For your brain to function at its best, it needs the proper fuel, just like any other machine. But what are the best brain foods? Read on for our guide.
Glucose in the bloodstream is a vital source of energy for the brain. Because it cannot be stored in the brain, the brain requires that glucose is continuously supplied from the bloodstream. If there is not enough glucose for the brain cells, you will feel tired, lightheaded, and have difficulty concentrating. To stop your blood glucose levels from dipping too low, eat carbohydrates at regular intervals. However, be smart about the type of carbohydrates that you eat. Avoid carbohydrates that come from processed foods and instead eat carbohydrates that are slowly released into the bloodstream to provide a steady supply of energy.
Breakfast is important in maintaining the energy supply to the brain as it refuels the brain after an overnight fast. Studies have shown that not eating breakfast impairs your memory and your mental performance. Low GI (glycaemic index) foods help you to maintain your concentration levels by making glucose available over a longer period of time. Some examples of low GI foods include wholegrains, sweet potato, basmati rice, corn, and many fruits and vegetables.
Essential fatty acids in the form of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are great brain foods. Essential fatty acids make up a large proportion of the brain, and as the body cannot make these, they must be obtained through the diet. Studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids that are found in fish oils play a part in maintaining the function of the brain and also can influence mental conditions that range from depression to Alzheimer’s disease. DHA, an important essential fatty acid is the primary structural component of brain tissue and it also has a vital influence on the brain’s neurotransmitters, helping the brain cells to communicate with each other better. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as salmon and tuna, as well as flax, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and sesame oils.
Iron is not directly needed by the brain but it is necessary both for carrying oxygen around the body and for building red blood cells. The brain has a large oxygen requirement and a deficiency in iron can cause symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, and a lower level of mental alertness.
Choline is needed to make the nerve transmitter acetylcholine that nerves in the brain and muscles use to send messages. Eating foods that are rich in choline such as eggs, milk, liver, and soy, may be helpful in improving memory and clearer thinking.
Protein is important for the brain as they provide the amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made. The role of neurotransmitters is to transmit signals from one brain cell to another. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (essential meaning that it needs to come from the diet) that is necessary to make serotonin, a chemical that modifies sleep and moods. Sources include nuts, seeds, and legumes. Tyrosine is needed in forming nerve chemicals like adrenaline and it may improve memory or mood in healthy people when they are under stress. Sources include lean meat, eggs, milk, and soy.
Antioxidants help to neutralise or deactivate free radicals, which are molecules that can cause damage to cells, including brain cells. Some excellent antioxidants that are found in fruits and vegetables include vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. Blueberries are an excellent source of antioxidants, and you can eat them fresh or frozen.
Boron is a trace element that improves hand-eye coordination, attention, and memory. Good sources of boron include raisins, hazelnuts, almonds, and dried apricots.