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intolerance to different kinds of sugar

Sugar Intolerance

We’ve all heard about the dangers of high-sugar diets. As well as potentially contributing to diabetes and other weight-related disorders, too much sugar can also contribute to other related conditions such as heart disease and strokes. Of course, excessively high levels of sugar should be avoided, and have to be managed particularly closely for those with diabetes. However, a small portion of the population may suffer from sugar intolerance, which can cause them to become ill or suffer unpleasant symptoms when they consume sugar or sugar cane. 

If you have unexplained symptoms when eating sugary foods, it might be time to ask “do I have sugar intolerance?” Read on for all the answers and information you need to know about being intolerant to sugar…

What is sugar intolerance?

A sugar cane intolerance refers to the reactions or symptoms a person may get after eating or drinking cane sugar. If you have a sugar cane intolerance, your body will find it difficult to process and absorb the proteins in sugar cane, and may produce physical reactions as a result. A food intolerance* is defined by YorkTest as a food-specific IgG reaction. 

 It’s not always easy to avoid sugar. It’s in so many of the UK’s most popular dishes and drinks, and not even just processed snacks – things like fruit, dairy products and malt all contain types of sugar. 

Sugar itself is a carbohydrate, and acts as one of the body’s fuels. There are several different types of sugar:

  • Glucose – the main type of sugar in the blood, controlled by hormones including insulin
  • Sucrose – sometimes called ‘table sugar’, sucrose comes from plants like sugar cane
  • Fructose – naturally occurring sugar in high-carbohydrate vegetables, honey and fruit
  • Galactose – a simple sugar found in nature and occurring in dairy products 
  • Lactose – found in dairy products, and made up of galactose and glucose
  • Maltose – formed by two glucose molecules joining, and found in grains such as malt
  • Xylose – found in wood or straw, xylose can be converted into sugar substitute xylitol

Amongst sugar intolerances, lactose intolerance and fructose intolerance are the most common.

What’s the difference between a sugar cane intolerance and a sugar cane allergy?

In essence, while a sugar intolerance is a difficulty digesting and processing sugar, a true sugar allergy can produce life-threatening reactions. Because food allergies and food intolerances* both come with physical symptoms, people can sometimes get them confused. However, there are several differences between allergies and intolerances.

A sugar intolerance refers to the body’s difficulty digesting and processing sugar, it is not an immune response and therefore doesn’t produce either an IgG or an IgE reaction. With a sugar allergy, the body’s immune system identifies the ingredient as a foreign invader, like a virus. This launches an immediate response – known as an IgE response – which triggers the release of chemicals into the bloodstream that cause serious symptoms for the sufferer. 

Allergic reactions are more severe than intolerance reactions, and can include life-threatening reactions including difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. True sugar cane allergies are extremely rare, however if you think you may have one, it’s important to see your doctor straight away. 

Common sugar cane intolerance symptoms

Can sugar cane cause itching? Can sugar cane cause diarrhoea? Symptoms of a sugar cane intolerance vary from person to person, and can also take different amounts of time to show. However, there are some sugar cane intolerance symptoms that are fairly common, including:

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Stomach ache

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Nausea and vomiting

Is sugar cane intolerance the same as diabetes?

A common question our health experts are asked is “is glucose intolerance the same as diabetes?”. 

Glucose intolerance – a type of sugar intolerance – is linked to diabetes and prediabetes. Symptoms can include dry mouth, tiredness, the frequent need to urinate, drowsiness and blurred vision. 

If you suspect you have glucose intolerance or diabetes, you should seek medical advice.

sugar desserts

Sugar alternatives and what to eat if you have sugar cane intolerance

It used to be much harder to avoid sugar in your diet, but in recent years many UK supermarkets and restaurants have embraced the ‘free from’ lifestyle. You can now find lots of sugar-free food alternatives and recipes, so if you have an intolerance to sugar it’s easier than ever to still eat what you want. 

A sugar intolerance diet plan will usually include lots of whole grain foods and vegetables low in sugar and saturated fat. Some sugar and cane sugar alternatives include:

  • Xylitol
  • Erythritol
  • Sucralose
  • Stevia and stevia products
  • Date sugar
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Monk fruit extract

It’s important to get expert advice and check with your doctor before making any substitutions or drastically changing your diet. For some people, sugar substitutes can cause serious symptoms and have a damaging effect on the digestive system, so it’s important to make sure any substitutes you try are suitable for you.

Foods to avoid with a sugar cane intolerance

If you have a cane sugar intolerance, it’s important to tailor your diet and lifestyle to limit exposure to sugar and thus avoid those unpleasant symptoms. 

Foods to avoid include:

  • Fruit juices and soft drinks
  • Jam
  • Peanut butter
  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Ice cream
  • Sweets
  • Cereals
  • Agave
  • White bread
  • Energy drinks

If you find that you’re specifically intolerant to lactose sugar, you may also want to avoid things like butter, cheese, cream, milk and yoghurt.

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Is there a sugar intolerance test?

While we do not test for sugar cane intolerance, YorkTest’s Premium Food Intolerance Test measures IgG reactions to 200 ingredients including other sweeteners such as Agave.

*A food intolerance is defined by YorkTest as a food-specific IgG reaction

Premium Food Intolerance Test