Each one of us have someone in the family, friends or relatives that have cravings for sugar and sugary foods such as chocolates, candies, cakes, pastries, donuts, jams and jellies.
In this post I am going to explain, why sugary foods are so tempting. Why some people crave for sugars? What happens when we eat a cookie or a candy? Let’s find it out.
Before going into detail lets understand what is sugar? Sugar is a carbohydrate (made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) found in almost all types of food. Lactose, glucose, fructose, sucrose are examples of sugars. Sugar is present in the milk we drink, the rice we eat, the fruits and vegetables we consume. We cannot ignore carbohydrates and are important for the body to maintain its proper functioning. Then why sugars are considered so bad?
We need to understand this. Not all sugars are bad. Fructose found in fruits, lactose found in milk and glucose found in starchy food are healthy forms of sugar. Any complex sugar or carbohydrates are broken down to simpler form known as glucose that act as a fuel in the body and is carried in the blood from one place to another. Sugar is not bad. The natural sugar present in the food is healthy if eaten in right amount whereas the processed white sugar that we add in any food ruins the nutritive quality of the food.
Importance of Glucose to the Brain
For a proper functioning of a human body, brain should be active and fully fueled with blood and energy. Do you know which form of carbohydrate does brain use to derive its energy? Its glucose. The primary source of energy to brain is glucose that is carried through blood inside the body. More than half of the glucose present in the body is utilized by the brain for energy production. The functioning of brain such as memory, learning, thinking, etc are determined by the glucose levels in the body. So, for the proper functioning of human brain, glucose is crucial.
Vera Novak, an HMS associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said that “The brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel.”
As it is said, excess of everything is bad, same goes with sugar too, excess of sugar or glucose is not good for the body. What happens when brain is exposed to excessive sugar? How does it react to excess amount of glucose?
Sugar is too much addictive in nature. It acts as a drug that increases the cravings in the body. Some people tend to crave for sugar after eating a small portion of a sugary food. Scientists have shown that sometimes sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Sounds strange but it’s true.
What Happens When We Eat Sugary Food?
When we eat a sugary food, the taste buds present in our tongue sends a signal to the brain that activates a region in the brain. This region, known as cerebral cortex present in the forebrain part of the brain receives the signal sent by the tongue senses the food as sweet and activates a reward system. This initiates the craving. The reward system sends signal for more sugary food.
Now the question arises, what is a reward system? Reward system is a series of signals (electrical and chemical) that activates the increased production of dopamine molecule. The food substances that are addictive in nature causes production of more dopamine.
Activation of reward system is not always bad but excessive activation is. Reward system is a complex system that causes activation of many reactions. Excessive activation of reward system leads to cravings and other psychological effects.
On the other hand, when we eat too much of sugary food, the sugar receptors present in the gut send signals to the brain that no more glucose is required in the body as the stomach is full. It also signals brain to produce more insulin to consume the glucose.
How Excess Sugar Affects Brain?
Excess sugar is not good for our brain too. Scientists suggest that excess sugar interferes with the chemicals of brain. Added sugar in the food reduces the chemical production by the brain known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is important for learning new activities and creating new memories. Researches also indicate the connection between BDNF and diabetes. It is found that people with diabetes or pre-diabetes have low levels of BDNF.
Now we know why sugar is so addictive and why some people have cravings for sugary food. We also know that glucose is essential for the proper functioning of brain. Researches clearly prove the harmful effect of added sugars. The choice of food totally depends on us. What we feed ourselves is what we become. Eating healthy should not be an option but a compulsion. Eating freshly prepared home food is better than processed food. Cravings for sugar can be stopped by eating a small fruit as a quick and healthy snack.
Choose wisely and live healthy.