What is in this article?:
Did you know that each American consumes a whopping 23 teaspoons of added sweeteners per day? Here's how to clear your mind and heal your body by following a sugar-free diet.
If you think you’re hooked on sugar, you probably are. I’m talking to those whose typical day includes a mocha Frappuccino on your way to work, a pastry an hour after lunch, or a soft drink to carry you through an afternoon slump. I’m also talking to you whole-foods devotees who routinely eat dark chocolate, drizzle honey on your fruit-and-nut muesli, and devour a big bowl of organic vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert.
Yes, even “good” sugars are addictive and can harm your brain and body. According to accumulating evidence, added sugar in its many delicious forms is just as chemically addictive as nicotine, cocaine, and alcohol. And like illicit drugs, the fix you get from sugar is fleeting: You feel happy as your prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area of your brain associated with craving and reward (as well as decision-making), lights up like a pinball machine, but when you try to eliminate added sugars for a day or two, productivity plummets, inspiration diminishes, and moods dull—and who needs that? So you climb back on the sugar train and take your well-worn seat.
Unlike drugs, however, sugar is commonplace. It’s how many of us celebrate and soothe, coerce and reward. Its consumption is pushed every day—especially on kids— making it one of the earliest addictions to take root and hardest to overcome. The latest data shows that the average American consumes 23 teaspoons (92 grams) of added sugar and sweeteners daily; the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6–9 teaspoons (24–36 grams) daily of added sugar for women and men respectively.
So what exactly is the problem with eating a sugar-heavy diet if you’re not suffering from mood swings and energy crashes? In one animal study, 20 days of high sugar intake blunted the brain pathways linked to fullness, which according to authors may explain how sugars lead to overconsumption and weight gain. And if body weight isn’t a concern, then note the emerging evidence that sugars adversely affect your day-to-day brain function and that a diet with too many added sugars may lead to dementia over time. Animals fed a diet with sugar levels designed to mimic a typical intake exhibited lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key brain chemical, in just two months; lower BDNF levels may be a pathogenic factor involved in dementia, depression, and type 2 diabetes, research suggests. The animals in the higher sugar group also experienced impaired learning, memory, and problem-solving skills. Human studies, too, confirm the link between sugar intake, reduced BDNF production, and memory and learning impairment. Abundant research also details sugar’s adverse effects on immune function and digestion.
The good news is that eliminating sugar from your diet is not only doable, but it has both immediate and long-term benefits. If you’re ready for change, use these four simple, research-backed shifts to break free of sugar dependence and reclaim a clear mind.