5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce sugar intake?

5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce sugar intake?

5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce Sugar intake?

[ Contributor- Gina Mc.Kenzie (Founder, GEM Public Relations) ]

Illuminating the harsh effects of sugar consumption, Karen Salmansohn, Self-help Author stated, “Sugar is the sociopath of foods. It acts sweet…but it’s really poison”. Not everything that tastes good is actually good. And the bitter truth is that good stuff is mostly bitter. In our daily lives, we gulp down sugar in various forms without giving much thought to how it is affecting the brain and body.

In this article, ‘5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce sugar intake?’ we shall look into the harsh effects of consuming sugar. We shall look into the brain’s chemistry in relation to sugar, how it harms your brain, neuroplasticity, cognition, and mental health. We shall also look into ways in which you can reduce sugar intake.

What is Sugar?

Before we step into our actual topic, ‘5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce sugar intake?’ let us first take a look at the biochemistry of sugar.

Sugar is the catch-all name for a sweet-tasting, group of simple carbohydrates. White sugar – the kind most of us envision when we hear “sugar” – is a refined, processed sugar also known as table sugar, granulated sugar, or just… sugar. It is hidden by going by a slew of other names, which may be trickier to spot, but allows manufacturers to hide how much sugar is in a product.

Sugar, whether known as sugar, or as a moniker above, is also found in a cornucopia of other natural and manmade foods, from fruit, honey, and dairy milk to ketchup, salsa, tomato sauce, even breads! It’s in sports drinks, and of course, desserts, sodas, and candies. 

Because sugar is a simple carbohydrate, it is quickly absorbed down by the body as an energy source (i.e. source of calories). Used by many living organisms from yeast to hummingbirds, sugar serves as “fuel” for metabolic processes.

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Sugar for the brain

According to Dr. Michael Goran, PhD  Sugar isn’t inherently bad for the brain. In fact, the brain requires glucose to function. Ordinary sugar, or sucrose, is made by connecting a glucose molecule to a fructose molecule. 

Glucose is the sugar that circulates in your blood and gives energy to cells throughout the body, and the brain is especially reliant on it. The issue is that your body, including your brain, does best when glucose levels are relatively steady. The best sources of glucose for the body are complex carbohydrates that come from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. 

These sources are also high in fiber which helps slow down the release of glucose, and the rate at which it is absorbed from the gut. This results in a slower and more stable effect on blood sugar levels. 

Your Brain on Sugar

When we take foods, like sugar, our brain’s reward system is activated which in turn releases dopamine. And dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. Usually, the pleasure you experience while doing certain activities is directly proportional to the amount of dopamine released.

Sugar, as you might know, is empty calories; there is no nutritional benefit to sugar. It is quickly absorbed, and to break it down, your body releases insulin to control the amount of the broken-down sugar (or glucose) in your blood.

The more sugar you habitually consume, the more resistant, or numb, your cells become to the effects of insulin. As a result, it takes more and more insulin to keep those blood sugar levels balanced. Overtime, an individual can develop insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and other serious illnesses. 

Constant consumption of sugar can make you a sugar junkie. It has been widely known that sugar is as addictive as morphine, opioids, and cocaine. Because of its effect on the brain and body, sugar entices consumers to consume more. Sugar stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, keeping you wanting more.

How is Sugar bad for your brain?

When you eat simple carbohydrates such as sugary foods and drinks, these cause a rapid rise and subsequent rapid fall in blood glucose levels. The same is true for sugars which are entirely glucose based. 

While this quick influx of glucose may help in the very short term with mental performance, it then leads to issues with concentration, memory, and mood in the hours after. As long as moderation is maintained, there won't be much problem. But when you consume excessive amount of sugar, your body and brain get severely impacted.

1. Neuroinflammation

“It is really important for us to be mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies and how it’s affecting both the body and brain” stated Amy Reichelt, Neuroscientific researcher, in a ted talk. 

If your regular diet primarily consists of sugar, you may develop a condition called Neuroinflammation, which is the inflammation of your significant brain cells. Neuroinflammation may significantly occur in the region of your brain involved with memory and attention- the hippocampus. 

With hippocampus functions disturbed vital tasks such as memory consolidation, attention, and focus would be disturbed too. 

2. Reduced Plasticity

Neurogenesis is a process that refers to the birth of new neurons and it occurs throughout your life relentlessly. Neurogenesis happens in the hippocampus. There are millions of neurons in our bodies which are interconnected. It is through these neuron connections that several important tasks are done in our bodies.

Sugar may negatively impact hippocampus suggesting that your neuroplasticity or the ability to learn new things and remember the old ones would be adversely affected. For, the neurons and brain cells may malfunction.

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3. Sugar consumption and Depression

As previously discussed, consumption of sugary diet reduces your neurogenesis by affecting the hippocampus. It is commonly known that neurogenesis is relatively low in people suffering from mental disorders like depression. This suggests that, in the long run, you might even be prone to fall victim to depression.

4. Sugar, over eating, and Obesity

There’s yet another red flag here. People with a malfunctioning hippocampus (due to excessive sugar consumption) report feeling hungry all the time. This usually happens because it is the hippocampus that receives the signals from your gut when you are full. In the long run, due to this condition, you may end up overeating and ultimately get trapped in this vicious cycle of eating and overeating.

5. Sugar impairs cognition

Liquid sugar can rapidly elevate markers of central and peripheral inflammation and this maybe related to memory deficits. Studies have shown that taking a sugary diet caused impaired non-verbal intelligence and memory troubles in school children.

Not only that, difficulty in Mathematics was also self-reported by the subjects. Now that’s something to worry about.

Similar studies conducted on elderly and middle-aged people underscored the pre-existential fact by demonstrating a notable cognitive decline in the subjects. It was also found that people who consume excessive sugar are more likely to develop dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

How to reduce sugar intake?

The best way to reduce sugar is to be familiar with the nomenclature  and read labels. Educate yourself on the foods you eat and the sugar they contain, then cut back. Remarkably, as you reduce your sugar, you will have more of an acute sensitivity to sweetness, and you’ll naturally be satiated with less over time. 

Integrate whole foods from the perimeter of the grocery store into your diet along with healthy fats, and the cleanest meats you can afford. Buy fruit instead of candy bars. Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Reduce portion sizes and helpings of desserts and sweet treats.

The best forms of sugar for the brain (and the body in general) are those that come from whole or dried fruits as they contain natural sweetness that is balanced with fiber and other nutrients. You can find many recipes that use this approach in Sugar proof.

The American Heart Association recommends keeping added sugar to a maximum of 25 grams a day for women (100 sugar calories) or 38 grams for men (152 calories).  The US Dietary Guidelines suggest a maximum of 10% of your calories from added sugar, but less is better.  No need to give up sugar entirely, but these recommended levels mean people need to spend those added sugar calories wisely.  

Eat intermittently throughout the day with portions of your snacks and meals comprised of protein, healthy fats, and whole grains to avoid the sugar crashes and cravings that make resistance so difficult! One day at a time, reduce your sugar intake, and before you know it, you’ll have leveled up your health! 

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Concluding: ‘5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce sugar intake?’

Balanced blood sugar aids in healthy body composition, disease prevention, fertility, blood pressure and cholesterol, even decreasing depression. Reducing the sugar in your diet is a secret to longevity and overall well-being – physically and mentally. 

I hope my article, ‘5 Ways Sugar is bad for your brain: How to reduce sugar intake?’ is of assistance. Subscribe to my newsletter to get all updates delivered straight into your inbox. And, eat less sugar, you are sweet enough already.

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