Boosting Brainpower Without the Carbs

I’m a low-carb guy, thanks to my buddy Dave Asprey, who assures me of its benefits.  But one of the things that’s worried me about the diet is the role of glucose in willpower.

Baumeister’s work seemed to indicate that exercising executive function depletes levels of blood glucose–the famous example of Israeli parole boards comes to mind.  Simply drinking a sugary soda seemed to restore the executive function.

But for someone dedicated to the low-carb lifestyle, the thought of chugging a Sprite is anathema.  Even an orange juice seems like a remarkable indulgence.

Fortunately, it turns out that the brain is even stranger than we think.  It’s not the sugar in the soda…it’s the mere taste of sugar that restores our brainpower:

Crucially, half the participants completed the Stroop challenge while
gargling sugary lemonade, the others while gargling lemonade sweetened
artificially with Splenda. The participants who gargled, but did not
swallow, the sugary (i.e. glucose-containing) lemonade performed much
better on the Stroop task.

The participants in the glucose condition didn’t consume the glucose and
even if they had, there was no time for it to be metabolised. So this
effect can’t be about restoring low glucose levels. Rather, Sanders’
team think glucose binds to receptors in the mouth, which has the effect
of activating brain regions involved in reward and self-control – the
anterior cingulate cortex and striatum.

 In other words, I can chug all the soda I want, as long as I spit it out.  Now if we could only do something about the cavities that would result….

5 thoughts on “Boosting Brainpower Without the Carbs

  1. Awesome, now my soda addiction is justified.

    Along with the caffeine, it does give me a moment of clarity that I can't seem to get anywhere else (tea, coffee) so maybe that's what it was.

  2. Andy

    Why all the torture? Enjoy life. I'm 86 and never subscribed to all these diet tweaking behaviors. Remember, Atkins slipped and died. The lesson? Wear shoes that have above average traction and walk carefully.

  3. Anonymous

    Why are you low carb? If it's for staying lean, sorry!

    Gary Taubes writes that tasting sugar, even thinking about the taste of sugar (do you feel the extra saliva enter your mouth to help breakdown anticipated food?) causes the body to release insulin to bring down the blood sugar levels that the body is expecting, which will cause any calories you do ingest to be stored as fat.

    try again Harvard grad!

  4. Andy

    I think Anonymous is correct in his assessment that most folks from Harvard need to continually let people know they went there. I do know of one exception though; my cousin graduated from HBS in 2007 and has not yet felt the need to advertise it.

  5. Chris,

    Found your blog from the slideshare about Science of Human Beings and ended up here. I have been on Dave's Bulletproof diet and I can agree with the effects of high fat diet (low carbs) on the brain.



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