The Link Between Sugar and Our Brain: Understanding the Impact on Focus, Mood, Memory, Emotional and Mental Balance, and Stress
When we eat well, we feel better – both physically and mentally. It’s no secret that the food we consume has a direct impact on our body’s health and wellness. However, did you know that what we eat also affects our brain and cognitive function? Specifically, consuming too much sugar can have negative biological impacts, affecting our focus, mood, memory, emotional and mental balance, as well as our stress levels.
Here are five ways that sugar affects our mind and body, and recommended foods to help us perform better and feel healthier.
A recent study conducted by UCLA found that consuming sugar “forms free radicals in the brain’s membrane, compromising our nerve cells’ ability to communicate.” As a result, we feel foggy or out of it, and our memory and ability to process information are diminished. Additionally, sugar contains addictive qualities that affect the brain in the same way as alcohol or drugs, which can disrupt our thought process and energy levels.
To improve focus, it’s recommended to consume more high protein and high fiber foods that supply energy throughout the day and help curb sugar cravings. Examples include complex carbs like whole grains and legumes, oily fish, and fruits and vegetables.
Low sugar levels can lead to cycles of binge eating, dopamine spikes, a physical and emotional crash, and more craving and withdrawal. This can cause short tempers, lower patience, and even depressed feelings. The best way to prevent these mood dips is to have steady, regular meals with protein and fiber that keep insulin levels constant and help us stay satisfied for longer. Foods that can help boost our mood include complex carbs, oily fish, fruits, and vegetables.
A high sugar diet can affect our cognitive function and performance and block our memory receptors. A study found clear links between high fructose (sugar) consumption and memory and learning impairment, making it harder to recall information and make connections between concepts. More concerning research suggests links between Alzheimer’s and high sugar consumption. To boost memory, it’s recommended to consume foods rich in Vitamin E, Omega 3s, folate, and low sugar berries. Examples include minimally processed oils, salmon, avocados, dark leafy greens, and blueberries.
4. Emotional and Mental Balance
Excess sugar can leave us prone to mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and aggressive behavior, as it affects stores of vitamin B and blocks chromium receptors, which are natural emotionally balancing chemicals. Striking a balance between eating more plant-based, low-glycemic index foods and avoiding sugar can improve mental and emotional balance. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and other vegetables, along with green non-starchy vegetables, and oily fish are excellent choices.
Stress and food are closely linked, as when we feel stressed, our body is flooded with chemicals relating to our fight or flight responses. Stress is linked to overeating, weight gain, and obesity, which can cause underlying stress in our lives. Eating healthier foods like lean proteins, complex carbs, and low sugar fruits and vegetables can help us get ahead of our body’s stress cycle and support optimum brain function by releasing serotonin naturally.
In conclusion, sugar affects not only our physical health but also our cognitive function and well-being. Simple dietary changes like reducing or eliminating added sugars, and eating more plant-based, low-glycemic index foods can improve our focus, mood, memory, emotional and mental balance, and our ability to manage stress levels. By making these small changes to our diets, we can enhance our overall wellness and feel better both physically and mentally.