Sugar is everywhere. You can find it in more obvious places — cake, cookies, donuts — but it also lurks insidiously in foods we often consider to be “healthy”: protein bars, flavored water, agave-sweetened pale desserts. Whether you are aware of your sugar intake or not, almost all American’s intake up to two times the recommended daily dose, the effects it’s having on your body, and even your brain, may be more detrimental than you realize.
Sugar has recently been thrown into the spotlight with the release of the new Dietary Guidelines, a health publication but out by the government only every five years. The most striking change in this is the new recommended daily dose of sugar — 12 teaspoons a day — a whopping 10 teaspoons less than the 22 consumed on average by Americans.
We know most of the classic effects of sugar on the body but what most don’t realize is that sugar is not only affecting your body but also your brain.
There is evidence to suggest that sugar reduces neuronal and behavioral plasticity that is associated with a brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF).
BDNFs are associated with long-term memory, and change in the production of these factors can potentially interfere with learning. Diabetics and pre-diabetics, those who have an impaired glucose metabolism, show particularly low levels of BDNFs.
The reason your sugar habit is so hard to kick also has to do with the brain. The processing of “sweet” by the brain activates its reward system, essentially sending signals to “do that again.” The same reward system is also triggered in cases of drug use, sexual activity and social interactions.
The next time you take a bite of cake or a spoonful of ice cream, dopamine will be released in your brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine is what activates the pleasure centers of the brain. All of this evidence points to the fact that sugar consumption can take on the same neurochemical form of addiction.
Not only can this affect your brain function but the addictive nature of eating sugar can be what leads to it having harmful effects on the rest of your body—it is hard to stop eating.
While it is probably impossible for us to escape sugar entirely, there are ways to cut back that can help break the addiction. Some even claim giving up sugar can change the brain, improving sleep, focus, clarity, memory and reducing cravings.
While there are yet to be reliable studies testing the brain off sugar, it is not unlikely that quitting the sweet stuff will help you in a number of ways.