If your New Year’s resolution was to cut down on your sugar consumption, you’re on to a good thing. And your brain will thank you.
The adverse effects of a sugary diet are well established at this point. Sugar has been linked to chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. But a new study published in the journal Diabetologia just delivered us yet another reason to cut down: Sugar may accelerate mental decline. (Now ask yourself if that third cronut is really worth it).
The study looked at 5,189 people over the course of 10 years and found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline, regardless of whether or not they had diabetes.
Scientists have long known about the connection between sugar, or glucose, and brain function. While some studies have linked a sugary diet to Alzheimer’s through Type 2 diabetes, the Atlantic reports, these new findings add to a growing body of research proving that you don’t necessarily have to be diabetic to experience the same consequences.
There are multiple factors that link diet, diabetes and dementia. Insulin resistance, which causes high blood sugar and can lead to diabetes, inhibits your body’s ability to break down a certain protein (amyloid). When that protein builds up, it forms brain plaques, which then leads to Alzheimer’s, CNN reports. What’s more, high blood sugar produces oxygen-containing molecules that damage cells — a process called oxidative stress — which causes brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
This is pretty unfortunate news, considering that about 86 million American adults have pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests keeping your added sugar intake down to less than 10 percent of your daily calories (which would be about 50 grams for someone with a 2,000-calorie diet) Americans consume an average of about 85 grams of sugar every day.
You’re not one of those people, right? Well, you may think you’re OK if you tend to drink your coffee black and avoid office birthday cake, but you may be consuming more hidden sugar than you thought if you ever eat processed foods. One 2016 study found that nearly 90 percent of Americans’ added sugar calories come from processed foods, Time reports. So if you want to satisfy your carb needs while avoiding a spike in your blood sugar, put down the potato chips and dried pasta and go for complex carbohydrates instead.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, complex carbohydrates have a lower glycemic index, meaning that they prompt a more gradual rise in blood sugar. They include green and starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils.
The bottom line? You don’t have to deprive yourself of the good things in life all the time, but the choices you make will have lasting effects on your health. So do your future self a solid and ease up on the sugary snacks.