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A Teen's Guide to Limiting Sugar for Improved Brain Function

cupcakeConsuming natural sugar in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy gives us energy and can help improve your heart and brain health. However, eating and drinking too much added sugar can cause weight gain, hyperactivity, inattention, and poor memory. Psychology Today references two studies that explain why refined sugar causes cognitive deficits and memory loss.

Adolescents are the greatest consumers of high-energy, sugary junk foods and sweetened drinks.  This is a concern as studies have shown that a high sugar diet can have many negative effects especially on the brains of teenagers.

"Recent research in rodents has shown the adolescent brain is at an increased risk of developing diet-induced cognitive dysfunction. Adolescent, but not adult, mice develop memory problems after consuming high-fat diets. The brains of the adolescent sugar-diet rats also showed increased levels of inflammation in the hippocampus, disrupting learning and memory function. Inflammation in the brain can contribute to cognitive decline and dementia."

Refined and added sugars sneak into foods you may not even expect. Seemingly healthy foods like yogurt, dried fruit, peanut butter, granola bars, cereal, marinades, and salad dressings can be full of added sugar and put you over your daily recommended intake. The American Heart Association recommends children and teens should limit added sugars to 25 grams per day. Here are 5 tips to track and limit your daily added sugar consumption:

  1. Avoid products with cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup on the ingredients list.
  2. Note the serving size of the product and how many grams of sugar are in each serving.
  3. Eat more whole foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and legumes. Think less processed and no added ingredients, “Don’t mess with mother nature”.
  4. Switch out sodas, juice, and sports drinks for flavored tea (unsweetened) and water infused with fresh fruit.
  5. Get more sleep. Lack of sleep can cause an increase in appetite, cravings for sugar, and reduced impulse control.

Don’t make this adjustment to your diet too difficult by trying to cut out added sugars all together. Reduce it gradually, set mini goals for yourself, and have a cheat day to help ease you into the new plan. Eventually, your taste buds will adjust and products with added sugar will not be so desirable.