What Exactly Is Your Daily Chocolate Fix Doing to Your Brain and Body?

Photo credit: twing - Getty Images
Photo credit: twing - Getty Images

From Women's Health

Sure, you know that your daily 3pm hunt for the nearest pack of office Oreos isn't exactly the world's number one healthy behaviour. But how much do you know about the precise effects of sugar on your body?

To get you the intel you crave more than a share bag of Dairy Milk buttons, WH has tapped up the experts.

From your brain to your face, here's what the white stuff is doing to you.

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Effects of sugar: how your body breaks it down

But first, to sugar school –because there’s a difference between ending a box of Maltesers in one sitting and making a fruit bowl vanish.

All sugar in the body is converted into glucose. When glucose levels are high enough, your pancreas will release insulin, which preps your cells to take in glucose. It’s then used for energy or stored as glycogen for later.

Once glycogen stores are full, any remaining glucose is converted into fat.

‘The sugar derived from fruit [fructose] is metabolised in the liver, meaning it takes longer to enter the blood,’says dietitian Jo Travers, author of The Low Fad Diet.

The granules that are added to foods to sweeten them and that you heap into your tea, however, are sucrose, which is made up of fructose and glucose.

Because the glucose is readily available, by the time the fructose has been metabolised, glycogen stores are already full, which means more fructose is stored as fat than when it’s eaten alone.

Effects of sugar: on your hormones

Your body responds to a Lion bar in the same way it responds to an actual lion.

‘A sudden influx of sugar into your bloodstream will trigger a stress response, characterised by the release of cortisol,’ says dietitian Nicole Rothband. And much like it does when you’re about to become lunch, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode.

Think: a racing heart and the sweats. In response to the perceived threat, glycogen is released from the muscles or liver, rather than from fat stores, as it’s more readily available. Useful if the threat is someone trying to eat all the eggs from your Haribo.

Effects of sugar: on your brain

Feeling sweet? Sugar will do that. It triggers the release of dopamine – it’s the reason a night in with Ben and Jerry is so appealing after a bad day.

Consider yourself a regular victim of the sugar rush? A US study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that sugar has no discernible effect on children’s behaviour, so it’s doubtful it would affect yours. But it does make your body work overtime.

‘When your blood sugar levels go up, your body pumps out a load of insulin to mop it up in an effort to reach a state of equilibrium again,’ explains Travers.

Effects of sugar: the comedown

Consume too much sugar and you could suffer an almighty comedown.

‘When you’re producing all that insulin, the body tends to overshoot,’ says Travers. Insulin then funnels all the sugar into your cells, and a dramatic drop in blood sugar follows, symptoms of which include sweating, shaking and feeling dizzy.

The sugar struggle is real.

Effects of sugar: on your skin

Feel like sugar is coming out of your pores? You’re not far off.

‘A high-sugar diet leads to the production of advanced glycationend-products [AGEs]’, says nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. Meaning?

‘Sugar binds to collagen, which undermines the structure and function of the collagen in your skin, making it appear saggy and unhealthy,’ says Rothband. Essentially, AGEs, well, age you. The process has been delightfully dubbed ‘sugar sag’. Sag off, we say.

Now that you're dosed up on the effects of sugar, learn about the issue of heart attacks in women.

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