Sugar is the worst.
That’s what they all say, and I mostly agree with them, but for these three exceptions.
1. Consume Sugar… After Exerting Your Self-Control Or Making A Big Decision
Cutting-edge neuroscience research reveals data that makes Coca-cola rejoice.
Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, found “more or less by accident” that food increased the self-control performance of people regardless of their enjoyment of it. This established a connection between glucose and self-control, which he has now been studying for a few years.
He says, “Glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs and systems. In simple terms, glucose is fuel for the brain. Acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels. Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of lemonade, improves self-control performance.” (Source – American Psychological Association)
In other research, I found that willpower and self-control are managed by the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain in charge of inhibition and analysis. The prefrontal cortex uses up a great deal glucose to function.
“Our prefrontal cortex is a sucker for glucose.” ~ Rajita Sinha, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale
Consider the following situations in which you may have experienced glucose depletion but wrote it off as something else:
- Falling asleep as you read. This happens to me, and it’s rarely a boring book. My hypothesis: It happens because my brain snacks on glucose the whole time and when I’m low, I get tired.
- Burning out while studying. Studying requires several energy intensive thinking functions – comprehension, memorization, and conceptualization to name a few. It’s no wonder Red Bull gives so many college students wings. The glucose and caffeine in Red Bull feed the brain and stimulate it, respectively.
While this research is recent, the connection between thinking and energy depletion was first seen back in 1898, when scientist J.C. Welsh tested how thinking affected physical performance. He gave people a mental task and had them push on a dynamometer with as much force as possible (a dynamometer is a contraption which measures physical force). The results? Nearly every mental task caused weaker force results than their typical maximum strength, up to a 50% decrease. (Your Brain At Work by David Rock)
The next time you refrain from a bad habit or decide to quit your job, have a glass of lemonade to restore your glucose.
2. Consume Sugar… Before Or During A Workout
This is a more well-known usage of sugar (and carbs in general), because we still have a lot to learn about the brain.
Sugar is a fast-burning energy source that is well suited for exercise. If you eat sugar and burn it off, it’s no problem, and in cases where you’re exercising for a long period of time (i.e. a marathon), having those extra calories to burn can save you from burning off important muscle cells instead. Muscles need fuel to operate, and during intense exercise, glucose is the readily available source that the body looks for first.
It’s helpful to get some sugar in your system when you need to perform physically or mentally.
3. Consume Sugar….When You Want Something That Tastes Really Good
Preliminary results from a personal ice cream test are
delicious promising. Further testing is needed.
Conclusion And Q&A
Before you get too excited about sugar, I have some bad news.
Sugar may be a solution in these scenarios, but a healthier carbohydrate such as whole grain bread or a potato is a better idea. Healthy alternatives to sugary snacks also deliver glucose to the body and brain. In fact, just about all food is converted to glucose energy eventually, but the rate at which the body metabolizes food into glucose energy is known as the glycemic index.
Glucose is 100 on the glycemic index (highest) and sucrose is 60-80, depending on which study is accurate. A baked potato is actually higher than table sugar, because it converts to glucose almost immediately, plus it has important vitamins and minerals. The reason you’d eat sugar or a potato instead of a steak is because steak won’t raise your blood sugar levels, which is what you need to happen to replace glucose reserves quickly.
To wrap up, here’s a short Q & A about consuming bread, candy, and aspartame.
Q: Why eat a healthier option like bread if you’re just going to burn it off anyways?
A: Great question, and the the answer is that you get more nutrients and fiber from bread that benefit your body in other ways besides energy creation. If you consume sugar, candy, or soda, you get glucose without much nutrition. That’s why they call it “empty calories.”
Q: Who eats bread while running a marathon?
A: Good point. You may consume sugar in every marathon you run.
Q: How much delicious candy will one mile of walking buy me?
A: Sadly, it only buys you 20 pieces of candy corn (100 calories).
Q: What about artificial sweeteners like aspartame?
A: I stay away because I don’t trust them. Artificial sweeteners don’t give you glucose energy or nutrition because they’re not food.
Learning about the mind and body helps us make better decisions, even if it’s something as small as sipping lemonade at precisely the right time. And knowing that your brain craves sugar is key knowledge for weight loss. Not giving your body the glucose it needs now can lead to overeating and poor food choices later.
“The key seems to be eating healthy foods that maintain glucose levels,” (Rajita) Sinha said. “The brain needs its food.” (Source – Yale News)
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