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Seven ways sugar is affecting your mental performance

With more people working from home, it can be easy to reach for that chocolate bar or sugary snack.

Boredom and stress are often cited as key triggers for desk-grazing, with many of us reaching for things like communal biscuits and birthday cake. What you may not know, however, is that your sugar intake could be having a detrimental effect, not just on your body, but on your mental performance.

How is sugar affecting your mental performance?

1. Lack of focus

You’re likely familiar with the boost we feel after consuming something sugary, but this newfound alertness doesn’t last for long. On average, our glucose levels will drop after around 20 minutes, leaving us feeling unfocused and easily distracted. 

Swap sugar for: oily fish, dark chocolate, almonds.

2. Mood crash

As well as a momentary boost in alertness, sugar can also give us an emotional lift. However, just like above, this effect is short-lived. The spike makes way for a crash that can be categorised by sluggishness, irritability and disinterest, and all because of dopamine. Sugar messes with this neurotransmitter (which controls the reward and pleasure centres of our brain) and knocks it off kilter.

Swap sugar for: oily fish, avocados, bananas.

3. Memory impairment

As well as affecting our cognitive performance, it’s thought that sugar can also block our memory receptors. When you think about how important it is to take in new information and solve problems at work, this could really upset your performance. US studies have also pointed to a connection between a high sugar intake and Alzheimer’s disease.

Swap sugar for: blueberries, spinach, broccoli, olive oil.

4. High stress levels

There’s a reason why stress is linked to overeating and weight gain. When many of us feel stressed, we turn to comfort food: most of which contains a high amount of sugar. In turn, knowing we’re consuming something bad for us can create more stress, landing us in a vicious cycle. What we really need are snacks high in serotonin, a chemical that helps to balance our mood.

Swap sugar for: walnuts, avocados, blueberries.

5. Personality changes

Our bodies utilise two key chemicals to keep our emotions in check: vitamin B and chromium. Unfortunately, high sugar levels can block these naturally-balancing chemicals and lead to uncharacteristic outbursts of irritability and aggression. 

Swap sugar for: kale, rocket, kimchi, natural yoghurt.

6. Addiction

Sugar makes our dopamine levels rise, which in turn makes us want to consume even more. As your energy levels spike and fall, you may feel the need to eat even more sugar to help lift your mood again. And so it continues. Not only can this be bad for your body, but it can play havoc with your mind, rendering many unable to commit to tasks with their full mental capacity.

Swap sugar for: sweet potato, dark chocolate, honey, fruit.

7. Immune system suppression

It’s widely thought that consuming too much sugar can suppress the immune system, reducing white blood cells’ ability to attack rogue bacteria. Scientists have even reported witnessing this kind of effect just a few hours after consuming a sugary drink. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to be doing when you feel rubbish, it’s trying to concentrate on work.

Swap sugar for: Manuka honey, garlic, blueberries, brazil nuts.

Boosting your mental performance by lowering your sugar intake could make your working day a whole lot more enjoyable. The time spent thinking about your next sugar fix could be spent on your to-do list, and your body may likely repay you tenfold. Why not prepare some of these sugar alternatives the night before your working day, so you’re all stocked up on healthy snacks?


About our healthcare

Benenden Health provides affordable private healthcare for everyone, giving you access to services such as our 24/7 GP Helpline and Mental Health Helpline straight away. Once you’ve been a member for six months you can request access to diagnostic consultations and tests. 

You'll also have access to a wealth of health and wellbeing articles, videos and advice on a range of health issues.