Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Does Sugar Really Affect Your Brain?

Sugar activates our body's reward system.
Sugar activates our body's reward system.
Image: Shutterstock
This week, I’d like to share a video I discovered on Ted-Ed. With animation by STK Films and narration by Nicole Avena, it’s a short and concise version of what how sugar affects our brains.

Avena begins the video by defining sugar in its various forms. Basically, sugar is a broad term that refers to soluble carbohydrates: glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, starch, corn syrup, raw sugar, and honey are all different “sugars” that are found in food.

Sugar is sneaky, too. It’s not just in candy bars and lollipops—look on the back label of many sauces, yogurts, and even canned tomatoes, and you’re likely to find sugar. Because of its prevalence in such a wide variety of foods, it can be incredibly hard to avoid.

With all the bad press sugar gets, you’d think we would have learned by now to just stop eating it. Unfortunately, that’s also difficult to do. When we eat sugar—in any form—it activates taste receptors on our tongues, which then send signals to the brain that tell it to activate a reward system. The release of dopamine into our systems is our brain’s way of saying, “Yum! You should eat that again!”

While sweets every once in a while won’t really hurt us, overactivating this reward system creates problems throughout the body. We become more tolerant to sugar, more likely to become obese, start craving sweets more, and find it harder to control our eating habits and cravings. Sugar isn’t dissimilar to alcohol and drugs in that way. The more often we send our bodies into that dopamine high, the more our bodies will crave it.

Check out the video below and let me know what you think: