Boost your brain in 5 easy steps
Are you one of the millions of people who feel a sense of ‘brain fog’ on a daily basis? Maybe you feel your memory isn’t what it used to be, or you lack focus and concentration.
This sort of change is often put down to stress or aging but it really shouldn’t be brushed aside and accepted so easily.
There are some easy nutrition steps that you can take to get your brain back on track, to feel mental clarity and focus on making you more productive and motivated at home and at work.
1. Balance your blood sugar
Studies show that too much of the wrong sugar can have a serious impact on brain function. Although the brain needs glucose as its fuel it needs to come from the right source. One study found that children on a high refined carbohydrate diet were adversely affected, with a 25% lower IQ score than children on a low GI diet.
Another feature of balancing blood sugar is to eat regularly. Low blood sugar from skipping meals has been shown to shorten attention span and slow the rate at which the brain processes information, so be sure to eat three good meals and two snacks per day at regular intervals.
2. Get enough protein
As well as aiding in blood sugar balance, protein is essential for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. These are the chemical messengers that influence cognitive function and mood. Most people have heard of serotonin, which gives us the feeling of happiness and well-being, but those responsible for our thought processes and motivation are acetylcholine and dopamine. Acetylcholine controls our ability to process information and keeps our memory sharp. Dopamine gives us drive and motivation.
You should be eating good quality proteins such as lean white meat, fish, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes to give you a wide range of these essential building blocks to mental clarity.
3. Eat healthy fats to help focus
Not all fat is bad. The brain is largely made of fat so it’s important to eat healthy sources such as oily fish, nuts and seeds and their pressed oils, plus eggs – not only do they contain phospholipids for essential brain function, but they also contain choline which helps to make the acetylcholine neurotransmitter. Avoid transfats from fried food as these will have a negative impact due to their toxic nature in the body. It’s also important to balance your saturated fats: studies have shown that people eating a high-saturated fat diet are more susceptible to cognitive decline.
4. Protect your brain with antioxidants
Our body is constantly producing free radicals – the by-products of chemical reactions and it’s important that we safely neutralise and eliminate them, so a diet high in antioxidants is essential. Studies also show that antioxidants improve memory, increase production of dopamine, improve mood and decrease inflammation.
Eat brightly coloured fruit and vegetables daily to get a good intake of these toxin-busting powerhouses: berries, butternut squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potato, carrots.
5. Cut down the alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol is known to be a neurotoxin. It depletes the vitamin and minerals needed to help convert proteins into the neurotransmitters, and blocks conversion of fats into their protective, usable forms. While small amounts can increase production of GABA, the neurotransmitter that helps us relax, excess alcohol will be detrimental to healthy brain function.
Similarly, caffeine upsets the balance within the brain. As a stimulant, it initially feels like it’s sharpening the brain, but its addictive nature means that increasing amounts are needed to provide the same level of focus, concentration and drive. If you go without you’re likely to feel the symptoms of withdrawal: tiredness, low mood, headaches and low energy.
Instead drink plenty of water, or herbal teas such as rooibos, green tea, ginger tea or licorice tea. Not only do these options offer a range of health benefits they’ll also help you avoid dehydration, which in itself has an adverse effect on the brain.
Bonus point: get active
The more you exercise the better your blood flow will be which will feed and nourish your brain. It also stimulates the release of growth factors that help to promote learning, memory and provide protection against degeneration.