Glucose and Brain Function
Oct 12 2014

Glucose and Brain Function

By: Jhesika Menes

The mammalian brain is composed of highly adaptable and influential neural circuitry that requires and demands twice as much energy as other organs. The self-regulating stability of a biological system, known as homeostasis, is an important part of brain physiology. Metabolic pathways, neuroendocrine outputs, and hormonal rhythms are all essential variables in the stabilization of internal conditions. One of the main sources of energy for the brain is glucose, and its role in brain function is critical.


Pancreatic function is sufficient in explaining glucose homeostasis. Beta cells in the pancreas produce and store insulin until needed. The insulin hormone maintains the balance of glucose (sugar) in the body. In the alpha cells it also produces glucagon when the body needs to utilize more blood glucose for energy.  Glucagon counteracts the effects of insulin proving the two hormones must work in a partnership to maintain balance. A defective insulin secretion results in diabetes, a disease affecting 8.3% of the population in the United States. Those diagnosed with diabetes use insulin to combat the dangers of high blood sugar. High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, causes blood thickening, resulting in lower oxygen levels reaching the brain. Since glucose keeps neurotransmitters in the brain at peak levels, this in turn causes unclear thinking, weakness, and blurred vision, as well as extreme thirst and frequent urination. Major complications like blindness, kidney damage, and nerve damage can develop if left untreated.

 That said, proper bodily functions depend on a steady, quality supply of glucose. This means no skipping meals or cheap candy bar and sugary drink fixes. While it's true that a candy snack or a coffee can grant a quick high, the following low can wear on the body just as much as those high levels of blood sugar. A sugar crash occurs when glucose levels plummet, causing foggy mind, inability to focus, and sudden sleepiness. To provide a steady stream of glucose, you should eat food that slowly releases carbs into the bloodstream. 

Amino acid-rich foods like yogurt and salmon beef up neurotransmitter production, and the nutrient choline, found in soybeans and eggs, produces the beneficial neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Low levels of acetylcholine have been found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Also detrimental to brain health are free radicals, which are formed when glucose is converted to energy. Free radicals cause oxidative stress and hence destroy brain cells with which they come into contact. Antioxidant-laced foods like red berries, blueberries, nuts, dark green veggies, whole grains, beans, and teas are a fine defense. White, black, and green teas have the highest level of antioxidants. 

The myth that vegetarians are more anemic than meat eaters is laid to rest by The American Society for Clinical Nutrition author W.J. Craig, who explains, “Although the iron stores of vegetarians may be reduced, the incidence of iron-deficiency anemia in vegetarians is not significantly different from that in omnivores. Restrictive vegetarian diets, like veganism and macrobiotic, are associated with more widespread iron-deficiency anemia.” Since our bodies can turn proteins into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis, a mechanism used to prevent hypoglycemia, it is imperative for vegetarians to advance complete protein absorption via milk and eggs. Vegan substitutes for these animal products should include beans, rice, and nuts with focus on iron-rich sources of B12 and folate. 

Latin cuisine is high protein and utilizes beef, pork, and seafood in most dishes. Plantains, cousin to the banana, are a common sidecar in South American, Caribbean and Southeast Asian dishes. They are starchy and firm unlike the dessert bananas most commonly used in the States. Because of this, plantains are treated much like the potato and therefore cooked, fried, or mashed prior to consumption. They have less natural sugar than regular bananas, but the safe starch will help boost immunity with high amounts of Vitamin C. 

Maïs Arepas in Central City serves plantain chips alongside most of their Colombian Creole-flavored plates. The Choriarepa; grilled chorizo, avocado purée, melted mozzarella, and Ají Valluno, is paired with round golden discs of plantains perfect for mopping up sauce drippings. My personal favorite, the Ceviche de Camaron Valluno: Gulf shrimp, red onion, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice, just wouldn't be the same without the crunchy chips as a vehicle for scooping. Ceviche may be easy to make, but therein lies the challenge. To concoct one with creative oomph that doesn't overpower its authentic, simple sapidity es muy importante. Tacqueria Corona does not disappoint with their citrus cured fish, shrimp and clever bits of green apple, red onion, cilantro, and tomato. Beautifully presented with hand cut strips of fried tortillas, it arrives at the table like a floral bouquet. Order it with a side of Cebollitas, charbroiled green onions with seasoned salt, and you won't be disappointed.

They say, “The fancier the place, the smaller the portions,” and while my first time dining at Coquette left me to wonder if I should self-consciously sacrifice my reputation for gourmand satisfaction, I was pleasantly surprised. Thinly sliced Beef Carpaccio with thoughtful garnishes arrived tabletop followed by the Shrimp and Grits entrée of generous proportions. There was unfortunately no room for dessert afterwards! 

All this mention of proteins and vegetables doesn't mean desserts are off limits. Being smart about your choice of sweets is what's important. The Orange Couch brought an existing treat to the spotlight and gave it a cozy home. The Bywater neighborhood coffee shop boasts a variety of caffeinated delights, including Vietnamese coffee, and the popular Asian snack Mochi. The Japanese confection is made from pounded sticky rice, molded into shape then dusted with potato or cornstarch. The soft textured material becomes almost gelatinous when in contact with warm fingertips, but serves its purpose protecting a gob of cold creamy ice cream in the center. Flavors like Banana Oreo and Tiramisu provide enough taste to satiate even the biggest sweet tooth while easing the sugar-fearing eater's conscience. 


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