We all know that refined (or processed) sugar is bad for us, but many have no idea of the devastating impact it can have upon the body, not to mention the damage it can do to our daily work and productivity.
Sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s addictive, and it robs our body of vitamins, minerals and important enzymes. There’s much research to show that sugar is linked to weight gain and diabetes, tooth decay, and serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease.
But despite the growing bank of evidence that sugar is evil, we continue to eat it, mainly because it tastes good and our body craves it, but also because it can be very tricky to avoid.
Refined sugar is all around us, in the obvious things such as fizzy drinks and chocolate bars, but also in white bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, crafted coffees, fruit juices, sauces, most yoghurts and practically all ready-made meals.
In the UK, adults are advised by the NHS to not to eat more than 30g of refined sugar a day. The World Health Organisation says even those allowances are too high and suggests both men and women should eat 25g or less each day.Consider the fact that the average American consumes 126g of sugar a day, often without realising it. A large Big Mac meal deal, for example, contains 85g of sugar – almost triple your daily allowance. The scale of the sugar problem is immense, and not only is it impacting on our health and waistline, but it’s also significantly affecting the way we work.
If you’re regularly struggling with energy levels, concentration and cognitive function particularly during your working day…your sugar addiction may be to blame. Here are five reasons why we should stop, or significantly reduce, the levels of refined sugar we are eating while we work…
- Increased mental clarity and focus
When your blood sugar levels are consistently a healthy level, your brain is fuelled and able to work at its optimum. The fogginess that can come with a sugar crash is replaced with mental clarity, enabling you to easily bounce from task to task, and remain focused and productive.
It can be helpful to understand what’s going on behind the scenes when you’re regularly consuming too much refined sugar. An oversupply of fructose for example, obtained from foods containing high-fructose corn syrup such as fizzy drinks and ready meals, becomes a toxin or poison to the body, and so your liver and pancreas have to work harder to manage it and purge it from the blood stream. In doing so, they exhaust valuable energy reserves. So it’s easy to see why there’s little energy left for your brain, resulting in anxiety, tiredness, bloating, mood swings and general sluggishness.
- Better quality sleep
Sleep is a fundamental part of mental health. It gives our conscious mind a break from the mental activities of the day, but also it’s when toxins are flushed from the brain. Furthermore, during sleep our brain engages in data analysis, from strengthening memories to solving problems. But your body requires fuel to sleep, and if the energy reserves aren’t there, it won’t be able to fall into a deep enough sleep, no matter how exhausted you feel. It’s a vicious circle, as lack of sleep can create deeper levels of fatigue, yet if you’re already consuming sizeable amounts of unrefined sugar, when you’re tired your body will crave it even more.
Within an article on the subject, nutritional therapist Rebecca Boulton, explains: “Your insulin levels are regulated when your blood sugars are balanced. [This] promotes good sleep patterns and gives you consistent energy, which also reduces fatigue and means you can focus more. This has a knock-on effect on the rest of your hormones as they work synergistically, which also improves energy, sleep, and brain function.”
- Positive mood
While there’s much talk of the impact sugar can have upon weight and physical health, less attention is given to the affect it can have upon mental health and mood. But there is plenty of research to show that the roller coaster of high blood sugar, experienced as highs and then a crash, can contribute greatly to mood disorders. One popular theory for this is that sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF which is low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia.
Sugar has also been proven to have addictive qualities, with some saying it’s more addictive then cocaine. This brings with it the classic symptoms of a drug addiction, including the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine, rapidly followed by withdrawal symptoms.
- Reduced hunger
A high sugar diet is never going to fill you up, for a sustained period of time. It’s all too easy to grab something quick and convenient in the middle of a busy working day, but if we do so, it won’t be long before we’re in search of another sugar pick-me-up.
Frequent hunger is a distraction during the working day, and means we’re unable to remain focused and productive, for any length of time. But if we make an effort to eat three balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day, we’ll remain fuller for longer, and probably won’t even think about those sugary snacks which can take our focus away from work.
- Consistent energy levels
Is a mid-morning crash, or post-lunch coma, a familiar component of your working day? Its proper name is hypoglycaemia, and it occurs when our blood sugar drops too low (after eating a high sugar, high carb meal) or stays too low (after eating nothing at all). We call it a slump or a crash as the symptoms can be dramatic, when we suddenly feel our energy levels and concentration plummet.
Sugar slows us down, and so when we remove it and replace it with a high protein lunch, for example, our blood sugars will remain consistent for a longer period of time, helping us to feel energised and able to work for a longer period of time.
If you’re interested in lowering the amount of refined sugar in your diet, there is much literature available on the subject, and over the past year or two a number of recipe books for low-to-no sugar diets have risen in popularity. TV personalities and foodies Davina McCall and Sarah Wilson are two of the highest-profile proponents of low sugar diets, and popular writer Ella Woodward’s Deliciously Ella blog (and books) is considered one of the best authorities on the subject.
If you decide to give low-sugar a go, let us know how you get on! You may also be interested to read our post on why hydration at work is so important