Sugar high? More like sugar slump
Feeling bleary-eyed or a little blue? Think something sweet will help?
It is common to reach for a soft drink, chocolate bar, cookie or cake at these times, seeking an energy or mood boost.
But did you know the sugar rush we are after actually leaves us feeling worse in the long run?
In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 31 studies, published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, researchers evaluated whether we really do get that mood and energy boost we seek from a sugar hit.
The researchers from the University of Warwick, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Lancaster University found within half an hour of consuming the sweet stuff, any perks individuals may have experienced quickly wore off, leaving people more sluggish after 30 minutes, and less alert after 60 minutes, compared with those who did not consume sugar at all.
So, while consuming sugar can trigger the reward centres in our brain, the researchers say reaching for sugary stuff when we need a mood or energy lift may be more a reflection on our culture (and habit) than what our body actually needs.
“The idea that sugar can improve mood has been widely influential in popular culture, so much so that people all over the world consume sugary drinks to become more alert or combat fatigue,” said lead study author, Dr Konstantinos Mantantzis, from the Humboldt University of Berlin. “Our findings very clearly indicate that such claims are not substantiated – if anything, sugar will probably make you feel worse.”
You see, a big hit of free or added sugar can cause blood glucose to spike and then plummet, resulting in feelings of fatigue, irritability and a foggy brain.
“The rise in obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome in recent years highlights the need for evidence-based dietary strategies to promote healthy lifestyle across the lifespan,” adds study co-author, Dr Sandra Sünram-Lea. “Our findings indicate that sugary drinks or snacks do not provide a quick ‘fuel refill’ to make us feel more alert.”
Fuel yourself, sans sugar
So you have already smashed some sugar and feeling worse for it? Read our article on what to do when in a post-sugar slump.
And next time, instead of reaching for that sugar-laden drink or food, choose real whole foods high in fibre, protein and/or healthy fats. Think nuts and seeds, a boiled egg, apple slices with nut butter, or carrot sticks and hummus, and drink plenty of water. These will better serve your mood and sustain energy.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
- Mantantzis, K et al. 2019, “Sugar rush or sugar crash? A meta-analysis of carbohydrate effects on mood”, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 101, pp. 45-67, viewed 2 Mat 2019, <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763418309175?via%3Dihub>