By Florence Silverstein
When you eat something loaded with sugar, your taste buds, your gut and your brain all take notice. Any excess sugar spikes the neurotransmitter levels and leaves you craving more.
Most of us have an addiction to sugar…some more serious than others. Sugar is a powerful substance that affects your body, your brain, your energy, your health, your life. Today, sugar is so prevalent in many foods, especially processed ones, that it creates an addiction that most people are either not aware of or don’t know what to do about it.
After a sugar high, blood sugar levels go up sharply, then down quickly, and many people aren’t aware of the emotional roller coaster ride that accompanies that sweet, seductive flavor. We feel happy and energetic for a while and then inexplicably, we argue with our friend or lover. Manic depression is an extreme example of sugar ups and downs.
Know When to Say When
The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10 percent of an individual’s diet should come from sugar. For an average, healthy adult this translates to 25 grams or the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. When considering that a can of coke contains 39 grams of sugar, it’s easy to see how we can exceed recommended daily sugar consumption easily and often.
Long term use of sugar has harmful effects on the brain. Slowed cognitive function and deficits in attention and memory have been reported. Blood vessels in the brain can also become damaged by hyperglycemia (a high concentration of sugar in the blood) and there are indications that this damage leads to a progressive decline in brain function.
Excess sugar impairs both our cognitive skills and self-control. One recent brain imaging study has suggested that in a hyperglycemic state, the brain’s ability to process emotion is compromised. When reading food and beverage labels it is important to realize that sugar comes under different types/names such as: glucose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, starch fructose and high fructose corn syrup.
Healthier Alternatives to Sugar
Excess sugar is a danger to your health and specifically your brain health, and we can avoid these dangers by enjoying foods with natural sugar. For example, when making a chocolate cake I add apple sauce, reduce oil and sugar and use pitted prunes that satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. And I substitute carob powder for chocolate powder because my family cannot tell the difference.
I also prepare fruit smoothies with frozen mango, mixed berries, mango juice with no sugar added. There is enough natural sugar in the mango and berries to make it an excellent, tasty, and healthy drink.
Due to the American way of living with fast and processed foods containing a lot of sugar, it is no wonder why as a society we are hooked on sugar. Discovering your natural high is accomplished by eating healthier and removing as much sugar from your daily meals and snacks as possible. Your healthier brain will thank you.