With fall in full bloom, pumpkin lattes and candy corn leftover from Halloween are tempting afternoon snacks for many college students. However, in a recent study, two scientists found that high amounts of added sugar consumption correlates with decreased mental health and brain functions.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), added sugars include “refined cane and beet sugars, corn sweeteners, and edible syrups added to processed foods and beverages, but do not include dietary sugars found naturally in foods, such as in fruits.”
There have been many studies and links made connecting sugar and damage to physical health. Studies state that consuming too much added sugar can lead to diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
In the long term, consuming large amounts of fructose can lead to, “hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, high triglycerides and general poor health,” according to Dr. Tom Riley, the University of Mary Washington’s physician.
A new study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, published in the Journal of Physiology, shows how chronic sugar intake can also affect mental health.
This chronic sugar intake reduces a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This chemical is what helps to form memories and recall information.
In addition, low BDNF levels are correlated with mental health illnesses such as depression.
The study was conducted by two researchers at the University of California who trained rats to go through a maze two times every day for five days. On the fifth day, the rats were timed to see how long it would take them to exit the maze. Then, both groups of rats were fed sucrose saturated water for six weeks, while one group, in addition to the sucrose water, was fed omega-3 fatty acids.
After this feeding period, the rats were trained for five days to go through the maze again. At the end of this second training period, both groups were timed again and found to be much slower to recognize the installed landmarks and find their way out of the maze than before, although the second group that consumed omega-3 fatty acids was relatively faster.
The research shows that, in rats, with a diet high in sugar can impair memory, but omega-3 fatty acids can help to slow the damage.
This study becomes more relevant when American sugar consumption habits are noted. The average American consumed 142 pounds of added sugar in 2005, or 30 teaspoons per day, according to the USDA. This is a 19 percent increase from sugar consumption levels in 1970.
Dora Whiting, an Eagle’s Nest employee, said that she used to have a garden in her backyard growing up, which was common among many of her friends and neighbors.
“When you grow your food you know what you have, and what’s in it,” said Whiting. “When you get stuff at the store, you have no idea.”
Drinks tend to have copious amounts of sugar and other sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. A 16-ounce bottle of Coke contains 54 grams of sugar, or 10.8 teaspoons. A pumpkin latte of the same size from the Eagle’s Nest has 49 grams and 9.8 teaspoons of sugar.
Added sugar is in many processed foods as well, including yogurt, ketchup, salad dressing and granola bars.
“I usually get cereal [from the nest] but I’m not sure how much sugar is in it,” said freshman Morgan Clark.