The term brain foods might seem to be the same on first reading however we’ve all heard that eating more fish will make you brainier and other such claims. This may seem like an old wives’ tale (or old husband’s tale) but there are some real benefits to including certain foods in your diet that will really improve your cognitive abilities.
It is true that no foods will turn you into a genius but certain foods will help to improve your brain health especially if your diet doesn’t already contain them. The science behind helpful brain foods is still fairly new, but the evidence is looking good. The brain just like any other part of the human body is an organism that needs certain nutrients to operate properly.
Many foods can interact with the brain, but scientific research currently suggests that four different types of chemicals and nutrients available in foods do so in a positive way. So, what do clever people eat, and can you really improve your brainpower by adding certain foods to your diet? Can eating well really give you a better life?
First up: what makes a brain food.
Your brain requires a mix of nutrients to ensure it is functioning efficiently.
Amino Acids: The Amino acids help to connect the brains neurotransmitters that keep your brain sharp.
Neuro transmitters contain:
Antioxidants: Oxidative stress destroys brain cells and is caused by the body converting glucose to energy. This conversion causes an overproduction of oxygen that is more commonly known as free radicals. Antioxidants can be used to block these free radicals so your brain doesn’t have to work as hard.
Fatty Acids: Polyunsaturated fatty acids help to improve and strengthen the synapses that relate to memory. The most well-known types are known as omega-3 and omega-6.
Glucose: Most of the energy the brain uses is taken from Glucose. Glucose is the fuel the brain needs and it is converted from fats and sugars. This is one of the reasons that when you’re hungry the brain tells you to eat a fatty, sugary doughnut. The brain wants energy from glucose and doesn’t care how it gets it! Obviously, an unregulated diet of doughnuts is going to impact badly on the rest of your body!
So what are the top 5 brain foods we can eat to improve our mental abilities?
It is better to look at food groups rather than any one so called miracle food for the best results. Here are five easy tips to help.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, so the foods with the highest amount of amino acids are those that are highest in protein. Animal based foods have all 20 amino acids in them of which 9 cannot be created in the body. Most plant based alternatives are low in one or more essential amino acids.
Good high protein brain foods include;
When the body produces more glucose it also creates extra oxygen, more commonly known as free radical molecules. Antioxidants block these free radicals so your brain doesn’t have to work as hard. Free radicals are thought to be a factor in ageing and certain illnesses through cell damage.
Good antioxidant rich brain foods include;
Polyunsaturated fatty acids help to improve and strengthen the synapses that relate to memory.
Good sources of fatty acids include;
Nuts are one of the most balanced foods on the planet. They offer a good dose of “healthy” fats along with a smaller amount of protein and carbohydrates. Walnuts are the highest in plant omega-3s, for example, while Brazil nuts are best for selenium.
As Leigh Gibson of Roehampton University said, more recently evolved areas of the brain, such as the frontal cortex are particularly sensitive to falling glucose levels, “When your glucose level drops, the symptom is confused thinking.”
In today’s world of easily available and cheap food we tend to indulge this in over large amounts, which can lead to a spike in glucose uptake. This gives you a sometimes needed large dose of glucose, followed by a quick decline that can cause tiredness and irritation.
However, there are well known health concerns with fats and sugars that should not be underestimated. Problems can start with large sugar and fat intakes found in many fast foods causing blood sugar spikes. This can cause many problems if not monitored and has to be carefully regulated in the care of diabetes.
The gylcemic index ranks foodstuffs according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Pretzels are high on the index, because they cause blood sugar to rise very quickly. Raw carrots, by comparison, have a low gylcemic ranking.
Carbohydrates in lower gylcemic food are broken into glucose molecules more slowly, thereby providing a steadier supply of energy to the brain. Low GI meals also have the ability to best satiate hunger as well.
Ideally a regular intake of glucose will help the brain function properly, so it should be added in small doses regularly through the day.
Glucose is a simple sugar and an important energy source for our body. Most complex sugars and carbohydrates get broken down into glucose, so it is not necessary to consume glucose directly.
Good sources of glucose include;
Fruit Juice per 16oz serving
Sweeteners High in Glucose (grams per tablespoon)
Energy and Cereal Bars
Although water is not technically a food, it is so important to brain health we had to mention it. This is because, one very common problem that is often ignored is dehydration.
Just as the mind and body need all of the above nutrients, it always needs water.
Dehydration will quickly dull the brain and body causing irritation and tiredness that is sometimes mistaken for hunger.
Drinking a glass of water regularly is an easy remedy for dehydration problems, plus you can always infuse it with fruit for a less bland taste.
The brain needs Goldilocks sized portions of energy: not too much, not too little. It is best with brain health to have a little of what it needs often, and not to starve it of the chemicals it needs.
To optimise brain power, Michael Green of Aston University in England suggests one tactic would be “more frequent but smaller meals.” The brain works best with about 25 grams of glucose circulating in the blood stream – about the amount found in a banana.
By combining some of these foods in our diet and keeping hydrated, we can help our bodies and brain enjoy better health with less fatigue. It seems that when it comes to feeding our brains, we really are what we eat.
This means that a good balanced diet mixed with exercise is one of the best ways to achieve health for both your mind and your body.