If you’re feeling hazy and unable to focus, an ingredient in your favorite snack may be to blame. Reaching for a food laden in processed sugar for a pick-me-up can seem like a quick way to jumpstart your energy levels, but several studies show that sugar consumption can contribute to a major concentration deficit.
Like most substances, sugar is no major problem when enjoyed in moderation, but regularly indulging in the sweet treat can trigger a whole host of negative reactions. In addition to contributing to obesity, over-consuming processed sugar can also cause systemic inflammation throughout the body, which can affect the brain. Inflammation can also worsen various neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and migraine.
An article from the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute details sugar’s impact on the brain. Though your brain requires glucose to learn, think, and memorize, too much can trigger cognitive deficiencies. This is where the haziness and inability to focus sets in. Studies of animals showed that when they consumed high amounts of sugar, their brain cells aged more quickly than animals who did not.
A study conducted by the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Oregon State University found that eating a diet high in sugar contributed to negative cognitive alterations. Researchers altered levels of sugar that mice received and discovered that the high-sugar group showed significant impairment in spatial bias for long-term and short-term memory. If you’ve been struggling to remember where you set your keys down more frequently or are misremembering memories, you may want to evaluate your sugar intake.
Decreasing sugar intake can be more difficult than you may think. Sugar can become physiologically addicting, since it activates the brain’s reward system similarly to the way psychoactive drugs do.The University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences conducted a study that fed rats a vanilla milkshake-like substance. Over time, they found that the rats became more and more addicted to the substance. After manipulating the ratios of vanilla flavoring, fat, and sugar, researchers discovered that the proportion of sugar was the main element that kept the rats returning to the substance.
The good news is that even if you have a major sweet tooth, you can retrain your brain to kick the habit. You’ll have more energy in the long run, and you’ll be able to better focus. One way to address sugar overconsumption is to keep a food journal. Track your meals and identify if your eating patterns are related to habits, like eating a whole carton of ice cream during stressful times or adding an extra spoonful of sugar to your coffee after having a late night. Sussing out whether your eating patterns are related to a certain emotion can help you realize when you’re most vulnerable to overindulging.
Making the conscious choice to eat foods that support brain health is another way to unfog your brain. Reaching for foods that are high in healthy fats, vitamins, fiber, and protein can address inflammation and memory deficits caused by sugar. No matter how strong your bad habits are, it's never too late to turn them around.