Study Savvy: Your Brain on Sugar

gum drops


By: Emma Martin, Ithaca College

What is your go-to snack when cramming for a big exam? A sugared-up cup of coffee to propel you through the night? A candy bar to spike your energy? Or do you retreat to a cream-covered donut to console your misery?

As it turns out, all that sugar may be affecting your memory! A recent study published in Neurology, found “the higher a person’s blood sugar, the worse they performed on tasks measuring recall and learning ability,” according to Prevention magazine.  Elevated blood sugar levels have been shown to damage brain vessels, which results in decreased blood flow to the brain (and also blocks out the absorption of good nutrients).

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should never eat something sweet again. Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial in keeping a sharp mind. Your plate should be mostly full of protein, whole grains, and fiber to ensure your body can break down additional sweets. The occasional indulgence won’t spike your blood sugar beyond repair if your meals are balanced and in check.

A good idea? Make sure you get a solid protein (steak, chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, salmon, eggs, tuna, ect.), paired with a whole grain (whole wheat pasta, sprouted bread, brown rice, bulgar, quinoa, oatmeal), and fiber-rich veggies (squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach), and lean towards snack with higher fiber contents like nuts, seeds, fruits, etc.

And of course, you can should make informed decisions when choosing your sweeteners! A personal favorite of mine, Agave, is low in the glycemic index. It’s super sweet and tastes great in tea or oatmeal, or on a slice of toast. Most importantly, it’s absorbed slowly by the body, which means your blood levels won’t spike quite so intensely.

Utilizing natural, unrefined choices in sugar can help to prevent the side effects of memory loss. Other recommendations, as illustrated in this Well And Good NYC article include: coconut sugar, honey, and stevia.

Still, everything is fine in moderation! Having something super sweet is OK, as long as the bulk of your diet consists of healthy, nutrient rich ingredients. And, you should recognize, even consuming too much of these healthier alternatives can still yield negative results! Life is about balance.

Next time you’re trying to cram for that big exam, opt for something less likely to shock your blood sugar levels. A high-protein yogurt sprinkled with nuts, fruit, or seeds may just be the healthiest way to that A!


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