Effects of Processed Sugar on Your Brain
Processed sugar, something we all crave and love, has become almost omnipresent in the Western diet. It is present in sodas, chewing gums, energy drinks, chocolates, mints, you name it. Besides, it is used in a staggering array of food products we wouldn’t normally associate with it.
People love sugar because it tastes great, because it lifts their mood, and because it hits that reward center in the brain better than any other legal substance. Actually, it is better at it than a vast majority of illegal substances, as this 2007 study shows.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into the effects of processed sugar on the human brain, how it keeps people addicted, and how to cope with it.
Just One More
Everyone`s got that one favorite sweet they can't get enough of or can't leave well enough alone. And everyone's heard themselves say, more times than they'd care to admit, "Just one more." Then, one more after that, then another, and another. Before long, and before they realize what happened, they'd be staring at an empty bag, feeling a mix of shame, nausea, and a sugar high.
Sounds familiar? You bet it does. That’s how sugar addiction works. We get the munchies, we buy our favorite candy, and we get stuffed before we realize what we’re doing. We vow to never do it again, but we always do.
So, you might wonder, why do we keep doing it to ourselves when we know that it’s bad for our health? When we know that it can cause systemic inflammation, diabetes, ulcers, some types of cancers, and a whole lot of other diseases. Why do we come back to it when it ruins our teeth, when it gives us new layers of belly fat and cellulite?
High and Low
The short answer is, because it tastes better than anything else. Just look at kids and babies when they’re eating. They might grimace at vegetables, meat, eggs, or anything else. But no baby frowns at the taste of sweet food. And you can’t find a kid that would choose a vegetable smoothie over a soda. At least, not in his or her own will.
Sugar also rewards us better than any other food. It makes us feel good, enhances our mood, and kicks our brain into overdrive. When we’re on sugar, we feel motivated and happy. We’re full of energy and ready to tackle every obstacle in sight. This is because, as this study concludes, sugar releases opiates into the brain which increase the appetite for sucrose.
The downside of sugar high happens when the excess sugar leaves our system and things go back to normal. Our mood drops, as well as our motivation and ability to focus. We’re grumpy and fussy, and we don’t know why we feel like that. If you’ve heard this before it’s because it functions like every other addiction.
How Sugar Affects the Body
It is very important to know that excessive sugar intake also has negative effects on the body. It is one of the leading causes of systemic inflammation, as this 2011 study points out. Systemic inflammation in turn can cause a host of other problems, such as insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, and pre-diabetes. Also, wounds take longer to heel with systemic inflammation.
Moreover, it ruins your teeth. It spoils them faster and more effectively than pretty much any food out there. It might create plague and cause bad breath, cavities, and a bunch of other problems. It does that by killing the healthy bacteria in your mouth. Rotten and bad teeth can cause other health problems down the line.
Lastly, sugar has a less than flattering effect on your looks. A recent study conducted in Australia linked it to acne. Other studies found that it severely increased belly fat. Breast and colon cancer have also been linked to high sugar intake. It is among the leading causes of obesity, as well.
What to do About it?
The most obvious answer here would be to kick it. Ditch the sugar and sugar-rich foods altogether. Stop eating chocolate, drinking sodas, and adding sugar to your coffee and tea. It might sound severe and harsh, which it probably is, but it is the best way to get rid of the addiction. Here are some steps that you might take.
- Take up exercise. Healthy and balanced physical activity helps regulate insulin levels and balance out brain chemicals. It has positive effects on mood, motivation, and concentration. It helps with depression and anxiety, as well. Lastly, it is efficient at combating the physical manifestations of sugar addiction, such as unwanted fat.
- Ditch the sodas, energy drinks, and other sugars in liquid form. What happens when you consume such drinks is the intake of “empty” calories (calories with no nutritional value). They open up your appetite and make you crave more sugar and food in general. Replace them with bottled water, tea, coffee, or caffeine gum.
- Stop eating fast food, pizza, and hot dogs, and put healthy food on your menu. The best route here is to buy and prepare your own food, as much as possible. Of course, that might not always be possible, so find healthy alternatives for these situations.
- We’ve saved the hardest step for last. Stop eating candy. Without this step, you’ll never make it. Candy products (chocolate, ice creams, cakes, bonbons, etc.) are flooded with sugar, causing you to prolong the addiction. You might replace candy with fresh fruit. Fruit also contains sugar, so be careful not to overdo it, but at least it’s natural and not processed sugar.
More than just the brain, sugar can seriously harm your body, as well. The good effects last only a short while, whereas the negative ones accumulate over time, causing serious damage down the road.
So, the next time you get that sweet tooth, remember what goes on behind the scenes and what sugar actually does to you and your health. Sure, it would give you immense pleasure and boost your mood in no time, but the trade-off is just not worth it.