Over the last few blog entries I have been sharing some of the great brain foods we can consume. One that might surprise you is sugar. Yup – you read that correctly – sugar. However, when we talk about sugars in terms of brain health, we are talking about glucose, and glucose from the correct sources.
What is glucose, exactly?
“Glucose is the main type of sugar in the blood and is the major source of energy for the body's cells. Glucose comes from the foods we eat or the body can make it from other substances. Glucose is carried to the cells through the bloodstream. Several hormones, including insulin, control glucose levels in the blood.”
Glucose is the only food the brain uses, and the brain needs a constant supply of it to work optimally. The source for this sugar, glucose, is carbohydrates: grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. And this short list contains carbohydrates that are complex, not simple. Simple, or refined carbohydrates are the ones in candy or white sugar – basically processed sugars.
We have all been hearing for years about the health benefits of choosing complex carbs over simple ones. This is truly essential in brain functioning. The brain needs a constant supply of energy. Simple carbs rush through the bloodstream too quickly, leaving nothing for sustained energy. Too much simple, or refined carbohydrates at once can actually deprive your brain of energy, making it more difficult to concentrate and function optimally.
Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and thus feed the bloodstream glucose through an extended period, giving the brain a sustained source of energy. This extended energy allows the brain to function at optimal capacity.
Most of us have eaten plenty of refined sugars in our lives – personally, I am a sucker for chocolate – not the healthy 66% cocoa form – super refined milk chocolate is what really makes me smile. However, most of us have also felt that drop in energy that comes an hour or so after snacking on a candy bar or drinking a soda. We end up craving more sugar, or simple carbs. Our body and brain didn’t have a sustained source of energy – we burned through the sugar jolt and were left with feeling less than good. Then it can become an endless rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows – which, when I step back and look at it, I don’t want for my body or my brain.
So, though I know I won’t give up chocolate forever, I definitely will do my body and brain a favor and make sure to keep my brain fueled with healthy complex carbohydrates like those listed above.