Food For Thought: Good Nutrition for the Brain

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Are you getting proper nutrition for your brain?

The human brain is only 2 % of the total body weight, yet it needs roughly 20% of the total calorie intake in order to function correctly. It needs a constant supply of glucose for optimum efficiency. So, the obvious answer to a well oiled brain is to fuel it up with a proper intake of the right amounts of nutritious, well balanced meals.

A tired brain or a brain that does not get the right nutrition does not do well in academics or the work environment.

It is common to see mothers coaxing their children to have their breakfast or finish their milk before they set out to school. It is also common to see that lunch boxes sent to school sometimes come back home still full. It is up to the parent to try finding new ways of getting their kids to eat up the right food in the right quantities. Proper nutrition is the key to good growth and overall development of your kids. Newer recipes combining different varieties, colors and textures often do the trick.

The brain absorbs nutrition from the food we eat in order to function correctly. Certain “brain foods” boost a person’s brain overall growth. In addition, brain function, memory and concentration also improve. Therefore it is imperative that you get the best nutrients into their bloodstream plus the so-called brain foods as well. Avoiding junk food at all cost is necessary.

10 Super Brain Foods

Brain Food No.1: Salmon

Salmon is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA which are essential for brain growth and function. It is commonly seen that those who eat salmon at least twice a week have sharper minds. Tuna and mackerel also are rich in fatty acids, but the best is salmon.

Brain Food No.2: Eggs

Eggs are always readily available and a great source of protein. The yolks also contain choline which is absolutely necessary for the brain. Versatile and interesting ways of cooking and serving eggs for breakfast or dinner help the entire family look forward to mealtimes.

Brain Food No.3: Peanut Butter/Nut butter (almond, walnut, cashew/ Nuts)

Peanuts and peanut butter are an excellent source of Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that protects nervous membranes.Thiamine is also present which helps the brain and nervous system convert glucose to energy.

The crunchy nuts can be topped onto salads or ice-cream or fruits. And nut butter can be used in sandwiches along with bananas.

Brain Food No.4: Whole Grains

The brain needs an optimal level of glucose for energy throughout the day which is provided by consuming whole grains. The fiber present helps regulate the release of glucose. And the vitamin B that it contains makes sure your nervous system stays healthy.

Brain Food No.5: Oats/Oatmeal

Oats is “grain for the brain”. As a breakfast cereal, we get the first energy for the brain from oats. Fiber rich oats also keep the family energized throughout the morning. Oats are also rich in vitamins B, E potassium and zinc which helps the brain and body to function to optimum levels.

Brain Food No.6: Berries

Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries all contain powerful antioxidants. The richer the color intensity, the more nutritive value the berries possess. Vitamin C is also present which is thought to prevent cancer. Improved memory is noticed in those that consume berries regularly. The seeds also contain omega 3 fatty acids.

Brain Food No.7: Beans

Beans provide additional energy from protein and complex carbohydrates in addition to fiber and loads of vitamins and minerals. Beans are an excellent brain food. They keep the energy levels up.

Brain Food No.8: Colorful Veggies

Brightly colored and fresh vegetables are tremendously beneficial due to the antioxidants present in addition to the essential vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants develop the immunity in addition to keeping the brain cells strong, while vitamins and minerals help the body to function optimally. Fiber present makes sure we do not suffer from constipation.

Using a variety of textures and color combinations vegetables can be cooked, baked, grilled or simply eaten raw or boiled to add variety at the table for the family. Soups and stews can be more flavorful when veggies or spinach is added.

Brain Food No.9: Milk and Yoghurt

Protein and B vitamins present in dairy foods are essential for the growth of brain tissue, enzymes and neurotransmitters. Milk and yogurt are packed with protein and carbohydrate which is a source of energy or the brain. If your family refuses to drink their milk, try substituting with yogurt at mealtimes. Nuts and berries could be added.

Brain Food No.10: Lean Beef

Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron. Iron is a mineral which is especially important for the growth and helps better concentration. Beef also contains zinc which aids memory.

Vegetarians can have an alternative to lean beef with soy and black beans.

Breakfast

People who start their day with a healthy breakfast have fewer mental problems during the day, better memory, better attention and more mental energy.

If a person doesn’t eat breakfast, he or she may become tired, irritable, restless, and fail to focus or behave appropriately.

A study done at Tufts University reinforced the belief that breakfast improves children’s academic performance. The researchers divided the children into two groups. One group was fed instant oatmeal (a complex carbohydrate containing fiber and protein), and the other dry, readymade cereal (lower in fiber, higher in sugar). The results showed kids fed the oatmeal did better on special and short-term memory tests, as well as auditory attention tests.

Whole grains and protein are digested more slowly, providing a sustained source of energy. Blood sugar remains stable. Foods made of refined sugars (such as fruit-flavored characters, packaged cookies, white bread, etc.) set kids up for a sugar high (rush), followed by a crash.

Breakfast foods for the brain:

  • Oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with raspberries, which are a great source of antioxidants, specifically Vitamin C, improve cognitive function and protect the brain.
  • Scrambled fortified eggs with one ounce of cheese rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla: Choline in eggs boosts memory and concentration, and eggs are a great source of protein. Omega 3s provide an added brain boost!
  • French toast (soak one slice of whole grain bread in one scrambled, fortified egg, add chopped walnuts and cinnamon. Walnuts contain those Omega 3’s, and cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

Lunch

  • A well-balanced lunch is the key to keeping a person’s energy up and blood sugar stable. A high fat, high sugar lunch will lead to an afternoon crash.Lunch Foods for the brain:
  • Turkey/hummus wrap: Smear hummus on a whole grain tortilla, layer with two-to-four slices of turkey, wrap and serve with sliced red peppers. Have a side of yogurt. Turkey has the amino acid tyrosine, which is related to the production of specific neuro-transmitters, which aid alertness and energy. Red peppers are a great source of antioxidants, specifically Vitamin C, have been shown to improve cognitive function, and are brain-protective.
  • Peanut butter/banana sandwich: Spread peanut butter over a slice of whole grain bread. Add one cup of strawberries and a cup skim milk.
  • Salmon salad on a whole grain English muffin: Prep salmon as you would tuna, OR use plain yogurt for a calcium and protein boost!

Dinner

  • This offers another great chance to incorporate brain foods! Aim for half the plate to be green/colorful veggies, a-quarter whole grains, and a quarter lean protein.
  • Turkey burger platter: Turkey burger with tomato slices, sautéed spinach in olive oil, and wild rice. Iron is important for energy and concentration, zinc for memory. Vitamin C helps iron absorption.
  • Meatballs and spaghetti: lean meat meatballs, whole grain pasta, marinara sauce, steamed broccoli.
  • Pork Tenderloin: roasted pork tenderloin, roasted asparagus, quinoa

Snacks

  • Apple slices dipped in peanut butter or almond butter
  • Yogurt Sundae: DHA-fortified yogurt layered with Go Lean Crunch Honey Almond Flax, berries, and walnuts
  • DHA/Omega-3s: important for brain development and function. DHA is found in gray brain matter, brain cell membranes, and is important for brain cell communication

Foods that drain the brain  

Foods with artificial sweeteners or coloring

High-fructose corn syrup

Sugary fruit drinks, colas and juices

Refined white sugars and breads

Trans fats and partially-hydrogenated oils

Processed snack foods and luncheon meats

In conclusion, solid science has shown that food affects the memory, attention, and cognitive skills.  Let’s eat better and improve our mental health.


Dr. Karen Dee’s has her Doctorate in Nutrition. She is an author, previous Doctor of Nutrition for the Women’s Center at Stanford University. She has an active practice in Farmington, Massachusetts, and has become a frequent speaker at conferences.