When we eat well, we feel better. Did you know that we also think and perform better?

A friend of mine would often give in to sugary snacks or processed foods to quiet her blood sugar dip – usually right after lunch. As a result, she went through a mid-afternoon slump – and it zapped her productivity. She couldn’t focus, she felt like her reaction time was delayed and she just wanted to take a nap. She would also feel more emotional and short-tempered when talking to other colleagues or her spouse. When she ate more healthfully, she felt more focus, less stress and was more in control of her emotions. She even had better memory!

It’s true – eating sugar can actually have a negative biological impact on your mind and emotions. Here are 5 ways sugar affects your focus, mood, memory, emotional and mental balance, and stress (and recommended foods to feel and perform better!).

1. Focus

According to a recent UCLA study, sugar “forms free radicals in the brain’s membrane, compromising our nerve cells’ ability to communicate”. This causes a “foggy” or “out of it” feeling. The study drew strong connections between sugar intake and a diminishment in how well we remember instructions and process ideas.

Another way sugar affects focus is through its addictive qualities.When we taste sugar, the brain lights up in the same regions as it does an alcoholic tasting gin. Dopamine, our “reward chemical” spikes and reinforces the desire to have more. When you’re battling an addiction-fueled craving, your train of thought is disrupted, and you can’t put your full mental energy into tasks at hand.

More high protein and high fiber foods give us focus throughout the day and help curb sugar cravings. Here are some great options:

2. Mood

When we’re feeling low, it’s hard to get anything done. Studies have shown links to sugar starting cycles of binge eating, dopamine spikes, a physical and emotional crash and then more craving and withdrawal. As a result, we have shorter tempers, lower patience and even depressed feelings.

The best way to combat these mood dips is to have steady, regular meals with protein and fiber to keep our insulin levels constant and help us stay satisfied for longer. Try adding these mood-boosting foods instead of sugar:

  • Complex carbs (whole grains, legumes)
  • Oily fish (trout, sardines, mackerel)
  • Fruits and Veggies (supply vitamins and minerals, ease digestion)

3. Memory

A high sugar diet affects our cognitive function and performance – and it can ALSO block our memory receptors. According to this study, there are clear links between high fructose (sugar) consumption and memory and learning impairment. We will actually have a harder time remembering what others say and making connections between concepts as a result of sugar. Even more unsettling is the research suggesting high sugar consumption has long-term and more severe repercussions, such as links between sugar and Alzheimer’s, where memory is grossly impaired.

Foods to boost your memory are:

– Sources of Vitamin E

  •  Minimally processed oils (olive, coconut)
  •  Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts

-Sources of Omega 3s

  •  Fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
  •  Avocados (both Omega 3s and vitamin E)

-Dark Leafy Greens due to folate (Kale, spinach, broccoli, collards,)

-Low Sugar Berries (blueberries, strawberries, acai berries)

4. Emotional and Mental Balance

Too much sugar leaves us prone to mood swings as it zaps up our stores of vitamin B and blocks chromium receptors, both of which are natural emotionally balancing chemicals. This can lead to irritability, anxiety, aggressive behavior and dramatic mental peaks and valleys.

There is more and more evidence for connections between our gut health and brain health. Gut health is contingent on eating more plant based, low-glycemic index foods and avoiding sugar. Sugar feeds bad bacteria in the gut, while veggies and fermented food feeds healthy bacteria. Striking this homeostasis balances us both physically and mentally.

Healthy foods to help you achieve this inner harmony are:

  • Green, non-starchy vegetables
  • Oily fish
  • Probiotic foods like fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and other vegetables

5. Stress

Stress and food are closely linked. When we feel stressed, our body is flooded with chemicals related to our fight or flight responses. Stress is linked to overeating, weight gain and even obesity. We feel guilty for overeating or not knowing what to eat to help us stay healthy. This causes more underlying stress in our lives.

The best way to curtail this is to eat healthier foods to help us get ahead of our body’s stress cycle. Here are some foods to combat stress and release serotonin without spiking blood sugar levels:

  • Walnuts
  • Avocados
  • Berries

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