top of page

Does Sugar Sabotage Your Immune System?

You may have another reason to kick that soda or candy habit for good!

Sugar can temporarily weaken your immune system. Here's how that happens:

Keeping your immune system strong can feel like a lot of work. Committing to an exercise routine, good sleep habits, taking nutritional supplements, managing stress and good nutrition - is no small feat, but is well worth your time and effort when it comes to staying healthy.

But what if all of your well meaning efforts on any given day could be undone just by eating one certain food?

If your sweet tooth has emerged with a vengeance as a result of working from home, or is a newly formed sugar habit, listen up. According to nutrition studies and health experts, you might want to rethink your sugar habit.

Too much sugar in your system allows bacteria or viruses to propagate much more, because your initial innate system doesn't work as well. That's why diabetics, for example, have more infections.

Keep reading below to find out exactly how sugar affects your immune system, what science has to say on the subject, and how much sugar it takes to create negative effects.

How does sugar affect your immune system?

Donuts and cupcakes are tempting treats, but contain more sugar than you should eat or drink in a day.

Besides being a driver behind other chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, sugar consumption affects your body's ability to fight off viruses and other infections in your body.

Do you that your body needs certain cells to fight off infections?

White blood cells, also known as "killer cells," are highly affected by sugar consumption. Sugar hinders the immune system since white blood cells are not able to do their job and destroy bad bacteria or viruses, as well as when someone does not eat sugar.

Another study showed that high blood sugar affects infection-fighting mechanisms in diabetics. High-sugar diets are linked to Type 2 diabetes and high sugar consumption can lead to diabetes - a condition that is associated with a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

How much sugar does it take to weaken your immune response?

It takes about 75 grams of sugar to weaken the immune system. And once the white blood cells are affected, it is thought that the immune system is lowered for about 5 hours after consumption.

This means that even someone who slept 8 hours, takes supplements and exercises regularly, can seriously damage their immune system function by drinking a few sodas or having candy or sugary desserts.

Studies that have expanded on previous research have found that sugar, especially fructose (like the sugar in high-fructose corn syrup), negatively affected the immune response to viruses and bacteria. To give context of how 75 grams of sugar can add up:

  • One can of soda has about 40 grams of sugar

  • A low-fat, sweetened yogurt can have 47 grams of sugar

  • A cupcake has about 46 grams of sugar

  • Sports and energy drinks can contain about 35 grams of sugar, or more

How much sugar is considered healthy to eat in a day?

Health experts say to limit sugar. The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend no more than 10% of your daily calories be from added sugar each day.

Another way to look at that amount is to limit your sugar intake to no more than six teaspoons, or 25 grams total. This amount includes the sugar you may add to your coffee, the sugar in your daily chocolate serving, and the hidden sugars often found in "healthy" foods like granola bars, smoothies, energy drinks, etc.

Finally, if you stick to a well-balanced diet and keep your sugar consumption in check (ideally limit it to 25 grams a day, if any), then your immune system will have a better chance to do its job and keep you from getting sick.

Now is not the time to go crazy with baking desserts. Enjoying them from time to time is fine, but moderation is key when it comes to sugar, salt, fat, and staying well.

Sugar is hiding in all sorts of processed foods.

If you've never paid much attention to food labels, now is the time. You will be surprised that most foods, even those that you wouldn't expect, like salad dressing, breads, sauces and soups, all contain added sugar. It's important to read labels on everything you buy, eat and cook with.

If one of the first few ingredients is sugar, that's a clue that the food contains more sugar than it should. This also includes "healthy" foods like protein bars, granola bars and breakfast cereals, as these products are often loaded with sugar. Always read the label before you buy, eat or drink something.

Don't rely on sugary sweets to destress or cope with emotions.

Emotional eating is common, because many people adopt poor eating habits when other areas of their lives (like work, love, or spirituality) are not satisfying enough to fill their needs. Sugar is often the perfect comfort food because it hits our taste buds and the pleasure centers in our brain immediately. The problem is the effect is short-lived, making us reach for more and more to keep feeling that need for satisfaction.

Find other ways, even if they are small, to do more things that make you feel good. That can be giving yourself time to relax more, connect with friends or loved ones, pick up a hobby or pursue a project. It's simple, really - do more of what makes you feel good and there will be far less room for things that are not healthy or that don't make you feel good.

Fruit is a naturally sweet food that can help satisfy your sugar cravings.

Thankfully, there are plenty of foods that taste sweet naturally and provide lots of nutrition compared to food with added, processed sugar. When you are cutting back on sugar, don't be afraid to add in more naturally sweet foods like fruit or sweet potatoes. That way you won't feel as deprived since you still have sweeter foods in your diet.

You may still miss candy, dessert or other sweet treats, but over time (like 2 weeks) you will find that you enjoy the naturally taste of foods much more.

Accurate Ergonomics education & skills training courses include lessons on healthy eating, diabetes, reading labels, healthy grocery shopping, and much more.

Call 1.866.950.ERGO to learn more


The information contained in this blogpost is for informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition, health objectives or prior to starting a diet.


bottom of page