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Even though your brain represents just 2% of your body weight, it receives a massive 20-25% of your energy. (1) This is more than any other organ in the human body. (2) The energy that the brain uses comes in the form of glucose—a very simple sugar molecule.
While many students use sugar to sustain their energy, research shows that sugar doesn’t do anything sweet for your memory, your ability to focus, or your attention to detail.
Studies show that too much sugar hurts academic performance. Too much sugar can also make you more susceptible to sadness and anxiety. (3)
High Blood Sugar Weakens Memory and Concentration
Across all age groups, high blood sugar is bad news.
If you're hitting the books hard, sugar may be the last thing you need. Sugary foods with a high glycemic index are toxic to the brain and can affect memory and concentration.
For example, research published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology shows that children who drink sugary drinks are more likely to:
- Perform poorly on tests
- Demonstrate “inappropriate” behavior during free play (4)
And while research agrees that sugar is needed as a source of fuel, studies also point out that how sugar enters the body is equally important.
Refined, sweet foods with added sugars have a high glycemic index—and they are toxic to your brain. These foods dump a large amount of sugar into your bloodstream all at once.
Naturally sweet foods—such as starchy vegetables or grain-like seeds—have a low glycemic index. In other words, these foods release sugar at a slow and steady rate.
A study published in Psychopharmacology showed that the verbal memory in undergraduate students was worse after a high glycemic breakfast. Whereas breakfast that included low glycemic foods meant better cognitive performance later in the day. (5)
Other research with older populations shows that poor blood sugar regulation is associated with:
- Decreased mental performance
- Poor memory
- Atrophy of areas in the brain that are key for learning and memory (6)
Do You Have a Sweet Tooth and a Puffy Tongue?
Are the edges of your tongue scalloped? Does it look like your teeth have left little marks along the sides of your tongue?
If so, it’s important to understand that not everyone’s tongue looks like yours. And in Chinese medicine, this means something.
A puffy, or swollen, tongue with teeth marks along the sides indicates a weakness in the Earth element (and more specifically, the energy running through the Chinese Spleen meridian), which controls digestion. The flavor of the Earth element is sweet. And the emotion associated with the Earth element is thought—or brooding.
When you spend a lot of time studying or in mental concentration, you use up Earth energy. As a student, you are almost guaranteed to have an imbalance in the Earth element.
If your Earth element is out of balance, you may have a sweet tooth and a puffy tongue. This means that you will easily fall prey to cravings for sweets, and you will also have an element of dampness in the body.
This can show up as:
- Sluggishness in the morning
- Brain fog
- Congested sinuses
- Cystic acne
- Sticky or loose bowel movements
- Excess body weight
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
If this sounds like you, diet is especially important. According to Chinese medicine, you should avoid sweet foods and refined grains if your Earth element is weak. This even includes fruit juices, which many people believe are healthy. Cold, raw foods can also damage the Earth element and can be difficult to digest—unless they are fermented veggies.
If you drink dairy, watch out! All dairy can generate dampness in the body—but cow dairy is the worst. If you enjoy dairy foods, it is best to drink goat or sheep dairy kefir.
Starchy vegetables—which are naturally sweet—strengthen the Earth element. Foods that bring the Earth element back into balance are yams, carrots, winter squash, and beets. These slightly sweet vegetables should all be steamed or roasted.
A protein-rich breakfast that includes a grain-like seed, such as quinoa, can nourish and repair the Earth element.
Stevia May Help You Regulate Blood Sugar
Stevia is a small shrub that has been used for centuries as a natural sweetener and as medicine. (7) Extracts of stevia are over 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Because of this, stevia is most known for its ability to sweeten foods—without the added sugar or the added calories.
One study demonstrated that stevia may increase glucose tolerance—meaning, stevia may help the body manage high levels of blood sugar. (8) Recent research has confirmed that stevia may be beneficial for people who have lost their ability to regulate blood sugar—namely, pre-diabetics and those with type 2 diabetes. (9)(10)
As it turns out, stevia contains a chemical called stevioside. (11) Stevioside is what makes stevia leaf sweet. It also directly influences the release of insulin, a hormone that helps your cells use glucose for energy. (12)
In order to have an edge in the classroom or the office, maintaining balanced blood sugar is a must!
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Reaching for a sweet treat or soft drink may be your go-to when studying for an exam or prepping for a meeting at work. But did you know that too much sugar has been linked with decreased memory, focus, and attention to detail? Excess sugar can also trigger sadness and anxiety.
Yes, the body needs sugar for fuel, but sugary foods with a high glycemic index will prove toxic to your brain. Low glycemic foods are recommended, like grain-like seeds and starchy vegetables.
If you take a closer look and realize that your tongue is puffy, it can indicate a weakness in the Earth element associated with digestion—according to Chinese medicine. When the Earth element is out of balance, it may show up as a sweet tooth and puffy tongue, as well as brain fog, acne, weight gain, and even type 2 diabetes.
Try avoiding sweet foods to strengthen your Earth element and improve memory and focus. Eat fermented veggies, choose goat or sheep dairy kefir instead of cow dairy, and integrate more starchy vegetables in each meal to see a difference in your mental performance. If you just can't kick the sweet tooth, try stevia instead, known to be 300 times sweeter than table sugar!
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- Brady, S., Siegel, G., Albers, R. W., & Price, D. (Eds.). (2005). Basic neurochemistry: molecular, cellular and medical aspects. Academic Press. pp. 637–670.
- Swaminathan, N. (2008). Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power. Scientific American.
- Sommerfield, A. J., Deary, I. J., & Frier, B. M. (2004). Acute hyperglycemia alters mood state and impairs cognitive performance in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 27(10), 2335-2340.
- Goldman, J. A., Lerman, R. H., Contois, J. H., & Udall Jr, J. N. (1986). Behavioral effects of sucrose on preschool children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14(4), 565-577.
- Benton, D., Ruffin, M. P., Lassel, T., Nabb, S., Messaoudi, M., Vinoy, S., ... & Lang, V. (2003). The delivery rate of dietary carbohydrates affects cognitive performance in both rats and humans. Psychopharmacology, 166(1), 86-90.
- Convit, A., Wolf, O. T., Tarshish, C., & de Leon, M. J. (2003). Reduced glucose tolerance is associated with poor memory performance and hippocampal atrophy among normal elderly. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(4), 2019-2022.
- Goyal, S. K., & Goyal, R. K. (2010). Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio-sweetener: a review.
- Curi, R., Alvarez, M., Bazotte, R. B., Botion, L. M., Godoy, J. L., & Bracht, A. (1986). Effect of Stevia rebaudiana on glucose tolerance in normal adult humans. Brazilian journal of medical and biological research= Revista brasileira de pesquisas médicas e biológicas/Sociedade Brasileira de Biofísica...[et al.], 19(6), 771.
- Shivanna, N., Naika, M., Khanum, F., & Kaul, V. K. (2012). Antioxidant, anti-diabetic and renal protective properties of Stevia rebaudiana. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications.
- Anton, S. D., Martin, C. K., Han, H., Coulon, S., Cefalu, W. T., Geiselman, P., & Williamson, D. A. (2010). Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite, 55(1), 37-43.
- Geuns, J. (2003). Stevioside. Phytochemistry, 64(5), 913-921.
- Jeppesen, P. B., Gregersen, S., Poulsen, C. R., & Hermansen, K. (2000). Stevioside acts directly on pancreatic β cells to secrete insulin: Actions independent of cyclic adenosine monophosphate and adenosine triphosphate—sensitivie K+-channel activity. Metabolism, 49(2), 208-214.
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