Brain Food

You would be surprised to discover how greatly mood motivation and mental performance are influenced by diet. And what if I was to tell you that the right food could produce neurotransmitters that aid in concentration, maintaining motivation, magnify memory, sharpen attention, reduce stress and improve sleep? 

Your brain although only accounting for 2% of body weight, consumes a greedy 20% of your daily energy intake. And with this required quantity of energy, it also demands quality.

Being a fussy eater, the brain demands a constant supply of glucose (sugar) to function. When glucose levels drop, thinking deteriorates so it is important when you are studying or working to snack throughout the day to maintain blood glucose levels. 

I want to be careful with the message I am conveying here. Glucose/Sugar is important but this doesn’t mean I recommend high sugar snacks like soft drinks, lollies and chocolates. In fact studies have proven that high blood sugar combined with a cognitive task is associated with elevated cortisol, which in high doses can impair memory. So what is your solution? Go for foods with a low glycaemic index!

Foods of a low glycaemic index (GI) take longer to be broken down in the body and create a slower rise in blood sugar levels. These foods will sustain energy and concentration levels and satiate your hunger preventing overeating and naughty food binges. Some examples of foods with a low GI are dairy products, grainy breads, cereals and crackers, most fruits, beans, nuts and lentils.

Different intakes of fat can also influence brain cognition. Saturated fats found in take away and fried foods, biscuits, cakes, butter, full cream dairy and in regular mince or chicken skin are prime offenders. But the news isn’t all terrible when it comes to fat.,. after all it is an essential nutrient to for body function. 

Unsaturated fats such as Omega 3’s are an important fat found in oily fish such as tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines as well as walnuts, soy, linseed, canola oil or spread. As well as being viable nutrients that provide positive effects in relation reducing the risk of heart disease, treating depression and joint pain, omega 3’s have also proven to increase brain volume, reduce aging and improve cognition. 

Other foods such as avocado containing unsaturated fats are also of benefit to brain function. These fats help to maximise brain blood flow (oxygen and nutrient delivery) by keeping blood vessels clear of plaques. Avocados also contain folate. Studies have proven folic acid to help maintain sharp brain function and memory.

Another brain booster that has recently spotlighted in the media is a B-Vitamin called choline, a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Choline supplementation has been shown both enhance memory as well as minimize fatigue and can be found in soybeans, egg yolk, lentils, oats butter, peanuts, potatoes, cauliflower, sesame seeds and flax seeds.

Water is another valuable consideration. With nearly ¾ of the brain being water when we are dehydrated the brain releases a hormone called cortisol, which shrinks dendrites in the brain. Dendrites are branched projections of neurons in the brain that transmit information to other neural cells.  Make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to keep your brain circuits sharp.

Seems like we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the potential of diet to influence brain function. And we haven’t even touched on super foods yet! But I will give you a snippet. Research from the United States published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that blueberry extract can improve short-term memory loss. 

About time you went to see your Dietitian for more information? Do it!

BBC, 10 Foods To Boost Brain Power, accessed online (8/5/12) via BBC Good Food,http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/content/wellbeing/features/boost-brainpower/1/ 

Nixon, Robin, Brain Food: How To Eat Smart, accessed online (8/5/12) via Live Science,http://www.livescience.com/3186-brain-food-eat-smart.html (Updated 2009)

Marano, Hara. What Is Good Brain Food?, accessed online (10/5/12) via Psychology Today,http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/what-is-good-brain-food (Updated 2003)