Your brain on sugar

05.25.17 |

The small daily choices we make—driven by the habits we forge over years and years of routine—add up to big rewards or to big consequences. No singular cheeseburger or singular candy bar will ruin your health, but a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits will consistently lead to serious threats to your longevity.

We’ve known for some time now that obesity is a significant risk factor for a number of diseases, from cardiovascular problems to diabetes. More and more, we are learning that Habits of Disease like living a sedentary lifestyle or eating foods that are high in sugar affect our brain health as well. These effects are so serious that some people in the medical field have started to refer to Alzheimer’s Disease as “Type 3 Diabetes.”

A diet high in sugar (which typically means the diet is high in calories, or “high energy”) is simply dangerous, and I shared an article earlier this week that did a good job summarizing the current body of research on this topic.

The highpoints of the current research on sugar and high energy diets are as follows:

  • A high energy diet may impact your brain health in as little as a few days
  • High levels of sugar can lead to insulin resistance, which has been linked to diabetes and to Alzheimer’s.
  • Some people are more susceptible to sugar addiction than others.
  • While all of the health concerns around sugar are potentially serious, your own ability to enjoy sugary foods in moderation may be limited by your physical makeup. Just as some people are more prone to alcoholism and drug addiction by virtue of their genetics, some people are “sugar-holics.” Where one individual can eat a tasty treat and make the choice to stop, another individual might have that tasty treat and trigger a near-uncontrollable binge.

If you have the slightest suspicion that you might be vulnerable to sugar addiction—and this is where the optimal health community and the mindfulness practices we preach are especially valuable—avoid sweets altogether. That vulnerability to sugary foods puts you at higher risk of the brain health consequences we highlighted previously.

For those of us who may not be at risk of sugar addiction, we should still be mindful of the foods we eat. Many so-called “healthy foods” contain far more sugar than their healthy packaging and cheery slogans might suggest. Juices, sports drinks, and energy bars can be pumped with sugar to amp-up taste, but even foods you might not expect can be high in sugar as well.

What do I want more in life, the treat in front of me now or the healthy brain that I need to create cherished memories with my loved ones?

If you follow the Habits of Health and maintain a healthy energy balance through portion control and by following our plate system, you will by default eat less sugar because your meals will be comprised of less-processed whole foods (more vegetables, healthier proteins, more water). If you find yourself straying from the Habits of Health, sugar will be a greater challenge and a greater danger.

As you tackle this area of your health, and I know how big of an obstacle it can be, continually ask yourself: What do I want more in life, the treat in front of me now or the healthy brain that I need to create cherished memories with my loved ones?