Think about the breakfast you had this morning. What do you think was in this meal? You're probably thinking: protein, vitamins, and plenty of fiber. We know these things are good for us. And we expect them to be in our "healthy" granola each morning. Except they're not.
Instead of nutrition, that granola is packed full with 26 grams of sugar! That's not what you'd expect from a "healthy" breakfast. It's upsetting, but here's the really scary part... Even if you know your so-called breakfast is bad for you, you're still going to crave it tomorrow morning. And that's for one reason: Sugar gets you hooked!
The biggest danger of sugar is that it's literally the single most popular gateway drug in America and we dish it out by the handful. The sugar industry is well aware of this and does everything it can to keep a lid on it. Back in the 60's, lobbyists from the Sugar Association paid Harvard scientists to downplay sugar's role in heart disease. Meanwhile, sugary soda companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to market their beverages as satisfying and invigorating.
It's time to unleash your mind from the sugar industry's grasp. You deserve to have a choice again. I'm going to take you in depth, to see exactly what added sugars are doing to your brain.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average American intake of sugar increased by 39% since the 1950's, which means roughly 152 pounds of excess sugar every year. Most of that sugar comes in from soda and fruit drinks. Now you may be saying, “I’m not the guy to blame for this.” Sorry, but you might be that guy and just not know it yet.
It’s not your fault. Repeat after me: It’s not your fault.
Injecting products with too much sugar has become such a common practice in American food production, that you might think you’re making a healthy decision, when you're actually doing the opposite. Marketing tactics, like misleading serving sizes, often trick us into thinking we’re making a responsible choice when we’re not. For instance, a granola bar may advertise that it’s only 10% of your daily sugar intake, but the suggested serving size is only one friggin bite of the bar. So of course, you eat the whole thing and overdose.
Sugar isn’t inherently evil though. It’s one of the most important fuels for your body. In fact, nearly all of the energy your brain uses comes from glucose (or blood sugar). When your blood sugar drops, so do you. So really, in a lot of ways, sugar is our friend- but not all sugar. Today, sugar is added in toxic amounts to almost every food product on the market and it’s that added sugar that we need to be running from.
Historically, many of these added sugar meals have been proposed to us as a necessary part of our daily diet, but there’s no science to support it. In fact, research suggests the opposite — that these sugary foods are slowly killing us. For example, the sugar industry has done an incredible job at deceiving millions of Americans with so-called “healthy and easy breakfasts" that are loaded up with an irresponsible amount of sugar. And you’re supposed to eat them every single morning?
If you’re ditching the old cup of joe and scrambled eggs for a “healthy” serving of yogurt, you’re not eating breakfast at all. Instead, you’re indulging in a morning dessert. The folks over at Vox illustrated the insanity of sugar content in “breakfast” foods in the chart below:
That’s right. All that time you spent compromising for “healthier” granola, you may as well have eaten some cookies instead. Doesn’t that piss you off? It pisses me off. I’m still reeling from the news myself. No more enjoying a nostalgic Saturday morning with cartoons and a bowl of granola. I thought I was doing myself a favor, but obviously not.
Even though I know that sugar is bad for me, it’s still so hard to give it up. Turns out, that’s because our brains are being hijacked.
Effects of Sugar on the Brain
When you eat too much sugar, your reward system is activated and tells you to keep doing it. If it’s activated too often, then you lose control of cravings and your tolerance increases. Thus, a vicious cycle is born.
You see, we already have strong attachments to our habits and rituals, but when you add food, it’s intensified. Now add addicting food, and it’s off the charts. Added sugars systematically destroy your brain’s ability to defend itself from harmful behaviors, like eating too much or mood swings. And here’s the scary part: the sugar rush tricks your brain into thinking that losing self control feels great.
Sugar definitely holds a special place in our hearts. Fond memories of any holiday are littered with sweets. Who doesn’t remember the excitement that followed when a neighbor handed you a king sized candy bar on Halloween? There’s no doubt that sugar is very much a part of our lives and our traditions. It’s not likely going away anytime soon. Yet, when you begin to see the true face of sugar dominating the shelves of every grocery story, it becomes incredibly clear: some traditions need to broken.
If added sugar is a regular part of your diet, it's probably to blame for a lot of the physical and psychological traumas you're experiencing. Below is a breakdown of the most basic brain functions that added sugar disrupts.
Ideally, the chemicals in our brain coexist in a balanced relationship. When they’re balanced, we feel balanced. When sugar enters the picture, this chemical balance is thrown into chaos. This is because sugar is extremely hard to metabolize and remove from our system.
Not only does sugar require extra attention to breakdown, it also weakens our supply of other key cognitive fuels, like vitamin B and chromium. These compounds are forced into crisis mode as they try to breakdown the excess sugar. And when all is said and done, these mood-stabilizing compounds are a lot less plentiful in our brain. Thus, the balance is gone and you’re left with a sugar crash: tired, cranky, and whining. The sugar has been metabolized, but not without robbing us of our ability to feel like our normal selves. And while the brain needs more vitamin B and chromium, it’s tricked into thinking that only more sugar can bring back that good feeling, which only makes the problem worse.
Research shows that there’s a similar impact from sugar on your higher thinking. Your ability to plan, make decisions, and reason is partly due to a special protein called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Without it, we can’t form long-term memories or problem solve effectively. When you eat too much sugar, BDNF levels fall dramatically. When this happens, it feels almost impossible to do that simple math problem or remember anything important from your day.
What kind of industry would do this to you? Think about the insane degree of control and disregard for life they have.
The more sugar we eat, the dumber we feel and the more likely we are to forget the reason why. The producers of sugar love this. You are addicted. You feel badly and think that more of the product will make you feel better. And now you can’t use the parts of your brain that are going to help you escape the cycle. You are literally under the spell of sugar.
We all know sugar leads to weight gain, but how many people actually understand why?
Research indicates that your high sugar diet is causing you to binge eat. It’s the reason you sometimes just can’t say no to seconds, or thirds, or even that fourth meal. How does sugar do this? Sugar slows your oxytocin system, which is responsible for telling your stomach when it’s full and when to stop eating. Sugar inhibits this system so that no matter how much sugar we eat, we never really feel full.
As Louis CK will tell you,
"The meal isn't over when I'm full, the meal is over when I hate myself."
You keep eating sugar until you literally feel sick. And you feel sick because you have sought nutrition that has turned out to be poison. If this happens enough, binge eating adds a significant chunk to your waistline. Think of the first taste of sugar as the anesthetic and all of the bites that follow are liposuction in reverse.
At this point in the cycle, you’re cranky as hell, you can’t remember what day it is, and you’re loosening your belt all because of sugar. Well, it only gets worse.
Over time, sugar starts to cause serious deficiencies that lead to an overall feeling of inability and worthlessness. And when you're unable to progress through life and accomplish the pursuits you are most passionate about, stress completely takes over your life. If you have goals, you have to live with purpose and you cannot let yourself enter sugar's destructive cycle.
When you consume sugar, you should always keep in mind that you're signing up for a double-edged sword.
On one side, you’ve got the spike in pleasure from your sweet treat. On the other side, you have an intense crash that'll make the taste of breakfast more like a one nightstand with Cap’n Crunch you can’t wait to forget. Luckily, sugar effects the brain in a way that erases your memory so you won't really remember all the mistakes you've made with sugar.
In this TED Ed video, they hash out the nitty-gritty details of how sugar hijacks your brain and all of the aliases sugar uses to decieve you.
How to Avoid Eating Too Much Sugar
Fortunately, there are alternatives that can save you from the dangers of eating too much sugar. If you want to overcome the sugar epidemic, there are a few things you need to do. You might not love them, but your body will thank you.
1) Stop buying generic crappy foods. If a product has a long list of ingredients you can't pronounce, then don't buy it. And don't ever bring it into your home again.
2) We've all heard this one, but it's true. Eat meals that have every color of the rainbow. And remember white and tan aren’t colors of the rainbow. Cut out simple carbs, like white bread, cereals, and muffins.
3) Buy all of the ingredients for a meal from a trusted grocery store. Get plenty of vegetables, complex carbs, and foods high in fiber.
Now you can't always undo all the damage done, but you can fortify yourself. Here are some specific foods that do the opposite of added sugars and create a balanced ecosystem for a healthy body and mind.
High Protein and High Fiber Foods
Why? Foods high in protein and fiber help to regulate the body’s digestive system and are great for curbing food cravings. When you’re not stuffing your face for hours on end, you have the opportunity to get a job well done and stay razor sharp between meals.
Complex Carbs and Oily Fish
- whole grains
- fruits and vegetables
Why? These foods contain plenty of fiber and protein as mentioned before. They also contain some sugar. These are good, unrefined sugars that allow us to maintain consistent insulin levels and a balanced mood throughout the day.
Vitamin E and Omega 3s
- hazelnuts, peanuts, and almonds
- coconut oil and unprocessed oils
Why? These foods help protect the neural lining in your brain. They also oxidize the brain, which promotes circulation of blood throughout the body. These are also the ideal fats to put into your body.
Balanced Body Regulating Foods
Why? When we eat a balanced and healthy diet, our brain chemicals find themselves in a balance. When this harmony is in place, we are a lot less likely to feel anxious or incapable. You have to eat well, if you want to get things done.
So next time you go to make breakfast, make sure you're making breakfast from scratch with a variety of the suggested ingredients. And if all else fails, have some eggs for a perfect fat to protein ratio.
If you don’t have time for any of that, we understand and gotcha covered. In a few months, we're going to be rolling out a product with the most nutritious ingredients from hundreds of clinically tested products on the market. Keep your eyes open for it. ;)
Feeling outraged? Check out the Coalition for Sugar Reform to put your rage into practice.