Your Sweet Tooth Could Be Messing with Your Head!
Around Thanksgiving, sugar shows up on our doorsteps, an often uninvited, yet not totally unwelcome, houseguest. After tempting us from morning to night and effortlessly luring us into her cloying embrace, we finally summon the power to send her packing in January each year. But while she might be out of sight, she’s never out of mind.
There’s no doubt that that this sweet manipulator can get a pretty firm grip on our heads, encouraging us to eat a bigger slice of cake or go back for one more cookie. But that’s not the only impact that sugar can have our brains. Research has shown that consuming too much added sugar, found in obvious foods like cookies, cakes and soft drinks, but hiding in ketchup, yogurt and a variety of other processed foods as well, can also have an adverse effect on us cognitively and emotionally.
Brain cells, which need two times the energy of other cells in the body, can’t function without glucose as their fuel. So, yes, our brain needs sugar. However, overindulging in added sugars, or those that are not naturally occurring in foods and with zero nutritional value, is believed to turn that power into poison, affecting our memory and ability to process ideas, follow directions, etc. In case you think you don’t overindulge, even a can of soda every day is considered too much for women and close to the limit for men, according to the American Heart Association.
Sugar also has a split personality when it comes to how it makes us feel. While it can temporarily lift our spirits (remember how good you felt while eating that luscious lava cake?), the nosedive our blood sugar takes a few hours after a sugar-laden treat can cause feelings of anxiety, sluggishness and irritability, too often leading us to consume more sugar, and so on and so on. A diet heavy in sugar has also been found to contribute to symptoms of depression. Is that fleeting sugar high worth the down side?
As if all of these effects weren’t bad enough, scientists are beginning to believe that the impact of added sugars on our brains is even more profound. More and more research is pointing to high blood sugar—whether caused by diabetes or a diet filled with added sugars—as a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some researchers are even informally labeling Alzheimer’s as “Type 3 diabetes.”
Now that the holidays are over—and those sweet treats aren’t tempting us at every turn—it’s time to take a good, hard look at the sugar in our diets. Don’t assume that just because it doesn’t taste sweet, it doesn’t have sugar in it. Read labels, limit non- and low-fat options (they tend to include sugar to make them taste good), and choose fresh foods over processed. After all, doesn’t your brain rank higher in the pecking order than your sweet tooth?