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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


Does eating sugar impact your cognitive health?

Glucose is a multifunctional molecule that plays several roles in the human body, and is your main source of energy. Although most tissues can use alternative sources of energy (proteins and fats), the brain and blood cells rely solely on glucose. 

Glucose comes from both simple and complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made up of three components: fiber, starch, and sugar. Fiber and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb. While some simple sugars occur naturally in foods such as milk, most of the simple carbs in our diet have been added to the foods.

Everything we eat has a different composition of carbohydrates, so they all affect the body and blood glucose (blood sugar) in a different way. Scientists have come up with a classification that measures the impact of different foods on the body and blood sugar, called “glycemic load”. The glycemic load of food takes into consideration the glycemic index (which indicates how a particular food affects blood sugar (glucose) levels), and the food portion for a final impact on the blood glucose response. A low glycemic diet includes lots of complex carbs and fewer simple carbs.

What’s the difference between glycemic load and glycemic index?
The glycemic index only indicates how rapidly a carb can be digested and released as glucose in the bloodstream. The glycemic load, however, measures the glycemic index as well as the amount of carbohydrate in a food. This makes the glycemic load a more accurate indicator of how much impact a food will have on blood glucose levels.
For more information about the glycemic index and glycemic load in common foods please click here. 

According to experts, the main benefit of following a low glycemic load diet is to reduce your cardio metabolic risk. It is been proven that following a low glycemic diet helps stabilize the appetite and energy levels, it may help to maintain consistent blood sugar levels by preventing sugar spikes. It can also reduce the risk of insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes, and heart disease risk. Low glycemic load foods contain complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest, resulting in a gradual rise of blood glucose levels, aiding in the regulation of blood glucose at the gut level.

The benefits of following a low glycemic diet go even further. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2017 found that adherence to a low glycemic load diet was associated with better cognition, while poor glucose control with a high glycemic load diet in older adults may be associated with greater cerebral amyloid burden, poor cognitive function, and subsequent risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This research pointed out that diet can be a potential modifiable behavior to improve cerebral and cognition health.

According to the Low Glycemic Foundation, the ideal meal includes half of the plate filled with vegetables or salad, a quarter lean protein and a quarter low-GI carbohydrates. If you choose low-GI foods, at least one at each meal, you may keep your blood glucose under control while eating a right balanced of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

- Vegetables or Salad: Aim to eat at least five servings of vegetables every day, preferably with three or more different colors. Try to choose non-starch vegetables.

- Protein: Good sources include lean meat, skinless chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, legumes and tofu. Aim for between 65-100 grams.

- Low-GI Carbs: Try pasta (cooked ‘al dente’), oatmeal, low-GI rice, pearl couscous, soba noodles, or quinoa.

From the Low Glycemic Foundation:


• 2 Poached eggs with slow roasted tomatoes and authentic sourdough toast

• Fresh blueberries


• Toasted Helga’s Lower-Carb bread with a slice of roast beef, hummus and tabbouli

• Cup of cut kiwi fruit and strawberries


• Grilled fish fillet or basted chicken breast served with sweet potato

• Grilled non-starch vegetables (broccoli, squash, red onion, yellow and red bell pepper, snow peas, etc.)

For more ideas and low glycemic load recipes, visit the American Diabetes Association website.


The Recipe of the Week: Fennel-Lemon Flounder

2 cups carrots, julienned
1 small red onion, julienned
2 cups fennel bulb, julienned
2 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 flounder fillets
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
4 tablespoons butter
8 lemon slices, seeds removed
4 large squares of parchment paper
Fresh fennel leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°. Sauté carrots, onion, fennel bulb, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in a medium pan on high heat for about five minutes. Arrange the vegetables on each parchment paper square, dividing evenly. Place the fish fillet on top of the vegetables and season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine lemon juice, white wine, fennel seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mixture evenly over the fillets. Place 1 tablespoon butter and two lemon slices on top of each fish. Fold parchment over the fish, then roll and crimp the edges together tightly. Place the packages on a large baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked (cooking times may vary according to fillet size). Transfer packages to individual plates, open and decorate with the freshly chopped fennel. Serve over quinoa.

*You can find this recipe and more online from Edible Northeast Florida Magazine

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