Nutrition Notes

Hypovitaminosis - Are High Sugar Diets to Blame?

The scientific literature contains a plethora of evidence demonstrating the detrimental effects added sugar consumption has on our health. In addition to being more susceptible to developing lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and dental caries, recent findings from two large Swedish population-based studies published in Nutrition & Metabolism discovered that higher consumption of added sugar in the diet is correlated with lower micronutrient intake.


Unlike the naturally-occurring sugars that are found in fruits, vegetables, milk, and other whole foods (e.g., nuts, beans, whole grains), sugars that are added to foods and beverages are processed or ultra-processed. These processed foods or food-like products are not necessary for our diets.


Researchers stratified the subjects into six groups according to their daily added sugar consumption based on a 4- and 7-day food diary, food frequency questionnaire, and an interview, and then compared those results with the intake of calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc. The results showed that there was a significant inverse correlation between daily intake of all 9 micronutrients and the intake of added sugar. 


Deficiency in any one vitamin or mineral can lead to various unpleasant symptoms and may eventually lead to a diseased state if not caught and corrected quickly. Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and rickets (vitamin D deficiency) are pretty extreme cases of the past, but even a mild deficiency (or “lab low” levels) of a single nutrient can adversely affect our physiology. For example, insufficient iron, B12, or folate intake may lead to anemia, and insufficient magnesium intake may cause fatigue as the body is in short supply of the enzymatic cofactor required to generate ATP.


Sadly, according to the CDC, in 2015 only 1 in 10 American adults consumed adequate levels of vegetables and fruits daily; an estimated 9% of American adults are meeting the recommended 3-5 servings of vegetables, and only 12% are getting the recommended 2-4 servings of fruits. Inadequate intake of vegetables and fruits is associated with a variety of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancers, and stroke, which are among the leading causes of death globally. Simply put, when our bodies don’t receive sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, our physiology cannot function properly.


That doesn’t necessarily mean sugar should be demonized (like fat had been for decades until the recent keto craze). Excessive sugar intake should be avoided, stricter label transparency be put in place, guidelines for the upper limit for added sugar intake be lowered, and patients be made aware of the amount and types of sugars in the foods they are eating.


This research suggests that there is an increased need for micronutrient repletion for those who consume excessive (or even modest) amounts of added sugar daily. Dietary and lifestyle modifications (reducing added sugar consumption and increasing intake of whole foods, especially fiber, healthy fats, and protein) always top the list when it comes to improving health outcomes. However, daily multivitamin and multimineral supplementation may be the best option for the majority of Americans (both adults and children), especially those who are reluctant to change their current dietary habits. 


For the above reasons mentioned, finding a comprehensive and well-balanced supplemental blend of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients may be the critical link for providing a strong nutritional foundation to help support optimal health, especially in those who consume excessive amounts of sugar.


By Caitlin Higgins, MS, CNS, LDN