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Mood, performance & sleep benefits of sugar reduction

This month the British Heart Foundation launches its national campaign to give up chocolate for heart health which is aptly called the “Dechox Challenge”[1]. Do you know the amazing brain health benefits of sugar reduction?

Sugar reduction can optimise cognitive performance

Kicking your sugar habits may improve your memory by reducing the risk of inflammation and changes to the volume of the hippocampus - a key memory centre in your brain [2]. A recent issue released by the Journal of Physiology highlighted that increased sugar intake was positively associated with memory deficits and disrupted brain neuron structures [3]. Teresa Aubele, Ph.D., assistant professor in psychology, states that a high sugar intake can disrupt the communication between your brain neurons. This "ultimately affects your attention span, your short-term memory, and your mood stability" [4].

Sugar reduction may benefit your mood

Great news! Sugar reduction is associated with better psychological health [5]. Ongoing research on sugar and depression suggests that high sugar diets may increase inflammation linked to some mood disorders [6]. Recent research at UCL showed that adults who consumed high sugar intakes for five years had an increased likelihood of common mental health disorders (such as anxiety or depression) compared to those who consumed low sugar intake [7].

Sugar may have implications for Alzheimer's & ADHD

The NHS recommends that those with ADHD choose foods low in sugar [8] and a meta-analysis has revealed refined sugars are associated with the risk of hyperactivity or ADHD occurrence in children and adolescents [9]. High sugar intake has been shown to increase a child's risk of hyperactivity and inattention symptoms by 66% [10].


At the Alzheimer's society, it is recommended that you reduce your sugar intake to decrease your risk of developing dementia in later life [11]. At the University of Bath, it has been shown that a high sugar intake can damage a vital enzyme involved with inflammation response to the early stage of Alzheimers [12]. Consuming an average of 30g of sugar per day over 7 years has been shown to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 33% [13].

Natural and refined sugar: two sides of the same coin

Swapping your sugary drink for fresh orange juice may seem like a sensible option. Sugars found in citrus fruits come with additional benefits, such as dietary fibres and antioxidants, but the glucose found in fruit sources is still metabolised in the same way as many refined sugars [14]. A single serving of Pret's 100% freshly squeezed orange juice contains 51g of sugar [15].

Artificial sweetener triggers a sugar seeking pathway

Artificial sweeteners have a similar reward feedback loop to sugars. They increase the activity of your reward and pleasure pathway in the brain, which releases dopamine which can encourage you to crave more sugary foods [16].

Consuming artificial sweeteners for more than five days has been shown to promote hyperactivity, insomnia, and decreased sleep quality [17]. It appears that high sugar diets can increase your time taken to fall asleep and reduce time spent in deep-slow wave sleep, which is essential for the body's physical restoration [18]. The rule of thumb is to avoid eating sugar 2 hours before bed [19].


It's important to state that cocoa in chocolate may be beneficial due to its high flavonoid content, so swapping to a 90% cocoa mass chocolate may reap some rewards for cognitive benefits [20] whilst helping you to achieve the goal of sugar reduction. For more information on the British Heart Foundation chocolate reduction drive click here.

[1]British Heart Foundation (2021) What is Dechox?  [2]Jacka et al (2015) Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation. BMC Medicine. [3]Agrawal et al (2012) ‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition. The Journal of Physiology. [4]Psychology Today (2011) Why a Sugar High Leads to a Brain Low ?   [5]Knüppel et al (2017) Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific Reports.   [6]The Conversation (2017) Does Sugar make you sad? New science suggests so. [7]UCL (2017) High sugar intake linked with poorer long-term mental health.  [8]National Health Service (2019) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and diet.  [9]Del-Ponte et al (2019) Dietary patterns and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders.  [10]Yale News (2015)Energy Drinks significantly increase hyperactivity in schoolchildren.  [11]Alzheimer’s Society (2018) Sugary diet may increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease | Alzheimer’s Society. [12]Science Daily (2017) Sugar’s “tipping point” link to Alzheimer’s disease revealed. [13]Neurology Advisor (2018) Sugary drinks, other added sugars may up risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. [14]Harvard Health Publishing (2019) Are certain types of sugars healthier than others? [15]Express (2016) What does ‘no added sugar ’ REALLY mean? Food labels EXPLAINED. [16]Walton, A. (2016) How artificial sweeteners may mess with your brain. Forbes.[17]Roy, S. Research Sheds Light on Artificial Sweeteners’ Impact in Brain, Including How They Promote Insomnia. Sleep Review.[18]Berus, M.J (2019) The Connection Between Sugar and Your Sleep. Psychology Today. [19]The Guardian (2020) The alarming truth about how sugar ruins your sleep.[20]Socci et al. (2017) Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids. Frontiers in Nutrition. 

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