Sugar Rush! Your Brain & Body on Sugar
Your brain runs on sugar - literally.
Sugar is the brain’s primary fuel source. In fact, it’s the body’s preferred energy source too. It’s the most effective and efficient way for your body to create usable energy.
But what happens when there is too much of it?
Arguably, too much of anything is a bad thing, and in today’s society, a lot of foods are loaded with sugar.
Surprisingly, 74% of packaged food contains sugar. And this sugar comes in various forms, such as fructose, honey, glucose, and corn syrup.
The result? Most of us eat too much of it. According to experts, most individuals eat over five times the amount of sugar they should be eating.
There is a link between nutrition and mental health.
Sugar addiction is a real thing. It turns into a vicious cycle of cravings, as well as a tug-and-pull type scenario where your mood, memory, and cognitive functioning go slightly haywire.
We aren’t kidding.
Let’s break it down a little farther. Here’s what’s happening with your body and mind on sugar.
Breaking Down Sugar Addiction
Eating foods high in sugar triggers the reward areas of the brain, which releases dopamine, making you feel pretty good. That’s why chocolate feels like a bit of a reward. It’s setting off those areas in your brain associated with reward and motivation.
A 2013 study even demonstrated this via the use of high glycemic foods. It was found that these foods not only stimulated the reward center of the brain, but also, stimulated cravings.
This reward system and cravings association are where eating too much sugar can create problems.
Healthwise, it creates a similar pattern to addiction. You lose control. You experience cravings. You end up with an increased tolerance to sugar.
The way sugar alters the reward system in the brain drives overeating. And then, your body requires more sugar to feel that reward again as your tolerance increases. A vicious cycle begins.
This cycle and tolerance creates even more problems with memory, learning, and mood.
How Sugar Addiction Impacts Your Memory & Learning
So, what’s the real harm?
Research suggests that a diet high in sugar leads to inflammation in the brain. A 2016 study compared rats fed a diet high in sugar and rats with a regular diet. Researchers discovered that rats on a high sugar diet had inflammatory markers in the brain which may cause memory deficits.
Another study indicated that high sugar consumption also slows down the brain. Rats that consumed more sugar had impairments regarding the connections between brain cells. In turn, this impacted both memory and learning abilities.
Scientists think these problems are related to insulin’s response to sugar in the body. When you consume a lot of sugar, over time, your body becomes insulin resistant. Insulin usually helps strengthen the connections between brain cells. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels.
When you become insulin resistant, it can create two problems. You may develop diabetes from it, and it also impairs cognitive function. Your brain cells can’t communicate as well. Thus, you can’t form new memories as easily or learn as easily. It makes everything that much harder.
Sugar & Your Mind
The inevitable sugar crash - sound familiar? You eat something high in sugar, then you experience a burst of energy. But this only lasts a short time. Suddenly, you crash - and you crash hard.
These sudden spikes and dives cause major mood swings, irritability, and fatigue. In fact, high sugar consumption is associated with a higher risk of depression. Your nutrition and mental health are closely linked - more so than we think.
Too much sugar also throw off the neurotransmitters that usually stabilize your mood. It over activates serotonin pathways. And as a result, it depletes your body’s serotonin stores, making you feel sad.
Long-Term, High-Sugar Diets Can Lead to Brain Damage
This is where it gets serious. If you live your life on a high sugar diet, you increase your risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s Disease.
And this chronic inflammation can lead to blood vessel damage - which leads to even more health issues. You put yourself at risk of dementia, cardiovascular issues, and more.
The good news? These effects can be reversed (at least before they get to the more detrimental stage of brain damage). Adjusting your diet goes a long way towards fixing the problem.
Refined vs. Natural Sugar: What’s Healthy & What’s Not?
Natural sugar is always the way to go. This type of sugar is found in fruits and dairy products. It’s not added to the food - it occurs, you guessed it, au naturel.
Refined sugar, on the other hand, is added to the foods we eat during processing. This results in too much sugar in the average western diet. And the biggest problem with refined sugar comes down to how the body metabolizes it.
Refined sugar gets broken down quickly. It causes your blood sugar to spike. And it doesn’t make you feel full. It also gets converted to fat faster. These consequences lead to overeating, cravings, fatigue, and all the issues explored above.
In natural sugar, there are other nutrients - like fiber - that slow the breakdown of sugar in the body. It creates a steady energy as opposed to a quick spike.
In other words, limiting processed foods and diving into real food is the way to go. A balanced and healthy diet is full of fruits, veggies, meats, and grains. Everything in moderation!
Sugar isn’t necessarily your enemy. It’s the type of sugar and how much you’re eating that is. The body needs sugar. But in excess amounts, things can begin to go a little haywire.
Now you know a little more about the link between nutrition and mental health. Make those mindful decisions when it comes to your diet. Grocery shop accordingly. After all, if it doesn’t end up in your cupboards, you’ll be less likely to eat it.
Challenge yourself! Try a zero-processed food day or week. How much better do you feel?
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