We’ve all wished for more brain power at some stage – a boost to help get us through the day, ace that exam, multi-task amazingly, tackle those difficult jobs and plan, organise, memorise and strategise; and above all perform at peak level.
The brain is undoubtedly one of the most important organs in the body. It controls all aspects of our physical and mental functioning from fine motor movements to basic problem-solving decisions. It even continues functioning when we are asleep. And, an ‘always on’ utility requires fuel. So, like a car engine that operates best with the premium grade petrol, it stands to reason that your brain functions best when fuelled by the best possible diet.
Numerous studies have revealed that certain foods, rich in essential vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids actively contribute to, not only brain functioning, but its structure as well.
Basically, the age old adage – ‘you are what you eat’ has come home to roost. The following food types have been identified by leading academic institutions and nutrition experts as superfoods for the brain:
1.Chamomile Tea – helping you catch those zzzzzzzz’s
With the added advantage of having no caffeine, chamomile tea is a tried and trusted medicinal herb that has been used for centuries to combat insomnia and anxiety and boost the immune system. While the ancient Romans brewed a pot of chamomile to keep the chill of winter from causing common colds, it has also been found to produce a calming effect and acts as a natural sedative, improving overall cognitive functioning by ensuring that one relaxes and gets plenty of rest.
2. Eggs – everything they’re cracked up to be
Long touted as cholesterol bombs that are linked to hypertension, eggs are a pure form of protein, rich in Vitamin D and contain no carbohydrates or sugar. In addition to which, eggs contain Choline, a nutrient linked with memory and brain development and are especially beneficial for pregnant women. Eaten in moderation, in other words two or three eggs per week, these vitamin enriched morsels will go a long way in feeding your brain and keeping you on your toes. Nutrition experts have found that eating a protein-rich breakfast, like scrambled eggs, will keep you feeling full for longer and deter snacking before lunch.
3. Peanut butter – it’s totally nuts
They say that prevention is better than cure – so with this in mind, consider that peanut butter is packed with a host of nutrients including monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6. So if you’re feeling tired or run-down, experts agree that two tablespoons of peanut butter, a few times per week, will have an extremely positive effect on the body as the thiamine content assists the brain in converting glucose into energy. Not keen on the sugar content? Then you can easily swap out the regular peanut butter spread for the sugar-free variety. Just as healthy (and tasty) are the almond or cashew nut spreads. Don’t reach for that doughnut – a handful of salt-free nuts as a mid-morning or afternoon snack is an excellent booster for brain energy.
4. Avocado – the healthy fat that fights fat
It’s a good fat. We’ve all heard that saying and it’s a proven fact. Just like peanut butter, avocados are rich in both healthy monounsaturated fat as well as potassium, which aids in promoting healthy blood flow to and from the brain. This emerald superfood will also help you lose weight by deterring you from indulging in the unhealthy fat options as an avo meal will make you feel full for longer and has the added advantage of preventing the risk of heart disease as it does not clog one’s arteries.
5. Salmon – it’s all a bit fishy
So it might sound a bit fishy, but the brain is comprised of fat (up to 60 percent) known as docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. This is a type of Omega-3 fatty acid that is commonly found in oily fish like salmon. Rather concerning and important to note, the body is not capable of producing DHA on its own, so it is imperative that you include this in your diet. DHA makes up the coating of the outer cell membranes and protects the brain from injury or inflammation. It is also considered the brain’s communicator as DHA regulates neurotransmitters responsible for mental focus. A low level of DHA has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders (like depression) and general cognitive impairment. So take stock and stock up on salmon or other oily fish like sardines or tuna.
6. Vegetables – a festival of colour
Veggies with colour like tomatoes, broccoli and beetroot or leafy greens like spinach contain antioxidants that keep the brain healthy. Broccoli for instance, is rich in vitamin K that is essential for healthy brain functioning, while beetroot (especially fresh beetroot juice) is packed with vitamins A, B, C, magnesium and potassium. Not only does it aid in protecting the brain but it is also linked with improved blood flow and oxygenation, which can reduce the onset of dementia. Whether you like your veggies grilled, steamed, roasted or added to stews or soups – they are all an ideal source of brain fuel with great benefits.
7. Legumes – they’re full of beans
Legumes like kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas are all a rich source of folic acid, which is linked to improved verbal and memory performance. They are packed with both protein and fibre and are considered the best plant-based protein for a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Legumes are believed to have one of the lowest glycemic indexes and so help regulate sugar levels in the body, which in turn affects brain functioning. The Glycemic Index (GI) is an indication of the rate at which sugar from food enters the body. Those foods with a high GI stimulate the pancreas, which secretes a high volume of insulin. This creates the roller coaster effect of sugar highs and lows when sugar is depleted too quickly from blood cells. Thus, it is advisable to select foods, like legumes, with a low GI that provide a slow releasing and consistent supply of glucose to the brain.
8. Whole Grains – a serving of concentration
Whole grains include foods like wheat products (bread), oats, barley and rice that are rich in vitamins E and B, folic acid, fibre; and minerals such as magnesium, iron and zinc. Take care not to confuse whole grains with refined grains, which offer a finer texture and are not as nutritious as whole grain foods. In addition to helping regulate blood flow between the brain and the body, whole grain food also provides the brain with energy fuel in the form of glucose that is low on the GI.
9. Berries – berry, berry delicious
Berries, in particular fresh blueberries and strawberries, are believed to aid in age-related memory loss and other cognitive related disorders. This is because berries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect the brain. They also assist with brain communication. The antioxidant power of blueberries or brainberries is quite potent and is attributed to stabilising the brain function while it protects neural tissue from oxidative stress.
10. Turmeric – nature’s very own detox superstar
While not considered a food type, the turmeric spice, commonly associated with Indian cuisine has long been considered mother nature’s natural detox agent and has a history of medicinal use in homeopathic medicine. So what’s the hype all about? Turmeric contains a bioactive ingredient known as curcumin that is believed to combat a host of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease and damage brought upon by strokes. This is because curcumin contains both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which aid in protecting the brain, particularly from cognitive degenerative diseases. So be sure to add a spot of turmeric to your curries and stews or indulge in a detoxifying turmeric smoothie.
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