Beware of Addiction: How Sugar Affects the Brain

When you set out to eat healthier or go on a diet, usually the first things to go are sweets and sugary foods. One thing most people find is that sugar is nearly impossible to omit from their day. Trying to give up sugar can be crippling and leave you feeling like a failure for giving into those cravings for chocolate or cupcakes. So what is it about sugar that keeps you hanging on? The truth is that your brain has betrayed you. The brain cannot be trusted to resist the wiles of sugar and if you don't keep things in check, excess amounts of sugar can negatively affect brain health.

sugar bowls

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The truth about sugar: You need sugar to function. It's a simple carbohydrate that comes in many forms and when consumed appropriately, it can give you energy throughout your day. It's found in foods naturally, like fruits and vegetables, and is added to others, which is where you want to limit sugar. You likely underestimate the amount of sugar you consume each day because it sometimes hides in foods or maybe you don't read labels because you wouldn't expect to find sugar in things like spaghetti sauce. Sugar is a natural reward for your body in addition to things like social activities, sex and drugs — things that bring you pleasure. Your body registers it as a good thing and that's what tells your brain that you want it. (via Huffington Post)

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Dopamine never keeps secrets. When sugar hits your tongue, it activates taste receptors that then tell your brain it tastes good and you want more. This releases dopamine in your body and added sugars can cause an even larger release of what scientists say causes addiction. When you eat something that tastes good, dopamine gives that information to your brain, which causes an emotional response and action towards what it sees as a reward. (via Authority Nutrition)

Long-term implications of a sugar high: Consistent indulgence in sugar can cause a sort of tolerance to the reward and the body doesn't respond as easily. It will take more sugar to get the "high" that your brain desires. When the dopamine levels out, whatever food triggers that response will seem boring and will lead you to try new foods. If you eat too much sugar, the dopamine levels won't even out and it will continue to feel rewarding, making it like a drug, and your brain goes into something like overdrive. If there is a buildup of blood sugar in the brain, this can cause memory loss and mental decline, potentially leading to Alzheimer's down the road. (via TED Ed)

(Photo: Salon)

Escape sneaky sugars. According to Huffington Post, 80 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars. Ketchup, peanut butter and tomato sauce even have sugar, despite not being sweet. Even if you read nutrition labels, sugar might be going by an alias. There are so many names for sugar that can trick you into thinking you're avoiding this addictive additive. Make sure you are paying close attention to nutrition labels so that you can make sure you recognize all the ingredients in your food and avoid unwanted sugars.


Not all sugar is your enemy, but you have to be mindful of what kinds and how much you are putting in your body. Building a tolerance to the effects of sugar on your brain can cause you to consume way more than a healthy diet allows. Those of you with chocolate addictions know exactly what it's like to try to give up something so dear to you and nothing should have a hold on your lifestyle that way. Click here to read about why even just a little sugar can be over the top.

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