Trick or treat?

Last week I flew to Melbourne to speak at the National Dementia Conference. The first thing I saw at the airport when I stepped off the plane was a billboard for ‘The Brain Drink’ pictured above. I immediately went to the kiosk to read the ingredients (also pictured above). I was appalled.

My eye was immediately drawn to 14.8 grams of sugar, which is more than three and a half teaspoons. NO sugar-containing beverages are healthy for our brain, regardless of the source of the sugar — in this case, blackberry and apple juice. And in case this didn’t make the drink sweet enough, it also contains two sweeteners: organic erythritol (the fact that it is organic is irrelevant) and steviol glycosides.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation advised against the use of artificial sweeteners such as steviol glycosides (which are classified as modified non-nutritive sweeteners) because they do not help with weight control and may lead to type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes doubles the risk of developing dementia.

Meanwhile, erythritol has been found to promote blood clot formation and is linked to higher rates of heart attacks and strokes. What’s bad for the heart is bad for the brain.

But let’s get back to the biggest bullet to our brain: sugar.

Table sugar, known as sucrose, is is made up of two smaller molecules (monosaccharides) called fructose and glucose.

When brain cells metabolise (break down) fructose, it sets off a series of chemical reactions resulting in a drop in brain cell energy, increased inflammation, oxidative stress and damage to vital organelles inside our cells called mitochondria. All these processes are features of Alzheimer’s. In addition, fructose causes us to become resistant to the satiety hormone, leptin, which drives overeating and visceral obesity. When rats are fed fructose, their memory declines and they perform worse in maze tests than rats not given fructose. Fructose frazzles our brain.

Glucose, on other hand, provides brain cells with energy. However, too much glucose leads to insulin resistance which leads to type 2 diabetes, abdominal obesity, heart disease and many of the diseases of modern life. In addition, excess glucose can be converted to fructose with all the aforementioned toxic effects on our brain.

But doesn’t fruit in its natural state also contain fructose? And don’t vegetables contain glucose? Yes and yes. Eating WHOLE fruit and vegetables is not a problem because they contain fibre and water to reduce the speed and amount of fructose and glucose we absorb from them. If you enjoy fruit, eat it, don’t drink it. Likewise, avoid dried fruit because removing water turns the fruit into concentrated sugar. The absence of water also makes dried fruit much less satiating than whole fruit, and people inevitably consume much larger quantities of dried products. How many grapes or apricots could you eat in one sitting compared with sultanas or dried apricots? Some packaged dried fruits also contain added sugar or vegetable oils, further adding to their harm.

The reason that beverages containing sugar are the most damaging of all sugary foods is that liquids deliver a large hit of sugar in the shortest space of time. Of course, soft drinks (with about 10 teaspoons of sugar per 375mL can) are worse than ‘The Brain Drink’, but to imply that a beverage with three and a half teaspoons of sugar is beneficial for our brain is outright false.

On their website, the basis for calling it ‘The Brain Drink’ comes from three ingredients: blackcurrant, pine bark extract and L-theanine (green tea extract). While these components contain antioxidants and polyphenols, it does NOT negate the sugar, artificial sweeteners and natural flavours (whatever ‘natural flavours’ means). You’d be far better off simply eating a punnet of fresh berries or drinking unadulterated green tea.

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the name ‘The Brain Drink’? Perhaps the makers of ‘The Brain Drink’ are not suggesting that the drink is healthy — after all, they have not called it The Healthy Brain Drink. Perhaps the goal is to give us a mental workout in figuring out what it means: healthy or unhealthy brain drink? This is the only explanation I can come up with to justify the name ‘The Brain Drink’. I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

Please forward this Health-e-Byte to EVERYONE because people deserve to make informed choices about what they consume.

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