Is it true that sugar improves mental performance?

Until recently, the phrase was said to be true: ‘sugar improves mental performance’. But nevertheless, the latest studies call into question this claim. We know that the body itself has very effective mechanisms to supply glucose to the brain, even without consuming sugar.

The brain depends on the continuous supply of glucose from the bloodstream to maintain its activity. Therefore, it competes with the rest of the body's organs for glucose when its levels drop. If this happens, the following mechanisms occur:

  • First, blood glucose is extracted.
  • Second, the amount of glucose that the rest of the body's cells receive is limited.

On the other hand, if bloodstream glucose levels decrease due to a deficit of exogenous supply, mechanisms for obtaining this nutrient are put in place.

The main mechanism is called gluconeogenesis and consists of the formation of glucose from proteins and fatty acids. It is an effective mechanism that allows the maintenance of glycemia under fasting conditions or when a constant carbohydrate intake is not made.

Sugar consumption and memory

There are studies that associate the administration of sugar with the improvement of the functioning of short-term memory. They usually consist of the intake of a sugary drink and the results show that intense mental tasks respond well to glucose administration.

Until recently, experts argued that the brain works optimally with 25 grams of glucose circulating in the bloodstream, which is about the amount a banana contains. However, the last articles conclude that people with better glucose tolerance have better memory scores.

This situation is essential in the case of people with diabetes, situation in which an insulin resistance develops that does not allow to tolerate glycemia well. The organism, therefore, has very effective mechanisms capable of obtaining glucose from proteins and fatty acids to keep blood glucose constant. In this way, a correct supply of glucose is allowed at the brain level and the correct cognitive performance is ensured.

On the other hand, it is clear that hydration plays an important role in cognitive skills. In this way, a slightly dehydrated individual gets worse scores in terms of memory, concentration, attention, etc.

Refined sugar, worse than complex carbohydrates?

There are articles that defend that Refined sugar intake results in short-term loss of postpandial memory. In addition, these intakes have been associated with cognitive impairment and the appearance of complex diseases.

On the other hand, the incidence of ADHD is higher in those adolescents who have a high-fat diet saturated and refined sugars, with respect to those who carry out healthier diets.

Foods that increase brain performance

Although simple sugar can negatively affect cognitive functions, there are other nutrients that can improve brain function. An example is caffeine, which serves as a natural stimulant and helps boost and maintain brain health.

Nitrites present in foods such as beets increase vasodilation and, therefore, blood flow to the brain. The main consequence of this fact is the greater contribution of nutrients at the brain level and an increase in cognitive performance.

Further, Some vitamins, such as vitamin C, may have implications for performance and brain health.. This, in particular, helps prevent the deterioration that appears in people suffering from Alzheimer's.

Conclusion: does sugar improve mental performance?

Although glucose is the main fuel of the brain, an exogenous contribution of this nutrient is not necessary to ensure its proper functioning. The body has very effective glucose-obtaining mechanisms that ensure the maintenance of brain functions..

In fact, a large intake of simple sugar is associated with a worsening of cognitive functions and the development of complex diseases. Thus, and with the aim of improving brain performance, it is best to eat foods rich in caffeine and nitrites, for example.

Thus, Does sugar improve mental performance? No, quite the opposite.