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Food For The Brain

Food For The BrainHave you ever wondered why you experience a “food coma” after certain foods you eat? Have you ever felt really energized? Have you ever felt de-energised or sluggish an hour or so after treating yourself to a chocolate bar or something sweet like a soda drink? Have you noticed that sometimes caffeine has little or no effect on your state of mind at certain times during the day? Food For The Brain will answer a few of your questions. 

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat” – this is true for our brain health as much as it is for the rest of our body and vital organs. When we understand which foods maximise the performance of our brain, and we adjust our diet accordingly, we notice a significant boost in our focus and productivity.

Let’s start with our brain energy.

The key fuel for our brain comes from glucose. In fact, it is the only fuel normally used by brain cells. Glucose is a form of sugar that travels around your bloodstream to feed the mitochondrial furnaces that are responsible for your brain power. Since neurons are not capable of storing glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply of glucose.

Where does Glucose come from? 

Glucose comes from carbohydrates (carbs). It’s therefore really important to consume the starches and sugars found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Dairy products also contain significant amounts of carbs. (On a side note, have you ever heard of diets that completely cut out or minimise carbohydrates? Can you imagine the effect this has on your brain? Just thought I’d put it out there.)

The interesting point about carbs, is that eating the wrong types can actually be harmful to your brain. Too much sugar or refined (simple) carbs at one time can actually deprive your brain of glucose – its key fuel. When this happens, the energy supplied to your brain is reduced substantially and this compromises your brain’s ability to concentrate, focus, remember, and learn. A lot of energy is required for mental activities.

Complex versus Simple Carbs

Without getting too technical, complex carbohydrates comprise a slow and steady release of sugar whereas simple carbohydrates are more like an injection of sugar. Who cares? What does this mean for your brain?!

When refined carbs are digested, or a sugary snack or soft drink, they quickly raise your blood sugar levels and give you a boost, but this is short-lived – much like the effects of caffeine. When you eat something with a high sugar content your pancreas starts to secrete the hormone, insulin. This insulin secretion triggers cells throughout your whole body to extract the excess glucose out of your bloodstream and store it for later use. What ensues then, is the glucose available to your brain is reduced significantly and the neurons are deprived of their key fuel and experience an energy crisis. A few hours later, you feel spaced-out, weak, confused, and/or nervous. Your ability to think, focus and concentrate suffers. Glucose deficiency is called hypoglycemia, and in extreme cases this can lead to unconsciousness! Woah there Lesley.

Just in case I haven’t scared you enough, when the bloodstream is repeatedly overloaded with sugar this can diminish the body’s ability to respond to insulin and this can cause type 2 diabetes. This also affects the brain because diabetes causes arteries to narrow and the brain becomes more susceptible to gradual damage.

So when you consume carbs, think about what you’re eating. The safest bet is to stick to as close to natural and organic as possible. Don’t buy anything white – that’s refined and has little or no nutritional value – as well as having the negative effects we just spoke about. So that goes for bread, pasta and rice.

Vegetables are in general a great source of complex carbs. I say in general, as their quality differs according to their glycemic index (GI). If you’re not familiar with the GI it was developed to help those who suffer from diabetes to regulate blood sugar levels. In short, the lower the number, the lower the blood sugar swing, and the higher the number, the higher the blood sugar swing. Sweet potatoes, for example, have a lower GI than normal potatoes so would be the preferred option to encourage a slow release of glucose to the brain.

Vegetables are high in water, low in fat, have multiple vitamins and minerals, and most varieties are complex carbs. Examples include broccoli, cabbage, spinach, cauliflower, eggplant, turnip greens, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, lettuce, celery, cucumbers, artichokes, asparagus etc.

Legumes are often referred to as pulses. They are characterized by seeds that have an exterior pod surrounding them – typically beans. Examples are lentils, kidney beans, black beans, peas, garbanzo beans, soy beans and pinto beans.

The topic of carbs could go on for hours. Rather than do that right now, let’s take a look at another key component of nutrition that is essential for your brain.

Healthy Fats

Healthy Fats

Source: Womenshealthmag.com

Around two thirds of the brain is composed of fats. In order to produce brain cells, the brain needs fatty acids from healthy fats. Fatty acids form the membranes surrounding brain cells, through which oxygen, glucose and antioxidants pass in and metabolic waste passes out. Fatty acids are the basic component of dietary fats. The fatty acids are comprised of Omega-3 ALA fatty acid and Omega-6 LA fatty acid. The interesting and poignant point about this, is that the body cannot produce these fatty acids. Because of this, they are called Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs – meaning, it’s essential that you consume them as your body cannot make them!

As well as essential fatty acids being necessary for maximum brain power and the promotion of normal brain growth and development, they also have anti-inflammatory properties that help to prevent strokes, improve circulation and lift your mood and prevent depression.

Research has also shown that eating foods rich in Omega Fatty Acids can reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease, too. These fatty acids also help boost memory and your ability to learn new things!

Foods richest in Omega-3 are flaxseed seeds and flaxseed oil, cold water fish – salmon is most potent and leafy green vegetables.

Foods rich in Omega-6 are meat, eggs and dairy.

Avocados  are rich in good fat and vitamin E, while whole and sprouted grains are rich in fibre. Both are good for your circulatory system. And what’s good for your blood flow, is great for your brain.

Other sources of good Omega fatty Acids are marine plants, such as blue-green algae , and nut or seed oils. All nuts, particularly walnuts are great “brain foods” because they keep your arteries clear and boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls sleep, depression, memory, and other neurological processes.

So that’s carbs and fats. What else does your brain need?

Well, the brain relies heavily on antioxidants to protect it from damage and impaired function. Interestingly, oxygen can be both necessary and detrimental to brain health so oxygen balance is vital. The damaging forms of oxygen are called free radicals. These damage brains sells through a process called oxidation. Antioxidants neutralise these free radicals before they can cause damage – and they’re found abundantly in fruits and vegetables.

Research suggests that diets rich in berries reduce, or even reverse, declining brain function.

Blueberries, in particular, have been shown to have the ability to improve memory and keep your brain “young.” They can also help you improve your balance and coordination.
Berries are rich in antioxidants which protect your brain cells from oxidation and free radical damage. This means antioxidants may slow down brain aging and prevent disease, while promoting the growth of healthy brain cells.

Here’s a list of the healthiest berries rich in antioxidants

  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Red grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Gogi Berries
  • Mulberries
  • Boysenberries

I hope you enjoyed this summary which I have tried to keep brief – but as you can see, it really isn’t that brief! If you’d like to learn more about how to boost your productivity by consuming the right types of food, then ‘Ambrosia’ forms a module in Procrastination To Profit.

 

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  1. […] to the post on Monday called Food For the Brain, here’s a video explaining a few more top brain foods. Our brains are affected by what we eat […]

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