We have heard that refined sugars are terrible for us, and many of us are either skeptical or intrigued by this, so I wanted to share this article from Psychology Today: Dietary Sugar and Mental Illness Surprising Link.
The old adage "you are what you eat" has shown some positive associations between some specific types of mental illness in those people who consume large quantities of refined and processed sugars; these people have been shown to be at increased risk for depression or schizophrenia in a cross-cultural study.
The mechanism behind how processed and refined sugars effect our brains are thought to be two-fold:
1. Our bodies react to this type of sugar in a way that triggers chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is known to be culprits in many mental illnesses, as well as many "lifestyle-related diseases" including cancers, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc.
2. Refined sugars impair some of the naturally-occurring hormones in our brains; one of these hormones effected by refined sugar (specifically BDNF) have been shown to play a crucial role in memory, neuron functioning and growth. Research has also shown persons with depression and schizophrenia have "critically low" levels of BDNF.
I was astonished when I read that processed sugar can have a negative impact on our brain's development. I understand that refined sugar is not good for us; it contains no nutrients, the consumption of refined sugar leads to the craving of more sugar (instead of satiating the sweet tooth), and it not only widens our waistlines but also puts us at future risk for some diseases. Can this all be true?
In my quest to learn more about sugars and sweeteners, I have found some helpful information (and, I hope others post information as well!). Some sugar that I see repeatedly described as "nutrient-rich", "raw", "un-refined" and "plant-based" are Agave Nectar and Unrefined Raw Brown Sugar. Other plant-based sweeteners that have not been processed and are excellent include dates (very sweet when used in baked goods!), raisins and other fruits. (White table sugar is technically "plant-based" from sugar cane, just uber-refined and processed...don't let the term fool you!)
The problem with refined white sugar and processed corn syrups seem to be the quantity that are consumed, as they are not only used as a teaspoon in our coffee or other drinks...they are used as ingredients in many of our foods that we buy unknowingly. Breads, pastas, sauces....the list goes on.
It may be worth a try if you are feeling irritable, cranky, sad or depressed to decrease or omit refined sugars from your diet for just a few weeks, and see how you feel. The raw sugars mentioned above do take some getting used to, especially when we are accustomed to the specific taste of white sugar, high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Our tolerance for sugar is high, as we need to consume more and more sugar in order to taste it; small amounts are not as detectable to our palates through the years.
Tell us if you give this challenge a try: decrease the amount of white sugar you consume for a few weeks, and when you crave something sweet, opt instead for a piece of fruit or raw, unrefined sugar in small quantities. You may be particularly surprised how satisfying the fruit is, and that you no longer crave the white stuff when you feel your mood is lifted and you are no longer experiencing a craving for something sweet that never is quite satisfied.
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