After reading how your cognitive performance is effected by hydration, breakfast, sleep, exercise and caffeine, it’s time to review your sugar intake – and its influence on the brain. Just like caffeine, sugar needs to be handled carefully; because too much or too little can have adverse effects on the brain!
We all know sugar is an addictive substance; the promise of a fresh chocolate-chip cookie can make children eat an entire plate of vegetables, or motivate a coach potato to run that extra mile. So what does sugar actually do to us that makes us crave it?
Sugar has similar effects on the brain as to hanging out with friends, a fun hobby or even drugs. Like caffeine – it’s addictive. It triggers a sort of reward system which is a series of electrical and chemical path systems across several different regions of the brain. The main chemical involved in this biological reward system is dopamine. Generally, dopamine evens itself out, so a dish is not as enjoyable after eating it so many times. However, no matter how much sugar is consumed by an individual, the dopamine levels will never even out enough to discourage them from eating more sugar, or look forward to eating sugary foods any less. This is how sugar becomes addictive.
Some experts have suggested the brain works best with about 25 grams of glucose circulating in the bloodstream – about the amount found in a banana. The body will then break down other foods you eat during the day, to turn them into glucose if the levels become too low. High levels of sugar can damage cells in the body and brain, where low levels of sugar is particularly dangerous for the frontal cortex (also described as the ‘CEO’ of the brain) – it can have negative effects on attention levels, memory recall, and confused thinking, so as ever – a balance is required.
Different types of sugar are absorbed by different parts of the body. In this blog, we are reviewing glucose – the primary source of energy your body uses and every cell relies on. This is why it’s important to keep blood glucose levels at an optimum level – however, it’s not always easy to do. Having regular, balanced meals can help achieve this.
To manage a healthy diet, you have to understand the effects of the food you eat. The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks food according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Against a standard of 100, low GI foods like porridge, are ranked at 55 or lower, where high GI foods like cornflakes are ranked at 70 and above. Lower GI foods are digested slower than higher GI foods – this allows low GI foods to provide a steady supply of energy, where high GI foods cause blood sugar level to rise too quickly.
Mixing low GI foods with high GI foods can slow down digestion; white bread has a high GI, but if meat or other protein is added, the speed at which it is absorbed slows down. That said, despite fat’s ability to lower the GI of a meal, not all fats are equal. Unsaturated fats are a lot healthier than saturated fats, and can lower the GI of a meal more than saturated fats can.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep blood glucose levels at an optimum level, so you should try and eat foods that contain sugar evenly throughout the day. Some experts have advised it is better to have up to 5 small meals a day, rather than 3 meals.
But be warned, most food and drink is filled with sugar even though it seems healthy. For example, fruit drinks have often had a lot of the goodness removed, leaving the sugar behind – as a result they contain as much sugar as a can of coke! Make sure you’re always checking the label on food and drink – natural sugars occur in fruit and milk (something which you don’t really need to cut down on), where added sugars like sucrose, fructose and maltose you should keep track of your consumption. Having balanced and healthy meals throughout the day keeps a good supply of energy and glucose available for your brain.
Sugar in tea - The Register
Sugary drinks - Handbag.com