Essential brain foods
PUBLISHED: 10:42 03 June 2016 | UPDATED: 10:42 03 June 2016
Talking about brain-foods really brings together all the food groups we have covered over the past few weeks as there are several elements that combine to help our energy-hungry brains function in a stable way
Take carbohydrates for example, the brain uses glucose for fuel and as such thrives on complex carbs – and if you remember our feature ‘Life on Carbs’ you’ll know how to make a bee-line for the right kind. The slow energy release of these foods provides a constant stream of energy and as such, helps maintain stability.
We have also discussed fats, the good and bad kinds, and the former are essential for good brain function. It is widely publicised that omega 3 fatty acids provide good brain-food so up your intake of oily fish (salmon, herring and mackerel are great sources), flaxseeds and nuts (especially walnuts) if you have high hopes of conquering your mammoth tax return this month. Let’s not forget our omega 6 intake too which can be found in poultry, eggs, and avocados.
The ‘dry weight’ of our brains is composed of about 60% fat and 20% of this is made up of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Crucially, our bodies cannot produce these so it is important that we provide them - ideally in equal amounts – through our diet. But what we should not provide is the bad fats, remember those ‘trans fats’ or hydrogenated fats? Avoid them at all costs as they prevent the good fats working effectively.
A well oiled machine
Of course feeding our brain effectively does far more than improve focus. The brain pretty much controls every other function in our body through a highly complex network of neurotransmitters and chemical production. To put it simply, neurotransmitters affect our mood and we can have some control over this with our diet. They are made up of animo acids, some of which we can provide, for example, serotonin.
Some research has suggested that an imbalance in serotonin levels can lead to depression, anxiety and anger issues so maintaining a good balance may help us to cope in difficult situations. Perhaps there are exams coming up or the pressure is really on at work, so you’ll certainly not be doing yourself any harm by boosting your diet with vitamin B rich foods such as wholegrains, bananas, chicken, eggs, dairy foods, and shellfish. Vitamin B is widely known as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin so give yourself a mood-food boost!
Now if your brain seems to be in constant over-drive and you find it difficult to relax, you may be lacking in magnesium. This essential mineral is known to relax muscles and nerves but can also activate the B vitamins necessary for serotonin production. Sounds like a great little multi-tasker so put: almonds, cashews, spinach, avocados, brown rice, apples, and carrots on your shopping list.
We often only correlate the foods we eat with the way we look but the relationship is far more complex and goes much deeper. We really are what we eat both physically and mentally so love your body and your brain. Speaking of love, sprinkle a touch of rosemary into your cuisine; this fragrant herb was used by ancient Greek scholars to enhance memory, and was also placed on the pillows of newly weds as a love charm. One herb, two great uses… worth a try?