Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take a pill that would suddenly make your reflexes sharper, your memory better, and your conversation wittier? Well, even brain health supplements don’t necessarily have the immediacy of the fantasy, but it is true that you can support good brain function with the nutrients that you eat. Here’s a quick rundown on how certain nutrients affect our brain function and long-term health.
How Does Food Fuel the Brain?Just like any part of your body, your brain needs fuel to run. A lot of this fuel is obtained through the food that you eat. Many of the chemicals in the plants and animals that we eat are reflected by chemicals naturally found in the brain. Some of those nutrients never make it past the blood-brain barrier, which shields the brain from potentially harmful chemicals that cycle through the rest of our body. However, other nutrients are transmitted directly into our brain. There are a few key nutrients that your brain needs in order to keep optimal function. These include:
GlucoseFats and sugars are transformed into glucose in the body, and then used to fuel the brain (as well as other parts of your body) the way that gas fuels a car. In order to keep operating at its peak, the brain needs a steady stream of glucose. However, this doesn’t mean that you should just be consuming fats and sugars in the highest rates you can find. More important than the total amount of glucose is the steadiness of it. Processed starches, sugars, and trans fats create a spike of glucose in the body which is inevitably followed by a crash, all disrupting the natural balance of energy in the body. On the other hand, healthy whole grains create a more gradual release of glucose in the body, giving optimal fuel for the brain and body.
- Eat: Snacks of whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole grain bread.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty AcidsThese acids are used to strengthen connections in the brain which are needed to build channels of memory and recall. Omega fatty acids are strongly encouraged among the elderly in order to keep their memories sharp. However, this nutrient is important at any age!
- Eat: Avocados, flax seed, cold-water fish like salmon, and dark leafy greens in order to get the benefits of these nutrients.
There are two key amino acids which affect your brain’s function. Tryptophan (from Thanksgiving turkey fame) relaxes the brain and makes us feel sleepy. Tyrosine, on the other hand, is energizing. The best sources for amino acids are lean proteins.
- Eat: Chicken, red meat, and tuna. Looking for plant-based options? Quinoa, soy, beans, and nuts can also provide the necessary protein for your diet.
AntioxidantsThe role of antioxidants in brain health isn’t so much to fuel its function, but to protect it against damage. Antioxidants counter the effects of free radicals throughout the body, which cause cell death and encourage the growth of cancer. In order to keep your brain cells healthy, eat a variety of antioxidants as found in colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Eat: Green tea, goji berries, blueberries, artichokes, pecans, and kidney beans. Different foods provide different antioxidants, so always try to include a wide variety of produce to empower the antioxidants working in your body.