How eating sugar affects your mood and concentration

Published February 26, 2015

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How we think and feel can be significantly affected by the types of food we eat. Eating food high in sugar may cause our blood sugar levels to fluctuate and it’s these fluctuations that can cause changes in our mood, energy levels and ability to concentrate.

The level of sugar (glucose) in the blood is tightly regulated by the hormone insulin. After we eat, the amount of glucose in the blood rises. This stimulates the release of insulin which escorts the sugar from the blood stream into our cells for use as energy or for storage, bringing sugar levels back down to normal. Some foods however can cause blood glucose levels in the blood to increase too rapidly.

If this happens the body responds by producing lots of insulin, which quickly moves the sugar into our cells. This means that we suddenly go from having very high blood sugar levels to very low blood sugar levels. There is a rapid drop. As our brain cells rely on glucose to function efficiently, when there is a rapid drop in glucose levels, brain function can be affected leading to symptoms such as:1

  • Energy slumps
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Poor concentration or fuzzy thinking
  • Cravings for sweets
  • Cravings for stimulants such as tea and coffee etc.

Refined carbohydrate consumption is one of the main reasons for the blood sugar roller coaster. These foods and drinks include biscuits, lollies, muffins, soft drink, white bread, white rice and white pasta. Refined carbohydrates are rapidly digested and absorbed, and therefore raise our blood glucose levels very quickly, only to plunge soon after.

What can I eat to support my mood and concentration?

To avoid mood and concentration slumps due to the types of food you’re eating choose foods high in protein such as lean meat, poultry, eggs, fish and legumes, and complex carbohydrates including brown rice, quinoa, oats, sweet potato, rye, spelt and buckwheat. These foods are digested more slowly compared to refined carbohydrates, and provide a steadier supply of glucose to the body and brain. Foods rich in essential fatty acids such as fish, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts are also good brain food.

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