You are what you eat. Fuel your brain with the right foods to boost mental stamina and improve memory and learning.
Did you know that even though your brain is the body’s command centre, it only accounts for about two percent of your total body weight? If you eat the right amount of calories to maintain your weight, about 20 percent of that energy is used to power up your grey matter.
The brain comprises of billions of neurons which send and receive messages from the entire nervous system. Signals are passed from one neuron to the next and certain nutrients are needed to produce neurotransmitters which make the jump between the neurons. Serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine are common neurotransmitters that can have a big impact on your mood, your sleep patterns, mental sharpness and thought processes.
The continual activity within the brain requires a high level of energy to keep going. It’s your body’s job to supply its control centre with a good stream of glucose energy. The right nutrients can help to boost mental productivity and help your body cope better with stress and the demands of a busy modern lifestyle.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are vital for good brain development. These good fats help to regulate serotonin levels in the brain, of which a low level may be linked to depression, mood swings and lethargy. Omega-3s improves mental sharpness and concentration.
DHA, one form of omega-3, is found in oily fish like salmon, herring, trout, sardines and tuna. Other foods high in omega-3 are flax seeds, walnuts, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and avocados.
Vitamins in the B-range can help to improve mental stamina and memory and relieve the effects of mental exhaustion and depression.
Foods rich in vitamin B include vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli or high protein foods, like meat, egg yolk or peanuts. Whole grain foods are rich in vitamin B6, which plays an important part in synthesising some of the neurotransmitters. Bananas are often labelled as brain food because they are high in vitamin B6, contain potassium and provide glucose energy for the brain. Brown rice and oatmeal are good sources of vitamin B6 and some bread and cereals may be fortified with B12. Oysters contain a good amount of vitamin B12 and they are rich in zinc and iron, other important elements for the brain.
Folic acid (vitamin B9), is essential for the development of a baby’s brain and nervous system during pregnancy. Leafy green vegetables and liver are high in folic acid.
PROTEIN AND CARBS
Foods high in proteins also help to maintain a healthy brain function and good mental performance for learning. Good protein brain food includes eggs, almonds, walnuts, meat, soybeans, milk and other dairy products.
Proteins can also be paired with carbohydrates to supply the brain with a good boost of glucose energy. Food combinations of protein and carbs, like yoghurt with muesli and nuts or whole wheat toast and a scrambled egg are good breakfast choices.
Antioxidants are the protectors of the brain and nervous system and guard against ‘free radicals’ or molecules which damage cells and contribute to aging. Antioxidants also help to improve memory and cognitive ability of the brain.
Foods rich in antioxidants include spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, raisins, plums, pecans, sunflower seeds, dates, red kidney beans and the cocoa bean.
Whatever foods you choose to power your body and your brain, it is always important to eat a balanced diet, with food choices from the different groups. Also remember to reach for that refreshing glass of water – it’s essential for your brain! Just as dehydration adversely affects many different body functions, a lack of water also causes mental fatigue.