"Oh, Sugar, Sugar": A Sweet Way to Help Your Tired Brain

Time to take a break from pop culture snarkiness and look, instead, at the well-being of real people… with brains.

By , Columnist

I’m betting you’ve been here before: you’ve had people hounding you for your opinion all day, and each decision - despite being well within your skill set - starts to seem harder than the next. You get up, walk around, roll your shoulders a few times, and find yourself craving, yet again, something sweet. You give in and chow down on a few pieces of chocolate, grab some Sour Patch Kids, or munch on an apple, and within a few minutes, your thinking seems to get a little clearer and less labored.

Miracle, right? Nah, apparently it’s just science.

While the diet-conscious among us know that staying healthy usually means nixing the simple carbs (e.g. sugar), a conglomeration of studies featured recently in the New York Times says your waistline might thank you for that more than your brain, especially after your noggin’s had a hard workout.

The study in question initially began by trying to analyze a phenomenon termed “decision fatigue” or “ego depletion” - that miserable fuzziness you get after making a crap ton of choices or having to maintain willpower over a prolonged period of time. What researchers discovered was that bursts of glucose after your brain is completely exhausted act as a pick-me-up and allow you to keep functioning at a high level. This is probably why when you’re tired, you tend to crave sugary foods - your body’s looking for a quick way to refuel its drained energy stores.

Unfortunately, while this helps you in the short-term, long-term you’re better off feeding a high-performing brain the same way you do a high-performing body - through a moderate, balanced approach.

If you find yourself needing a pick-me-up:

Sugar cravers: Keep a little bag of candy, a mini chocolate bar, or some other small portion of sugar-rich food in your desk drawer. When you start getting fuzzy, pop a couple, take a walk, and re-center yourself.

Food cravers, in general: Stick a piece of fruit in your purse as you’re walking out the door in the morning. The wonderful thing about fruit is that it’s not empty, like candy. Rather, it contains a nice burst of glucose in addition to vitamins, minerals, fiber, and all kinds of other great things. If fruit’s not in season, look to things like energy bars with moderate simple carb content and other good nutritional stats.  

‘Til then:

Maintain a balanced diet. Too much emphasis on one type of food is never healthy. Instead, make a point of including all types of foods - proteins, complex carbs, simple carbs, etc. - in your daily intake. Simple carbs will give you a quick boost, while complex carbs and protein take longer to process and will keep giving your body (and mind!) the energy they need long after you put your lunchbox away.

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Emmie Scott is an English major-turned-marketing exec, with a passion for writing, humor, sharing knowledge, and "pink drinks." After hours, she started Are Toe Rings Professional Attire?, a blog for college grads and twenty-somethings looking to find their way through that daunting labyrinth called…

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