Balance your glucose levels
During digestion carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is the primary source of energy for the brain. However, fluctuating glucose levels can cause mental confusion, dizziness and if severe, convulsions and loss of consciousness.
The glycaemic index or GI was first devised to help diabetics manage their blood glucose levels. The index ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood glucose levels. Foods with a high GI are rapidly digested and absorbed, thus causing marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods are digested and absorbed slowly and so produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels. For breakfast, cereals based on oats, barley and bran are recommended because they have a low GI; if you choose to have something like a Mars Bar for breakfast then you may very well be feeling hungry again by period one.
High GI foods: white bread, white rice, sweet corn, potato, soft drinks, bananas, raisins, cornflakes, muesli, vegetables, honey.
Moderate GI foods: pasta, noodles, porridge, grapes, oranges, sweet potatoes
Low GI foods: apples, milk, cherries, dates, grapefruit, peaches, bakes beans, fructose, yoghurt
Eat essential fats
The brain is more than 60% fat. Your brain cells are covered by the myelin sheath which is composed of approximately 75% fat. Fats also play a key role as messengers. They regulate key aspects of the immune system, blood circulation, inflammation, memory and mood.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to the optimum performance of your brain. Lack of omega-3 fats in your diet can lead to depression, poor memory, low IQ and learning disabilities.
Omega-3 can be found in oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, herring, mackerel and anchovies.
Include protein rich foods
3-4 ounces of protein will help you to feel energized, more alert and more assertive. Thinking is a biochemical process. Brain cells require neurotransmitters to communicate, these carry messages between the neurons. Three important types of neurotransmitters for the brain are:
- Acetylcholine: this is important for memory, voluntary muscle movement, behavioural inhibitions and drinking. that when healthy young adults were given the drug scopolamine, which blocks acetylcholine receptors in the brain, it significantly reduced their ability to remember word pairs
Key sources of acetylcholine are egg yolks, peanuts, wheat germ, liver, meat, fish, milk, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
- Dopamine: this generally excites and is involved in movement, attention and learning
Dopamine can be found in all proteins like meat, milk products, fish, beans, nuts and soy products.
- Serotonin: this is involved in sleep, mood, appetite and sensitivity. It is also excitatory and is part of the brain's reward system producing feelings of pleasure.
Foods rich in Serotonin are carbohydrate based e.g., pasta, starchy vegetables, potatoes, cereals and breads.
Take vitamins and minerals to fine-tune your mind
Vitamins and minerals are essential for the growth and functioning of the brain.
The 'B' complex vitamins are particularly important for the brain and play a vital role in producing energy. These can be found in red meat, fish, nuts and leafy green vegetables. Vitamins A, C and E are powerful antioxidants and help promote and preserve memory. Vitamin A can be found in milk, eggs, liver and yellow and orange fruit.
Minerals are also critical to mental functioning and performance. Magnesium and manganese are needed for brain energy. Good sources of magnesium include wholegrains, nuts, chocolate and avocado. Sodium, potassium and calcium are important in the thinking process and they help the transmission of messages. Dairy foods and dark green leafy vegetables are high in calcium.
Drink up to 2 litres of water a day
Water makes up 83% of the blood and acts as a transport system. It delivers nutrients to the brain and helps to eliminate toxins. Your brain needs to be fully hydrated so that the circuitry works well and it functions at optimum levels. Water is essential for concentration and mental alertness. Studies have shown that most people are permanently partially dehydrated. This means that their brain is working below its full capacity and potential.
Keep your brain oxygenated
After a large meal, most of your body's oxygen is being used by your stomach and digestive system as it digests the food. This means that your brain is being denied much of the oxygen it needs to function effectively and stay mentally alert. This is why you tend to feel sleepy after a big meal. Therefore, you should try to eat little and often as well as eating your main meal either at lunchtime or before 7pm.
A regular and sensible exercise programme can be beneficial to the brain. Aerobic exercise increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters provide emotional stability, the ability to focus, mental alertness and calm. Additionally, it is one of the few ways scientists have found to generate new neurons.