If you are like most people, refined sugar is a regular part of your diet that you likely feel powerless to eliminate from your life. Even if you don’t eat a lot of candy or cookies, refined sugar sneaks its way into many prepackaged foods.
You know the culprits: white bread, pasta sauce, frozen entrees, salad dressings, and even granola bars are all likely to contain some form of refined sugar. Find out how sugar affects your brain, body and emotions.
What is Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is processed sugar so it contains pure sucrose, making it white and granular. This process removes nutrients and minerals, including fiber.
Refined sugar is either produced from sugar cane or beets, depending on whether the end product will appear brown (sugar cane) or white (beets). The sucrose crystals in the resulting syrup are separated and filtered. The extracted crystals are then further refined into a fine powder and mixed with cornstarch.
Talk about nutrients removed! The process removes minerals, fiber, water, and vitamins. Certainly, we’re left with a product that is pure sugar—but this doesn’t mean it’s harmless. In fact, the opposite is true; refined sugar is very harmful when eaten in excess!
Once you understand what refined sugar does to your body and mind, it becomes obvious why so many serious health concerns are associated with its consumption.
Refined sugar eats up your brain’s energy, while at the same time starving it for what it really needs to stay sharp and focused.
When you consume foods with refined sugars (more than about 5 teaspoons a day), expect to pay later in life for every teaspoon you don’t invest wisely–not just physically but mentally as well. This is a recipe for disaster since refined sugar causes your blood sugar to spike and then crash.
What do you think happens when your blood sugar plummets?
Your body gears up to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to feel more awake and alert so that you can find food.
In response, the pupil dilation mechanism of our eyes kicks in as well, resulting in the feeling of being wide-awake immediately after a refined sugar binge.
Of course, this high does not last long — usually about 5 hours — but it gives us the license to keep eating refined sugars every time we get hungry again!
What are some physical effects of eating too much refined sugar?
The most common effect is gaining weight, which, unfortunately, does not lead to a happier and more fulfilled you.
Refined sugars are usually stored in your fat cells as triglycerides and have an affinity for specific protein molecules that can alter their shape and function.
This makes you obese in the long term, and as a result, it increases the risk of 11 types of cancers, including colorectal, postmenopausal breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.
We usually think about food when we talk about mood; however, our mood depends on what our bodies do with the nutrients in the food we eat — especially carbohydrates.
If you eat refined sugar or another simple carbohydrate like white rice, your body converts those carbohydrates into glucose (a type of sugar) transported by the blood.
Your brain prefers glucose because it’s what it needs for energy.
Since the brain uses up about 20 % of our total oxygen consumption, it needs to run quickly and efficiently!
Therefore, if you eat a lot of refined sugar in one sitting (which causes blood sugar to spike), then – boom — that ‘sugar rush’ leads to a sudden decrease in your blood sugar level. That drop provokes a release of insulin from your pancreas.
Insulin transports glucose out of the blood and into muscle and fat cells throughout the body where this simple carbohydrate is stored as glycogen so that it can be used at some point by the body as fuel.
The problem with this is that refined sugar is an inferior energy source for your brain, which can become confused and start sending you cravings because it’s not getting the fuel it needs.
In addition, when insulin transports glucose from the bloodstream into cells, the level of sugar in your blood falls rapidly and causes your pancreas to release even more insulin!
This means that eating too much-refined sugar at any given time will lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
The result? You crave yet another quick fix. This vicious cycle can set you up for weight gain if you’re not careful!
Some other physical effects include weight gain caused by rapid fluctuations in blood sugars, drowsiness or fatigue, and the potential for diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or hyper-insulinemia (an excessive amount of insulin in your body).
What are some mental effects of eating too much sugar?
The simple answer is mood swings.
An increase in blood sugar spikes can cause a rapid release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and even endorphins!
But if you’re eating refined sugars all the time, then those high levels won’t last long, so you’ll soon be experiencing low levels again. These fluctuations will lead to irritability or fatigue as well.
Of course, if you keep eating those sugar-rich foods repeatedly, your brain might need extra support to deal with these changes.
The result? You might also feel more stressed out or anxious or even be unable to concentrate and think clearly.
What are some emotional effects of eating sugar?
Unstable blood sugar can cause mood swings from extreme highs to depressions and irritability, hyperactivity, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
Many people who say they have ‘sugar addiction’ often feel these same feelings, but as long as they keep rewarding themselves with the food that’s making them feel bad, the cycle will continue!
Refined sugars spike your blood sugar and trigger an insulin response in your body. However, when you eat refined sugar excessively, your brain will need more and more support to deal with these changes.
Research has shown that refined sugars interfere with the way neurotransmitters (particularly serotonin) transmit messages from one neuron to another in certain parts of the brain, which can cause mood swings.
So what’s the bottom line?
Well, if you want better mental health, then consuming too much sugar over a long period is not the best idea… especially when there are so many natural alternatives out there! The good news is that quitting sugar doesn’t have to be daunting at all.
Here are some tips to help you make this happen
- Understand why sugar addiction is not just a matter of willpower. Don’t ignore the physical, mental and emotional changes you’re feeling as your body and brain adjust to this new way of eating.
- If you feel too tired or moody to think clearly, try some healthy snacks like fresh fruit (which includes fructose), vegetables (raw or cooked) with hummus or avocado for fiber; nuts for protein; and seeds for essential fatty acids. Try different combinations until you find something that works best for you!
- Add variety into your meals by focusing on whole foods such as fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts & seeds. Always remember that these ‘whole’ foods can contain sugar naturally in the form of fructose (eg. fruit).
- Don’t think of it as a diet, but rather a ‘lifestyle change‘ – because that’s exactly what it is! Remember, you can incorporate small amounts of sweet treats for variety – just not on an everyday basis.
The health effects of eating sugar are not just physical, but mental as well. If you’re experiencing mood swings or other symptoms like irritability and anxiety, it’s time to cut back on sugary foods.
There are many natural alternatives out there with healthy benefits for your mind and body!
One important thing to remember is that quitting sugar doesn’t have to be daunting at all if you follow these tips our team has outlined here in this article. We know you’ll succeed!
Whatever struggles you may face when cutting back on refined sugars don’t seem so daunting now, do they?
Let us know how things go after taking the first step by commenting below. We’d love to hear about your experience overcoming a sugar addiction!