Could sugar be holding you back on the job?
Sugar’s effects on the human body have been well-known and well-studied for years. Athletes in particular are versed in all the ways that sugar can affect their performance. People who want to lose weight learn early about what too much sugar can do to your body chemistry. And diabetics understand intimately just what sugar does to your blood sugar levels.
But what about outside of that?
Even if you work at a white collar job and never have to worry about your athletic performance — even if you’re in good health and aren’t struggling with your weight — sugar can impact your professional performance.
Recently, I interviewed Dr. Nicole Avena, a scientist, speaker and nutrition consultant for Lakanto — a company dedicated to providing natural, effective sugar substitutes — to find out just what sugar does to the body and how it affects your work. Lakanto uses monk fruit to create a zero-glycemic alternative to traditional sugar. Needless to say, Dr. Avena understands a great deal about what sugar does to the body.
1) Excess Sugar Boosts Your Stress
“If you’re constantly drinking and eating things that have high amounts of sugar in them, you’re boosting your stress levels beyond what they’d normally be,” says Dr. Avena. “Going for something that has a lower glycemic index keeps your brain in a healthier working condition. It helps your stress subside. That way it’s only the result of your job, not your food.”
Sugar specifically impacts your stress levels and makes your mind work harder. If you’ve had high levels of blood sugar, it can take up to 5 hours for the effects to wear off. Keeping your blood sugar on a more level plane will help manage that stress.
2) Excess Sugar Makes You Remember Less
Remember those stress hormones? There’s another effect they have.
Cortisol, the main stress hormone that’s affected by sugar, is tied to another important part of professional performance: your memory. Ever feel like your brain’s leaking information? Like you can’t stay on top of the things that need to get done?
Don’t blame getting older — that’s not the most likely culprit. It may well be an overabundance of sugar that’s raising cortisol levels and stopping you from remembering things.
That may not be just short-term, either. The link between sugar and memory is well-documented, but there are tenuous links to degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease as well. “Sugar can make the brain miss things or lose them,” says Dr. Avena.
“If you’re having trouble on the job, consider cutting back or cutting out the sugar. It will help you stay on top of things.”
3) Excess Sugar Slows Down Your Brain
Have you ever dealt with times where your brain just feels incredibly slow?
Like you’re having to think through a thick fog? There are other reasons that can contribute to this (sleep being an obvious and regular one), but sugar can contribute, too.
“Poor blood sugar control is one of the biggest contributors to brain fog, especially for people who deal with sugar crashes,” Dr. Avena says. “When you have a lot of refined sugar at once, your blood sugar level spikes, then crashes, causing that mix of irritability, scatterbrains and lack of focus we often call ‘brain fog.’”
4) Excess Sugar Worsens Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are killers when it comes to professional performance, sapping motivation and throwing up roadblocks to even the most mundane tasks. And sugar is a direct contributor.
“Sugar really affects your mood,” Dr. Avena notes.
“It’s most noticeable in teenagers and young people, but it’s the same for older people too. And chronically high blood sugar can affect neural pathways long-term in ways that don’t wear off, causing more chronic mental health issues.”
Exercise can push back against some of the negative long-term results, but it’s not a panacea. The better option is to consider removing added sugars from your diet.
5) Excess Sugar Causes Weight Gain
“The link between sugar and weight gain is so clearly established that we’ve been talking about it for decades. And when someone’s eating a lot of excess sugar, they can put on enough excess weight that they become obese. That comes with its own set of problems, but it exacerbates any problems that are already there — anxiety, memory, stress, hypertension … you name it. Sugar is one of the leading culprits.”
When we eat a lot of processed sugar, it starts a process. That sugar makes us crave more, so we go and eat again soon because it wears off so fast. That means we’re taking in a lot more calories than we would be otherwise. Then as we crash, we feel tired, so we go and eat.
That roller coaster is one of the things that makes it easy for us to gain weight. Eating foods that are lower on the glycemic index (mostly natural foods and foods lower in processed sugars) breaks that cycle.
6) Sugar Is Essential to Brain Function
What’s that? Sugar is needed for the brain?
This might sound counterintuitive after a whole article warning about the dangers of excess sugar, but our brains actually need sugar to work. The primary energy source for every cell in our body is glucose, and over half of the sugar in our body goes to the brain — it’s the hungriest organ.
That’s why you don’t do your best work when you’re hungry. But it’s also why you don’t do your best work on a sugar crash. The ideal method for getting sugar to the body is through natural methods and lower-glycemic foods — not highly processed foods full of fats and refined sweets.
Sugar isn’t entirely bad. But most people have entirely too much of it. Are you one of them? Balance your sugar intake, and start eating more naturally, and you’ll see an increase in your professional performance.