Why you need sugar for a healthy brain

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “too much of a good thing.” This is applicable to sugar for many reasons! Sugar plays a crucial role in our brain health and cognitive function.  However, too much can be detrimental to our health. So let’s break it down. What is the relationship between sugar and brain health, and how much is too much?

What is sugar?

Sugar is the common word for the biological component called glucose. Our bodies, and particularly our brains, use glucose for energy. Our bodies absorb glucose from the foods we eat, especially foods rich in carbohydrates such as potatoes, breads, and fruit. With the help of insulin, the glucose is then moved through our bloodstream and into our cells.

sugar and brain health

What does sugar do?

Once glucose is in our cells, the cells use it for energy. So essentially, we rely on glucose for everything our bodies do! And in fact, our brains use the majority of the glucose that our bodies gather from food. The average adult needs 200g of glucose per day, and two-thirds of that (130g) is used by the brain!

Should we stop consuming sugar?

When we think of sugar, we may think of the processed kind that you find in sweet treats like cookies or candy. However, this isn’t the kind of sugar our brain needs. The body and brain can derive glucose from foods containing natural sugars, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole-grain bread. These will provide the nutrients your brain needs, as well as long-lasting energy. Consuming processed sugars, such as pastries, candy, and soda, won’t necessarily cause harm in moderation, but should be limited to small, occasional portions within your diet. 

It comes down to how quickly the sugar is absorbed by your body. Natural sugars contained in foods like fruits are absorbed much more slowly into your body, which is exactly what the body craves! This leads to longer lasting energy and steady glucose levels for your brain to use. A sweet treat like ice cream or soda is absorbed super fast. You might get a rush of energy from these treats, but it won’t last long and your glucose levels will spike and then drop quickly. This doesn’t give the brain much to work with.

The recommended amount of sugar to consume per day is between 25-36g. A single soda contains more than that! So, as much as possible, reserve your sugar consumption for foods that contain the healthy natural sugars that your body needs.

Sugar and brain health

The brain needs glucose to function. However, too much glucose is harmful to our brain health.

Eating too much sugar leads to higher glucose levels in the bloodstream. This results in the brain having more glucose than it needs, which can cause inflammation of the brain, difficulty with attention, and even a deficit in memory. It can also lead to increased anxiety and a lowered ability to process emotions. Over the long term, it increases the chances of experiencing depression.

This is particularly relevant to people living with diabetes. Both types of diabetes can lead to higher glucose levels in the body. This can lead to vascular issues in different areas of the body, including the brain. For this reason, people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.


Brain health should be taken seriously by people of all ages, whether they have risk factors for conditions affecting the brain or not. After all, you only get one brain! Understanding how sugar affects the brain, and knowing how much and what types of sugar to consume will help you care for your brain health and lead a healthier lifestyle overall.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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