Sugar – the short term solution to mental alertness
When I was in high school, I swore by having a banana or a small chocolate bar before every exam. More often than not, chocolate was my preferred choice. I’d sleep in, skip breakfast and have a sweet treat right before the exam to wake me up and give me the brain power necessary to get through the exam. Then afterwards I’d feel exhausted and zombie like for the rest of the school day.
10 years on and a couple of nutrition degrees later, I’ve replaced chocolate for coffee and exams for business meeting and client consultations, but I now understand why that sugar kick actually worked perfectly for getting me through those exams.
For a quick pick me up, simple sugars (like those found in chocolate) work a treat. Simple sugars are refined, processed sugar products like the sugar you add to your coffee, the sugar found in juices, soft drinks and confectionery. Your body easily converts simple sugar into glucose (read ‘brain fuel’) from the moment it hits your lips (yes that’s right, digestion of sugars starts in the mouth!). So if you’re pressed for time and need a quick energy boost a glass of fruit juice or a can of cola will enhance your memory, thinking processes and mental ability in the short term. But be warned, what goes up must come down, and unlike the long lasting energy boosting effects of a healthy meal, this ‘sugar high’ will quickly dissipate often leaving you even less alert, so use it cautiously and sparingly. In the long term, a good night’s sleep and eating regular healthy meals is the best way to ensure that you are always functioning at your best.
So knowing what I now know about sugar, would I have still skipped breakfast & had chocolate instead? I wouldn’t do it now, but who knows what the rebellious teen me would have done!