Sugar and Brain Health: Memory, Mood, and Damage
Sugar is the main source of energy for every cell of the human body, especially the brain. Exams, increased workload, or other stressful situations are all factors that demand a lot of energy from the brain. This is why when we’re dealing with situations like these, our body starts to crave for more sugar, as it feels the need of extra energy.
Sugar consumption is becoming more and more popular, especially among the youngsters. Unfortunately, too much sugar in our bloodstream can cause obesity, diabetes and it can also damage the brain and cause other issues such as memory loss and mood changes.
What is glucose and how does it affect the brain?
To function properly, our body gets its energy from the three main nutrients: carbs, fats, and proteins. These three nutrients can be found in common foods and drinks, and after ingestion, they get absorbed into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, until they reach the cells, in which they’re converted into energy. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is an energy-carrying molecule, that is formed in the cells in order to carry the energy to all the organs and help them function properly.
When ingested, carbohydrates (carbs) are broken down by the digestive system into glucose, which is a key source of energy for all the body tissues. Glucose, which is a form of sugar, produces the most ATP in the cells, which means that it provides the most energy to the organs for keeping the body in its best shape. Sugar can be found in fruits, vegetables, honey, milk, and due to its sweet taste, it can be added to any type of food. Carbs in general, provide the best form of energy that is used by every cell, including the nerve cells or the neurons, both having an essential role in the health and function of the brain.
The brain is the organ that needs the most energy so that it can process all the information that needs to be sent throughout the body. It uses as much as half of all the sugar in the body, which is why whenever we go through situations that require a lot of thinking, or emotions, we feel the need of eating something sweet. It has been studied that the average American consumes as much as 34 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is almost 6 times more than the daily recommendations. Our body needs sugar for energy, but too much sugar can be a risk for our brain functions and our overall health.
Sugar’s reward response
Besides the fact that they give a lot of energy to the body, foods that are rich in sugar can also trigger a reward response in the brain. So what exactly is a reward response? It has been studied that sugar activates a region in the brain, that triggers cravings and increases the feeling of hunger, causing an addictive drive. Unfortunately, the reward response is similar to the one that is provoked by drugs, as the body becomes more and more tolerant and starts abusing sugar consumption.
Sugar reward can stimulate hedonic hunger, which represents a drive to eat something only to satisfy our pleasures, not for hunger or energy reasons. If food is consumed only for its’ gustatory properties, it can lead to an excess of a particular nutrient, which in this case is sugar, which can cause weight-gain, obesity and it can alter the brain’s health. Sweet food can also increase dopamine secretion, which is a hormone that is also known as “the happy hormone”, because it makes us feel good. Dopamine is one of the reasons that the brain activates the reward response.
There is no doubt that sugar is the best source of energy and it is used by every cell, to fuel the brain and metabolic processes. However, because high levels of sugar can cause the brain’s reward response, studies have shown that this can lead to the development of addictions. High quantities of the same nutrient can cause an excess, and as the body gets used to it, higher amounts will be needed to reach the same level of reward. Unfortunately, the reward response is triggered by low-nutrient and high-calorie foods that contain high amounts of sugar, salt, and fats. If this kind of foods are consumed more often than usual, the reward response might diminish, which can progress into an addiction.
Sugar can cause a high hedonic response, which means that it can cause pleasure while consuming it. This is a characteristic that can also be found in drugs, which is why sugar can cause an addiction. People realized that sugar causes an addiction, so they started to add it to common foods like bread, pasta, different canned foods, milk, fruit juices, and even water. But why exactly is sugar added to foods? Sugar contributes to the color of food, flavor, the hedonic value, and it can also preserve the food for a long time. These attributes stimulate people’s desire to experience the reward response, which helps the food retailers by selling high quantities of food.
Studies have shown that addictions are entirely controlled by the brain. Sugar addiction is one of the most common addictions and most of the time people don’t even know that they have it. Sugar consumption can start even as early as the age of one. This can definitely lead to a sugar addiction in adulthood, as the body gets used to it way too early, so it will crave more and more, never reaching the full satisfaction. Unfortunately, sugar excess can alter the brain’s health in time, and it can lead to many chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
Sugar impact on mood
Our first choice of food is always chocolate or ice cream when we’re feeling down. This happens because our brain knows that sugar will cause pleasure by releasing dopamine. However, the pleasure feeling only lasts for a few seconds, which makes our body crave for more and more sugar, turning this into an addiction.
The brain depends on a continuous supply of glucose, to have energy and to function properly. Fluctuations of the levels of blood sugar have a great impact on cerebral function. If the sugar levels are low, it can cause irritability and increased anger or sadness. However, high levels of glucose, also known as hyperglycemia can cause an increased feeling of agitation and anxiety, tiredness and lack of energy, and also a decreased feeling of happiness.
How does sugar impact memory?
Although the brain needs sugar for energy, high levels of sugar in the blood can be harmful to the brain and it can result in slowed cognitive function, affecting both memory and attention. So how is this happening?
Throughout the body, including in the brain, there are specific cells called inflammatory markers. These cells can indicate the presence of possible issues, the activity of certain diseases or harmful factors, and they can cause inflammation. In the brain, too much sugar can activate the inflammatory markers, causing inflammation which leads to memory difficulties. The damage is not permanent, and by lowering the sugar intake and supplementing the diet with omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin, will benefit the brain’s health.
High sugar diets, together with the consumption of saturated fats, can also lead to obesity. One of the main causes of memory issues is obesity, as it can trigger the inflammatory markers which slow down the function of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that has a role in episodic memory. For example, if you eat saturated fats like fried foods, together with high sugar foods, certain tissues in the brain can be affected by inflammation, causing an unresponsive hippocampus. If the hippocampus is affected, our memory can be at risk, but it can also affect our internal response to hunger and satiety. The memory deficits can happen even after only one week of exposure to an unhealthy diet.
How does sugar hinder mental capacity?
One of the main risks of high glucose levels is that it can cause insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose from the blood to the organs, but when sugar levels are too high, and there is not enough insulin, the sugar stays in the bloodstream, causing high levels of blood sugar. Unfortunately, this leads to a disease called diabetes, where the body is either unable to produce enough insulin, or can’t use the insulin that it already has. Having high levels of sugar in the body can alter the blood vessels, both in the brain and the eyes, affecting brain function and eyesight.
Diabetes causes progressive brain damage that can result in learning difficulties, memory issues, and a deficit in cognitive functions. Exposure to high levels of sugar is a risk for the brain’s health as it might diminish the mental capacity, by lowering the levels of BDNF, which is a brain chemical that is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How can we prevent the long-term damage?
Our brain needs sugar to function properly, but as we’ve heard before, balance is the key to a healthy lifestyle. If we exceed the sugar limit, our body might suffer some negative changes that could affect the brain in the long term. One of the main chronic diseases that sugar can cause is diabetes. For the proper functioning of the brain, we must manage our glucose levels with the right type of foods and diet.
Nowadays, people consume as much as 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is 3 times more sugar than the normal recommendation of 6 teaspoons per day. To reduce this high quantity of sugar, it is essential to become familiar with reading the nutrition labels and choose the foods with the least amount of sugar. For example, juices can have very high levels of added sugar, and because they’re liquids, they get absorbed very fast, causing sugar spikes. By replacing juices with water, glucose levels will visibly become lower, preventing brain issues.
Another way to reduce blood sugar levels is to avoid artificial sweeteners, as they can cause addiction being found usually in high calorie foods. You could avoid these by switching to healthy snacks such as fresh fruits or vegetables. Sugar can also be used as a preservative, as it helps food to last for a long time. Whenever you buy processed food, different cans of vegetables or fruits, sauces and dressings, or even bread, pay attention to the quantity of added sugar and try to replace these with home-made goods.
You can also reduce sugar and fat levels through exercise. By doing any type of physical activity twice or three times a week, you can help the body with glucose management and fat reduction, encouraging healthy functions throughout the body. It is essential to manage your blood glucose levels before it is too late, to prevent any complications that might arise. The time to start this is now! Unfortunately, some damages to the body cannot be undone, like heart-related diseases, obesity or even diabetes. A healthy diet, physical activity, enough sleep and mental health are all key factors for a healthy lifestyle.
Brain Boosting Keto Snacks + Supplements
In time, it is natural that the brain goes through a cognitive decline, due to aging. However, nutritionists advise that there are certain foods and supplements that can postpone this decline for a long time, preventing health issues.
The best food options for a healthy brain, are usually the same foods that protect the heart and the blood vessels, as they are all connected. Green and leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli, are rich in vitamin K, folate and carotene, which have a great impact on preventing cognitive decline. Fatty fish is also a great choice as they are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids and healthy unsaturated fats. Omega 3 can also be found in flaxseeds, avocados, or walnuts, if you are not a fish fan. In terms of antioxidants, berries are the best choice in preventing memory decline and improving the overall brain’s health.
If you also consider supplementing your diet, the best options would be omega-3, turmeric and also MCT oil. All these have great implications in the prevention of certain diseases and improving the brain’s health by preventing cognitive decline. You might also consider purchasing different types of keto cookies from online stores, that are known to benefit the brain’s health.
Other Keto snacks that will not hinder brain health
Some delicious sweet snack ideas, with a low glycemic index, suitable for the keto diet, you can order directly from our website. Some of the best options that you could find are:
- Keto ice cream: Peanut butter cup, mint chip, sea salt caramel, strawberry, cookie dough, triple chocolate brownie, peanut butter fudge swirl, cake batter,
- Chocolates: raspberry chocolate bar, mini peanut butter cups, dark chocolate bar, mint chocolate bar
You can also find a variety of easy keto recipes that are perfect if you have a little bit of extra time in the kitchen. All these products and recipes are specifically designed for the keto lifestyle, promoting brain health and healthy cognitive functions.
Glucose is an essential macronutrient that provides energy for the whole body, especially the brain. However, the relationship between sugar and the health of the brain, depends on the right balance. If the glucose levels are too high, this might cause prediabetes, which if it is not managed, can increase the risk of diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that causes fluctuations of the blood sugar levels, which might decrease the cognitive functions of the brain and has many consequences for the neurons.
Our brain health should be a priority and in order to keep it safe, we should focus in following a healthy life style by reducing sugar and foods with a high glycemic index, reducing unhealthy saturated fats and increasing the levels of physical activity. A keto diet can be beneficial in keeping our brain active and healthy, preventing diabetes and other chronic diseases that could alter our brain’s health. If you are in search of great keto products, you can check out our website where you will find many healthy desert options and you can also find different keto recipes that might inspire you in the process of creating a healthy lifestyle. For more information regarding health, check out our blog where you will find different articles that provide very useful information about what choices to make in order to live a healthy and energetic life.
- Sugar triggers a reward response in the brain that gives it an addictive drive.
- Sugar consumption releases dopamine and make our body crave more and more sugar.
- Excess sugar consumption has been seen to cause inflammation in the brain that leads to memory loss and decreased cognitive capabilities.