Austin Perlmutter, MD

You’ve likely heard some version of the story: don’t eat sugar, it’s bad for your health. Indeed, research shows that consuming too much of the sweet stuff (especially when added) is linked to all sorts of issues with our brains and bodies.  But “sugar” can come in a number of forms with different potential impacts on health.  So, what does the research really say about the link between sugar and your brain health?

Key Points

  • Excess added sugar consumption is linked to brain diseases, especially when in liquid form (sugary beverages)
  • Even “natural” sweeteners like honey and maple syrup should be consumed in moderation
  • Overall, decreasing intake of added sweeteners of any kind may be the best plan for health
  • Stevia, monkfruit and allulose may be among the best sugar alternative options based on current risk/benefit analysis, but there’s still more to learn

What should you actually eat?

All of this can seem incredibly complicated.  Are there any good options when it comes to getting our sweet fix while supporting our health?  To this end, the research would suggest the following may be good general guidelines.

1. In general, we will all benefit from an overall reduction in added sugars, and training our brains to be more sensitive to sugar by reducing overall intake.

2. In general, eating sugar in the form of whole foods is a better option than any processed food containing sugar, as the fiber and other nutrients can help offset the sugar’s effects on your biology.

3. When it comes to natural sugars, there is a bit of data to suggest that certain forms (e.g., honey) may have a slight edge over table sugar, but as per point #1, any form of added sugar should be consumed in moderation.

4. When it comes to sugar alternatives, we are still learning about potential health effects (both good and bad) that may stem from their consumption, but these effects may work by way of the microbiome.

5. Among sugar alternatives, some data suggest that monkfruit, stevia and allulose may be the most promising as it relates to overall risk/benefit profile, but again, there’s lots more to learn.