“Sugar. Sugar. Awww, Honey. Honey. You are my candy girl”. Those sweet sweet words from The Archies back in the day… Confession time. This is still one of my favorite songs. I remember dancing with Veronica and Betty every Saturday morning.
If we only knew then what we know now about the damaging effect that “other white powder” has on our brains. The more we eat of sugary foods and processed foods, the more we want. The more it takes to get the same pleasure response in our brain that we are craving. It’s a seemingly endless cycle of reward and withdrawal.
What other damage does eating too much of this addictive white powder do?
In the brain, excess sugar impairs both your cognitive skills and your self-control. Making you feel frustrated and out of control. The part of the brain most affected by nutrition is the hippocampus. A diet high in sugar, or sugar and fat together, leads to a damaged hippocampus. This damage impairs your ability to our ability to read our own internal cues of hunger and satiety, leading to more consumption…leading to more damage…and on and on.
Even a single instance of elevated glucose in the bloodstream can be harmful to the brain, resulting in slowed cognitive function and poor memory and attention. Studies of long-term diabetics show progressive brain damage leading to deficits in learning, memory, motor speed, and other brain functions.
Frequent exposure to high glucose levels diminishes mental capacity. Higher HbA1c levels have been associated with a greater degree of brain shrinkage. Even in those without diabetes, higher sugar consumption is associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive function. These effects are thought to be due to a combination of hyperglycemia, hypertension, insulin resistance, and elevated cholesterol.
Sugar has an impact on mental health and can contribute to depression and anxiety. One of the leading causes of depression is a lack of serotonin. 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. If the gut is experiencing dysfunction because of too much sugar, you’ll have problems with important gut functions like digestion, immune function, and serotonin production.
The roller coaster of sugar ups and down can trigger anxiety attacks. When your blood sugar is low, you can get shaky and anxious. With such low blood sugar levels, the brain reacts by sending out an anxiety-producing alarm, telling you to find food. You will most likely grab he closest thing at hand. What will that be? Probably something loaded with more sugar, which starts the process all over again.
Sugar also affects a protein in your brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). I’ve talked about this important protein many times. BDNF decreases when you eat too much sugar. BDNF plays an important role in reducing anxiety, panic and stress reduction. A deficiency can worsen these conditions.
OK, so what about artificial sweeteners. If sugar does so much damage, what if you have sugar substitutes instead? Not so fast… Artificial sweeteners can be as bad or worse than sugar. I’ll address that in a later blog.
How much sugar is too much sugar? Honestly, it doesn’t take much. If you’re eating cereal for breakfast with juice, a sandwich for lunch with 2 slices of bread, a granola bar for a snack, and potatoes, rice or pasta for dinner, I consider that too much. All carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body, thereby causing inflammation in the body and brain when eaten in excess. The body and brain do not need nearly as many carbohydrates for fuel as once thought, especially if you are sitting at a desk all day.
But there is hope! It is never too late to eat healthily and reduce damage to your body or your brain. I consider it my mission to help people navigate the world of food and nutrition…to let you know that it’s not your fault you struggle with sugar cravings and emotional eating.
If you feel you need support in this area, please reach out to me. If you know someone who struggles with sugar cravings, do them a favor and pass along this information. They will thank you for it.
Thank you for reading. Let me know your thoughts.