I am a nutritionist but I am also a human.
As humans we are hardwired to desire sugar or sweetness.
Our primitive ancestors lived in very threatening times and required quick bursts of energy to survive hazardous threats.
So to maximise our survival as a species, we have an innate brain system that makes us like sweet foods since they are a great source of energy to fuel our bodies.
You may know that dopamine is our reward neurotransmitter and hormone and sugar activates this pathway.
In fact, our brain has four dopamine pathways. The mesolimbic dopamine pathway is the one associated with pleasure and reward. Each time we are exposed to a pleasurable stimuli , the neurons or brain cells fire, and dopamine is triggered, giving us a high or a feeling of euphoria. This becomes a vicious circle of reward and treat and in many cases can often lead to addiction.
In our industrialised age, we are exposed to unnatural and ultra-processed sweetness 24/7, it is cheap and easily available. Risk of addiction is high and it has massive health implications.
Research shows that excessive sugar leads to altered inhibitory neurons firing in the brain, meaning that we find it difficult to say no, can't stick to 'diets' and have less control over decision making around food and behaviour.
A major part of the brain affected by excessive sugar consumption is the hippocampus, (a key memory centre), which is responsible for the encoding of new memories. Research showed a reduction in neurons plus an increase in inflammatory chemicals with excess sugar consumption.
In the UK we are recommended to consume as adults no more than 30g of free sugar per day, about 7 teaspoons. In fact, the average is 700g a week, 3.3 times more than the recommended amount.
According to the 2020 Sugar Report, almost 3,000,000, yes 3 million, tonnes of sugar were consumed in the UK in 2020, an average of 43.4 KG per person per year.
We can help support brain health by reducing dietary sugars, increasing exercise and eating fats for the brain such as oily fish, a good balance of Omega Fatty acids, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocados.
But, I am human and I do like sweet plus, I don't think denial is realistic.
By making homemade sweet treats you can control the ingredients and also benefit your reward system by creating something from scratch, finding joy in creativity and being involved in the making process from start to finish, including the delicious aromas in your kitchen.
As spiritual pioneer Maya Tiwari said " The kitchen is a wonderous arena of joy."
Recipe adapted from 'Weeklight' by Donna Hay. Makes 12.
150g ground almonds
250g almond butter
50g coconut blossom sugar
5 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
almonds, to decorate
Preheat the oven to 160°C and line a cookie sheet with baking parchment.
Combine the ingredients, except the almonds to decorate, in a mixer until you have a dough like texture.
Between your palms roll a tablespoon size piece of the dough until you have 12 balls.
Flatten with the back of a spoon, decorate with the almonds and bake for about 10 minutes until they are a nice golden brown. Depending on your oven you. may want to check at 8 minutes.
Allow to cool on a wire tray. They will last a few days in an airtight container.
Written by Patricia Alexander Bird, B.Sc, Dip NT, Health and Wellness Coach (in training) and Yoga Teacher Training student.