Coffee, chocolate, sugar – friends or foes?

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you if you are healthy” – this is how you can paraphrase a well-known phrase, and it will not be an exaggeration. Nutrition directly affects our health and brain function as well. The book “Brain Biohacking” contains descriptions of useful and harmful products. Let’s talk about coffee and chocolate – delicious treats with which it is customary to pamper yourself in the morning or when sad. We will also answer the question: does our brain need sugar or not?


Coffee is the king of polyphenols (plant compounds needed for the survival of new neurons). But besides the fact that coffee is very, very rich in them, it contains more than a thousand different compounds that improve the functioning of cells. The polyphenols in coffee regulate switches that control certain genes, including one that signals the cell to divide or die. Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, which reduces chronic inflammation, especially in high-fat cells such as brain cells. This is one of the reasons (and there are dozens more) why coffee improves perception.

Do not forget that additives in the form of sugar, flavorings significantly increase the calorie content of the drink. A source

The best example of how coffee helps to pump the brain is that it prolongs life. A large study has shown that there is a relationship between longevity and coffee consumption. The more coffee the study participants drank during their lifetime, the less likely they were to die early. Indeed, regular coffee consumption lowers the risk of dying from a number of common diseases, including heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. Moreover, in women, this effect is about 30 percent more pronounced than in men. Perhaps because some ovarian cells contain tens of times more mitochondria than brain cells.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate (at least 85 percent) is rich in polyphenols and contains a small amount of caffeine, which improves your performance. However, care should be taken when choosing chocolate products because, like coffee, many types of chocolate contain mold toxins that actually impair mitochondrial function. All chocolate is produced by fermentation, and 64 percent of the microbes used can also produce harmful toxins. Chocolate produced in Europe usually contains fewer toxins because its production is regulated by stricter standards.

What gives us strength?

Brain activity requires continuous energizing for the electrical impulses that neurons need to produce neurotransmitters and communicate with each other. This incredible process requires a tremendous amount of energy.

One of the first questions that nutritionists are looking for an answer in the fight for a healthy diet is: “What gives us strength?” The obvious answer is carbohydrates. There are different types of carbohydrates, both in terms of their chemical composition and their ability to supply us with energy. There are fast carbohydrates – simple sugars found, for example, in honey. And then there are complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest, which provide the body with energy for a long time, such as whole wheat or brown rice.

Brain activity requires continuous energizing for electrical impulses
A source

In the beginning, nutritionists argued that the body gets its energy from simple carbohydrates. And the brain, from their point of view, needed it more than other organs. We come to an important distinction between the brain and the body. The body can extract energy from both fat and sugar, but the brain only needs glucose for this. Before you sound the alarm (sugar!), Understand that there is nothing strange about this. In general, our body is a machine that runs on sugar: glucose is its main fuel and the fastest way to get energy. Every time you eat foods that are naturally high in carbohydrates, they are immediately converted to glucose. It is absorbed into the bloodstream, which carries it throughout the body, providing energy for metabolism. Glucose easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to feed the billions of our brain’s voracious cells.

So do not fall for the tricks of statistics: although carbohydrates really make up a relatively small share in the total list of substances that make up the brain, it constantly, 24 hours a day, is in the process of utilizing glucose.

And since the brain never rests, then glucose is consumed so quickly that it simply does not have the ability to store it.

Where to get glucose from? From food, of course.

From the point of view of neuronutriciology, carbohydrates such as glucose cannot be our enemies, since they are absolutely necessary for normal mental activity. The human brain is so dependent on glucose that it has even invented incredibly sophisticated ways to convert other sugars into it. For example, fructose, sugar found in fruits and honey, as well as lactose, milk sugar, are converted into glucose as soon as its level begins to decrease.

However, if you are already reaching for something sweet, take your time. Liza Mosconi, the author of Diet for the Mind, does not mean cakes and advises you not to gorge on candy when talking about carbohydrates. Although glucose is on the list of selected substances that can quickly enter the brain, its access is still limited. The blood-brain barrier has special “sugar gates” that work according to the mechanism of supply and demand: they open when the glucose level drops, and lock when it is normal. If the brain is actively working and consuming glucose, it receives it in the required amount from the bloodstream. But if the brain feels full and does not need more glucose than it has already absorbed, an extra portion of pasta or ice cream will not make it work better or worse – it will just bump into a closed door. But the likelihood that it will be deposited on your body in the form of extra pounds is quite high.

Where to get glucose from?  From food, of course.
The cakes won’t do the trick

Once in the brain, those minimal amounts of glucose that were not immediately consumed for energy are converted into a substance called glycogen and stored for future use. This is the most efficient way to store healthy calories and provide your brain with energy between meals. However, these glycogen stores are negligible. Our reserve is kept, if necessary, no more than a day.

When the intake of carbohydrates is limited (usually less than 50 g per day, which corresponds to three slices of bread), glycogen stores quickly melt, and as a result, a potential threat hangs over the brain. But, as always, our ingenious brain also has a plan B. If carbohydrate stores are depleted, plan B takes effect and the brain tells the liver to burn fat and synthesize new molecules: ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are the only alternative energy source for our brain. Although the brain can use ketones instead of glucose, this ability is the exception, not the rule. Burning ketones instead of glucose is an emergency survival mechanism invented by the body in extreme situations and during hunger. If the brain itself could ask you to feed it, it would be glucose, not ketones. More importantly, the brain cannot exist solely on these molecules. He still requires at least 30% of all energy to come to him from glucose.

Based on materials from the books “Brain Biohacking”, “Diet for the Mind”
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