The Worst Food For Your Brain
Would you like to guess what may be the worst food for your brain?
Though many foods can be harmful to brain health, one food, in particular, stands out as being the worst - by far.
Let me give you a hint: This food can cause tooth decay, lead to diabetes, weaken bones, age skin, and damage organs. Less known but just as significant, is the fact that it can also cause anxiety, depression, brain fog, neruofatigue, and mood swings.
Ready to take a guess?
That’s right, you guessed it - Sugar!
Why is Sugar bad for your brain?
We know that sugar contributes to weight gain, inflammation, and cancer, but what can it do to your brain?
There are 4 main reasons why sugar is harmful to brain health.
Sugar creates blood sugar imbalances. The more sugar and refined carbohydrates we consume, the more unstable our blood sugar levels become. This can cause fatigue, irritability, excess sweating at night, excess thirst, insomnia, dizziness, poor concentration, forgetfulness, depression, digestive disturbances, and blurred vision. Blood sugar imbalances have become such a problem, that an estimated 1/4 of non-obese people have insulin resistance, a condition in which their bodies don’t respond properly to their own insulin. Of course, insulin’s main role is to regulate blood sugar levels. So once this mechanism is faulted, any (or all) of the symptoms of blood sugar imbalances may result.
Not only is sugar void of nutrients, but it uses up your body’s own stores of vital vitamins and minerals. It only takes 1 teaspoon of sugar to start depleting the B vitamins from our body. Why might this matter to us? B vitamins are needed to maximize mental performance. We also need B vitamins to help us feel happy and calm, but sugar burns through these vital nutrients at an alarming rate. It also works to rob our body of chromium - the very mineral needed by insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable.
High-sugar consumption is linked to poor mental health. In fact, it has been shown that the higher our intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, the lower our IQ! Sugar has also been linked to other mental health problems including aggressive behaviour, hyperactivity, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and learning difficulties.
Sugar disrupts the transmission of neuronal messages. How does it do this? By suppressing BDNF - brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF is a protein crucial for the health of neurons in the brain. It allows for the proper transmission of signals to and from the brain and encourages the growth of new connections between brain cells. Remarkably, levels of BDNF tend to be extremely low in those with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and depression.
There are other ways sugar negatively affects our mental health, too. It can:
Hijack the reward centre in our brain creating a physical addiction to it.
Interrupt both protein and nutrient absorption causing brain shrinkage. In turn this reduces memory and cognitive function which negatively affects learning.
Impact the quality and quantity of sleep we get by disrupting the neurotransmitters in our brain and encouraging mind-chatter.
Stop our cells from repairing themselves, allowing us to catch colds and other diseases more easily.
Continually bathing our brain cells in sugar slowly changes how the neurons in our brains behave. At the same time, the brain rewires itself, to encourage us to eat more sugar.
The more we eat, the more the brain’s reward centre becomes desensitized, decreasing its response to eating sugary foods. In turn, this impairs the body’s dopamine system so that we eat even more sugar in order to feel the same rewarding effects.
When it’s continually bombarded by these assaults, your brain starts to rebel. Increased inflammation in both your body and brain result, which slows down your reaction time. Inflammation in the brain means it takes longer for neuronal messages to travel from one part of the brain to another, which creates a mental sluggishness and forgetfulness.
Sugar also creates increased oxidative stress which damages our brain, making memory retrieval and the storage of new memories more difficult. In addition, there is a reduced plasticity in brain cells. This prevents our brain from making healthy new brain cells and being able to adapt to changing environments and situations.
Combined, these changes can result in poor cognitive performance, a fading memory, moodiness, or depression.
The worst of the worst
Now that you have a better idea of just how bad sugar is to the brain, would you care to guess what the worst sugary offender is?
A direct link has been established between sugar-containing soft drinks and mental distress, hyperactivity, and behaviour problems in adolescents, with a marked increase in symptoms for those who consume four servings or more of soda per day.
For the record, one can of soda contains an average of 12 teaspoons of sugar. A can of Coke has more than 9 teaspoons or 39 grams of sugar, while a can of orange soda has 13 teaspoons or 42 grams.
To put this into perspective, it is recommended that a woman’s daily sugar consumption not exceed 6 teaspoons or 25 grams, while a man’s sugar consumption should not exceed 9 teaspoons or 38 grams.
That means that just one can of soda can fulfill a person’s daily recommended intake of sugar!
I’d like to go further and argue that everyone’s recommended sugar consumption be zero.
Are sugar substitutes any better?
Ok - so hopefully I’ve convinced you to skip that sugary soda. Care to reach for the “diet” alternative? The one sweetened with aspartame, perhaps?
In our efforts to escape sugar, we may tend to gravitate toward alternatives that offer up fewer calories - namely sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners. And hey - these are what diabetics may be recommended to consume in lieu of white sugar.
But are they any better?
Unfortunately, no - artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Aspartame, Nutri-Sweet and the like are no better for overall health than table sugar.
They are all considered neurotoxins and are all toxic to the brain. And in addition to the harmful effects sugar can have on the health of our brains, science has established a clear link between Aspartame and Alzheimer’s.
To prevent any of these harmful effects from happening to you and the ones you love, continuing to educate yourself on the harmful effects sugar and artificial sweeteners have on your brain then doing everything you can to keep your blood sugar levels stable is a great place to start.
How to Balance Blood Sugar Levels
Now that we know just how bad sugar is for the brain, how can we avoid all the potential problems it can cause and maintain our cognitive health?
The first step is to jump off the blood sugar roller coaster and re-establish balanced blood sugar levels. The best way of achieving this is to avoid sugar altogether.
I know. I know. This is easier said than done. And I’m sure that everyone reading this would agree that sugar is not our friend. The challenge arises in how we can possibly avoid it. Why? Because it is disguised in so many different foods, it comes in many different forms, and exists under many different names.
Some of these names include glucose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, and dextrose to name but a few. So how can we possibly avoid it all? By ditching the Standard American Diet for one full of whole, live, natural foods instead.
The short-term effects of living with imbalanced blood sugar levels are well-known and have been well-established. They include the common symptoms of irritability, poor concentration, fatigue, and anxiety. Sadly, the potential long-term effects, including those on our mental and emotional health, are only just starting to be realized.
One thing is certain though; balanced blood sugar is necessary for balanced brain chemistry.
This notion goes back to the 1980’s, when Dr. Carl Pfeiffer (founder of Princeton’s Brain Bio Center) saw the harmful effects of sugar on the brain. He classified blood sugar imbalances as one of the five main underlying factors in schizophrenia.
The bottom line?
If you have a mental health problem or would like to optimize your mental performance, the first thing you should do is quit sugar and drastically cut back on refined carbohydrates that, once eaten, are quickly converted into sugar. [quote]
Cutting out sugar is a great starting point if you suffer from any mental health problem, including: anti-social behaviour, phobia, psychosis, aggressive behaviour, fearfulness, or suicidal tendencies. Every one of these symptoms, and more, can be caused by blood sugar regulation problems. Regaining control over blood sugar imbalances, then, should greatly improve mental health symptoms.
So why do we still eat sugar?
We know sugar affects our brain. Many of us are now aware that sugar stimulates the same brain reward centres as other addictive drugs. Yes - I did indeed refer to sugar as a drug. Because it is one.
In fact, sugar is one of the most highly addictive drugs and can be very difficult to kick to the curb.
So why then are we so eager to feed sugary treats to children as a reward?
Moreover, sugary foods and snacks are commonly offered up as a way of sending our love and well-wishes to family and friends when they are sick, in the hospital undergoing surgery, or recovering from illness.
In fact sugar is often doled out to calm and to comfort. There’s no doubt it gives us a lift and makes us feel better - a testament to just how powerfully sugar affects brain health - but it does so under a guise.
So I challenge you to think twice the next time you want to reward someone for a job well done or wish someone a speedy recovery. Express your love and gratitude with something other than sugar or fast food.
After all, the last thing we should want for our loved ones is to encourage a sugar addiction and disrupt the proper functioning of their brains.
If you need help quitting sugar, balancing blood sugar levels, or finding the right foods for you to optimize your mental performance or lessen your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, contact me today.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Drop me a line or comment below. I value your feedback.