Are You Allergic to Sugar? Here’s What You Need to Know

Sugar Intolerance

Sugar can sometimes get a bad reputation, but the naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruits and dairy provide your body with essential energy. While added sugars in sweets should be consumed in moderation, they do make our food taste better. If you experience symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, hives, rash, and itching after consuming sugar, you might wonder if you have a sugar allergy.

True Sugar Allergies Are Rare

Sugar allergies are extremely uncommon. However, some individuals may have a sugar intolerance. Understanding the difference between a sugar allergy and sugar intolerance is crucial. This article will explore the distinction, foods to avoid if you have sugar intolerance, and potential treatment options.

Types of Sugars

There are several types of sugars, each playing a different role in the body:

  • Glucose: A monosaccharide, or simple carbohydrate, glucose is the main type of sugar in your blood. Your body converts carbohydrates into glucose, providing energy to your cells. Often referred to as “blood sugar.”
  • Fructose: Known as “fruit sugar,” fructose is a simple sugar found in fruits, some vegetables, and honey.
  • Lactose: Referred to as “milk sugar,” lactose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and galactose, found in milk and dairy products from mammals like cows, goats, and humans.
  • Sucrose: Commonly known as “table sugar,” sucrose is composed of glucose and fructose and is derived from sugarcane.

Sugar Allergy vs. Sugar Intolerance

Understanding the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance is important. According to Cynthia Sass, RD, a Health contributing nutrition editor, “With a food allergy, the body’s immune system, which usually fights infections, sees a food as an invader. This triggers an immune response, releasing chemicals like histamine.”

While sugar allergies are exceedingly rare, sugar intolerance, or sugar sensitivity, is more common. Sugar intolerance means your body struggles to digest sugar properly, leading to gastrointestinal distress.

Sugar Allergy Symptoms

Though rare, a sugar allergy might cause symptoms within two hours of ingestion, including:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing
  • Hives or rash
  • Itching, especially in the mouth
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Trouble swallowing or a tight throat
  • In severe cases, anaphylaxis, which can send your body into shock

Sugar Intolerance Symptoms

If you have a sugar intolerance, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Worsened eczema
  • Headache or migraine
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Risk Factors

Individuals with gut disorders like Crohn’s disease and colitis are at higher risk for adverse reactions to certain sugars, such as fructose malabsorption, according to Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of the New York City nutrition practice B Nutritious.

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

If you experience discomfort or adverse symptoms after consuming foods with sugar, consult a healthcare provider. They can help determine if you have a sugar intolerance or an underlying condition.

Testing for Sugar Allergy or Intolerance

A healthcare provider or allergist can help diagnose sugar allergy or intolerance through various methods, including:

  • Elimination Diets: Eliminating suspected foods to see if symptoms improve.
  • Skin-Prick or Patch Testing: Pricking the skin with probes containing potential allergens to observe reactions.
  • Blood Testing: Measuring the amount of IgE antibody to foods being tested in your blood.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology advises against using at-home food allergy tests due to potential inaccuracy.

Treatment for Sugar Intolerance

Managing sugar intolerance often involves dietary changes. Avoid or limit foods that trigger symptoms. For individuals with gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a low-FODMAP diet or a specific carbohydrate diet may be recommended to avoid triggering sugars.

Alpert advises, “Avoid foods that give you any unwanted or uncomfortable physical reactions upon consumption.”

Foods to Avoid

If you have a sugar intolerance, consider avoiding or moderating the following foods:

  • Agave syrup
  • Candy
  • Sweets with added sugars (e.g., cake or cookies)
  • Fruit juices
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Jellies or jams
  • Milk or dairy products
  • Molasses
  • Salad dressings, condiments, pasta sauces with added sugars
  • Soda
  • Table sugar

Sugar Alternatives

Those with a sugar intolerance might consider these sugar alternatives:

  • Advantame
  • Equal, NutraSweet Natural, or Sugar Twin (aspartame)
  • Lactose-free milk, yogurts, and cheeses
  • Monk fruit
  • Newtame (neotame)
  • Splenda (sucralose)
  • Sweet One and Sunnett (acesulfame potassium)
  • Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin, or Necta Sweet (saccharin)
  • Stevia

While the FDA has deemed aspartame safe, some studies link long-term consumption to diabetes and weight gain.


While sugar allergies are rare, sugar intolerance is more common and can cause discomfort. Identifying and avoiding trigger foods, consulting with healthcare providers, and making dietary adjustments can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life

A Quick Review

Sugar allergies are rare, but sugar intolerance is more common and can cause symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Various sugars, including glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose, play different roles in the body. If you experience adverse symptoms after consuming sugar, consult a healthcare provider. Diagnosis often involves elimination diets and tests. Managing sugar intolerance typically requires dietary changes, including avoiding trigger foods and considering sugar alternatives.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top