Sugar affects brain function


Food is a “natural reward.”  In order for us to survive, eating is pleasurable to the brain so that eating can be reinforced and repeated.  Not all foods are equally rewarding, of course. Most of us prefer sweets over sour and bitter.  Our ancestors went scavenging for berries and knew that sour meant “not yet ripe,” while bitter meant “alert — poison!”


All our cells need carbohydrates (glucose) to function. Our brain recognises sweet things as a source of carbohydrates for our bodies, stimulate the reward system, you eat and survive.  But modern diets have taken on a life of their own.  The glucose is coming from heavily processed foods and less from nature e.g. fruit.


Unbeknown to many of us, you can become addicted to sugar in the same way that drugs of abuse — such cocaine— hijacks the brain’s reward pathway.  Sugar increases the release of dopamine in the brain.  Most types of reward increase the level of dopamine in the brain and a variety of addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity.


Another challenge is that the addiction becomes a vicious circle.  The sugar in simple carbohydrate (eg sweets) is quickly turned into glucose in your bloodstream and the blood sugar levels spike.  Simple and refined carbs are also found in fruits, veggies and dairy products, but these foods from nature have fiber and/or protein in that slow down the process of sugar release.  Syrup, cold drinks, sweets and table sugar don’t.  Your body needs to move glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy. To do this, your pancreas makes insulin. As a result, your blood sugar level may have a sudden drop. This rapid change in blood sugar leaves you feeling wiped out and shaky and searching for more sweets to regain that sugar “high.” So that cycle begins and your need sugar again.  The first sugar high has set you up for worse eating.   Furthermore, the brain becomes tolerant to sugar — and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”


There are four major components of addiction: bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitisation (the notion that one addictive substance predisposes someone to becoming addicted to another).


It seems as if the same is happening with sugar…..  You might wonder how long it will take until you’re free of cravings and side-effects, but there’s no answer — everyone is different and no human studies have been done on this.  However, feedback from people do suggest that the cravings do subside in a few days.  You can retrain your taste buds and over time, you will lose your need for that sugar taste


Eating protein is an easy way to curb sugar cravings. High-protein foods digest more slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer. Protein doesn’t make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbs and sugars do. Pick proteins like lean chicken, fat-free yogurt and eggs.


Make sure that every meal has proteins in to prevent those sugar cravings!








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