IF you have a sweet tooth (like many of us do), you might recognise the feeling of being out of control around treats.
It can sometimes feel like your brain is begging for sugar – and there is no way for you to say no.
And as it turns out, you are far from alone.
According to the NHS, the average Brit eats around 20 teaspoons (80g) of sugar a day.
Now, that’s a lot of sugar, especially considering the Government recommends we should only eat up to seven teaspoons (28g).
A 2023 study by the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne found that foods high in sugar can actually rewire our brains over time.
It can make our brains addicted to the sweet stuff so we prefer it over whole foods that are actually good for our brains, like proteins and vegetables, the researchers said.
But the effects of sugar don’t stop there. It can damage our brains in a myriad of ways, according to nutritional therapist Lauren Johnson Reynolds (@londonwellnesscoach).
“While the brain relies on glucose as its primary source of energy, excessive consumption of added sugars, particularly in the form of refined sugars can lead to many negative outcomes,” she tells The Sun.
Depression and anxiety
Sugary food makes us feel good: fact – but for how long?
Although that chocolate bar might make us feel happier momentarily, eating lots of sugar can actually have a very negative impact on our mental health in the long run.
“There is evidence to suggest there is a link between high sugar intake and an increased risk of depression and anxiety,” Lauren said.
This is especially the case for men.
One UK study found males who scoff down more than 40g of sugar per day are 23 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men who don’t.
Experts still don’t fully understand why the condition is triggered by sugar.
Some scientists believe this could be down to the fact sugar can cause inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s response to infection and injury, according to the NHS.
It causes swelling and can help the body deal with invading germs.
When inflammation happens when it’s not needed, it can be damaging and cause chronic pain, which is known to trigger depression and anxiety.
Memory and learning issues
The sweet stuff can also affect our ability to absorb and retain information.
“High sugar intake may impair cognitive function and memory, leading to difficulties in concentration and learning,” the expert says.
One 2012 study suggested that sugar may actually block our memory receptors.
Research shows that rats eating high-sugar diets were less able to remember whether they had previously seen objects in certain locations.
A separate study showed daily intake of sugar-sweetened beverages during teenage years is associated with worsening learning during adulthood.
The researchers of that US study suggest that this inability to learn as effectively is due to changes in gut bacteria, which is responsible for supplying the body with essential nutrients.
Adding just over two teaspoons of sugar to your daily tea or coffee could increase your risk of a brain-eating disease, known as dementia.
In fact, having lots of sugar in any form, including fruit juice, cakes, and chocolate, makes people 54 per cent more likely to develop the condition, a US study found.
“Excessive sugar intake has been linked to chronic inflammation, which may negatively impact brain health,” Lauren said.
“And inflammation in the brain is thought to play a role in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dementia is a general term for losing the ability to remember, think, or make decisions – to the extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life.
Memory loss could be losing your wallet or forgetting to pay bills, missing appointments, or getting lost, which are all signs of the disease.
How to cut back on sugar
Too much sugar can damage the brain and the body in lost of ways
It can lead to weight gain and obesity, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Here are four small changes that you’ll hardly notice, but which can help you cut back on sugar:
- Stop adding sugar to tea, coffee, cereal and porridge
- Replace sugary cereals with plain wholegrain cereals
- Swap sugary cola for diet
- Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than fruit juice
Source: British Heart Foundation
Sarah Carter is a health and wellness expert residing in the UK. With a background in healthcare, she offers evidence-based advice on fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being, promoting healthier living for readers.