Is your brain getting the Nutrition it needs to function at its best?
Our dietary choices have a direct influence on our brain performance. If we choose well, we can support optimised mental clarity and focus, enabling improved efficiency for work, our memory and ability to multitask!
Our brain needs a constant supply of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, antioxidants and carbohydrates. Brain fog or inability to focus can be caused by deficiencies of these vital nutrients and compounded by the consumption of damaged fats, excessive sugar, toxic processed foods, alcohol and medications. Food sensitivities can play a big role too: gluten, dairy and other over processed foods increase the inflammation load in the body and can affect mental clarity and function. Imbalance in the gut microbes due to lack of fibre, medications and poor dietary choices has a direct effect on brain health.One of the first actions to take for better mental focus is to ‘clean up’ your diet. Reduce dairy, go gluten free and remove as much sugar and refined carbohydrates as possible, increase raw fresh fruit and vegetables are vital steps towards a healthier more alert brain.
Then you need to think about ‘nourishing’ your brain with nutrients that enhance brain function due to their nourishing or protective action.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids – Keeps all brain tissue healthy and promotes efficient signalling between brain cells by keeping the cells plump and smooth. These EFAs can be found in fish, leafy greens, flax oil, chia seeds, walnuts and organic eggs.
Amino acids - Needed to make neurotransmitters, these are the signalling molecules that make us think, control actions, promote sleep, keep our brain healthy and make us feel good. A diet with a balance of protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates will ensure the brain gets plenty.
Choline – Main component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Vital for brain function and protects against cognitive decline. It can be found in chicken, salmon, shrimp, haricot beans, egg yolk, broccoli and peas. Lecithin granules is a very good source of choline.
Boron – A deficiency in Boron is associated with poorer performance of dexterity, attention and short-term memory. Good food sources of this vital nutrient are raisins, prunes and dates, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, natural honey, avocado, apples, pears, butter beans. Small amounts can be found in the humble potato.
Antioxidants in abundance in the diet are vital for protecting against damage to brain and nerve tissue caused by circulating free radicals which are the waste products of metabolic activity in the brain and toxins that cross the blood brain barrier. These can give us ‘brain fog’. Food high in brain supportive antioxidants are berries, goji berries, black grapes, dark chocolate, turmeric and lots of broccoli!
B Vitamins – Thiamine (B1), Niacin (B3) and Folate (B9) are essential to all aspects of brain function, signalling, energy, growth and repair. Found in brown, black and wild rice, pulses, peas, nuts, tempeh, soybeans, whole grains, fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds. Niacin is also found in lean meat.
Carbohydrates – Don’t underestimate how much fuel your brain needs to stay alert. It uses 20% percent of your calorie intake and even more if your brain is working hard. Healthy carbs are: Sweet potatoes, beetroot, butternut, pulses, chickpeas, wholegrains, brown rice, oats, fresh fruit.
Good brain energy fats – Besides the Omegas, healthy fats alongside healthy carbs, are a vital fuel and nourishment to the brain, medium chain triglycerides can help boost mental focus as these can act as an instant energy to the brain, these are found in coconut oil, yogurt, kefir and feta cheese.
Lifestyle medicine for the brain:Sleep is vital for the brain to detoxify and reset, but don’t over do it. Excessive sleeping can create brain fog and confusion and may even lead to depression. Yoga in the form that repeats downward dog and inversions along with deep breathing boosts oxygen and vital nutrients in the brain. Walking and fresh air increases blood and oxygen flow to every cell in the brain. If you want to get better mental focus and clarity to enable you to achieve your goals in life, or just be able to get your work done more efficiently, start with the foods you eat every day.
Written by Sam Bourne Registered Nutritional Therapist mBANT NTC CNHC