially whole carbohydrates) and properly nourish your body, your blood sugar levels stay stable throughout the day. Low blood sugar can lead to feelings of fatigue or even frustration. That’s where the term “hangry” comes from.

If you surpass your body’s dietary needs and continue to eat, you may begin to feel sick as your blood sugar levels escalate. If high blood sugar is a recurrent issue, type 2 diabetes can be a significant concern. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body struggles to contend with a surplus of blood sugar and cannot keep blood glucose at a manageable level on its own.

How Long Does Sugar Stay in Your System?

Most people have at least some sugar in their system unless they completely fast for an extended period. Every time you eat, you’re introducing more sugar into your body. 

If you were to eat low-calorie foods and remain fasted, sugar would take at least three hours for the bulk of that sugar to leave your system. Some residual sugar should remain. 

Your brain and organs need sugar to function. If your blood sugar gets too low, your body enters something called hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia can cause nervousness, dizziness, and vertigo. If you don’t eat and replenish your body’s stores of sugar, your brain may start to decline in function because it doesn’t have the glucose it needs for energy.

Attempting to fully “detox” from all sugars can be life-threatening. If you didn’t have any sugar in your system, you could die. 

The goal should be to eat whole, nutritious foods with naturally occurring sugars to keep yourself healthy. This prevents blood sugar drops that can cause adverse side effects while helping your body meet its nutritional needs.

How Long Does Sugar Stay in Your System When You Have Diabetes?

If you have type 2 diabetes, your blood sugar may stay dangerously elevated without intervention. When your blood sugar gets high, your body is supposed to release a hormone called insulin. 

Insulin tells your liver that your blood sugar levels are too high, and it encourages your liver to store sugar for later.

If your body can’t produce enough insulin, blood sugar levels rise. Your body may also begin to attack itself, breaking down body fat stores, muscle, and vital tissues because the insulin can’t move sugar into the cells for energy. This can become fatal.

People with type 2 diabetes use insulin shots to manage their blood sugar levels. Insulin shots compensate for what the body can’t do on its own and help blood sugar return to safe and normal levels. Insulin takes about 30 minutes to begin stabilizing blood sugar levels, and its effects can last up to six hours.

How To Keep Your Blood Sugar Levels Stable

If you’re concerned that your blood sugar levels may be unstable, speak with your doctor right away. Frequently experiencing the effects of high or low blood pressure can be indicative of a severe problem. Your doctor may want to check for specific conditions and prescribe a plan to help regulate blood sugar levels.

If you’re otherwise healthy and feel you’d benefit from eating less sugar, you’re probably right. Eliminating added sugar from your diet is an excellent idea that only maximizes your overall health in the long run. 

If you’re otherwise healthy and feel your blood sugar dip from time to time, that’s normal. It’s your body telling you it’s time to eat. Healthy snacks like whole fruits and nuts can help keep your blood sugar level stable between meals. This is especially important if you ordinarily eat small meals or are very active during the day. 

Making Better Choices for Your Family

Added sugars hide everywhere. They’re in snacks masquerading as healthier options. They’re added to “juice drinks,” condiments like ketchup, and even salad dressings. 

Many choices that most Americans believe to be healthy are designed with a health halo. The packaging makes them look wholesome and nutritious, but the ingredients list and nutrition facts can tell a different story. 

There’s even sugar hiding in your child’s gummy multivitamins. It’s not unreasonable for parents to assume the multivitamins they’re giving their children are designed to promote their health. A quick look at the ingredients may reveal the same added sugar and gummy junk in regular gummy candy.

That’s why Hiya naturally sweetens our children’s chewable multivitamins with monk fruit extract rather than sugar. Monk fruit extract is naturally sweet, and it makes our vitamins tasty for kids without the adverse effects of sugar. Ditch the gummies and make the switch

Sources:

Bananas | The Nutrition Source | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Hypoglycemia - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Diabetes: How to Use Insulin | American Academy of Family Physicians

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