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Feed your brain guide – nourish your most important asset

feed your brain - eating some salmon with omega three fatty acids - "Eat!" by Joshua Rappeneker is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Feed your brain guide – nourish your most important asset

The brain is the most important organ in your body. It controls all of our thoughts, feelings and actions. Your brain needs an uninterrupted supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. The oxygen and nutrients are delivered via the blood. So it is important to feed your circulatory system with nutrient-rich foods that feed your brain as well! We will cover what you need to know about feeding your brain. Including why it’s so important, how often you should eat these foods, where they can be found in grocery stores or on restaurant menus. Plus some delicious recipes for dishes that feed your brains too!

Feed your brain oxygen

Although some of your organs can survive without oxygen for short periods of time (such as those used in organ transplants), your brain can not survive minutes without oxygen. Why is oxygen so important to brain function?

Oxygen feeds the brain’s neurons, which are cells that communicate with each other using electrical signals. These signals control your thoughts and actions. That is why it is important to have an uninterrupted supply of oxygen! How do I feed my brain oxygen?

You feed your bodily systems with oxygen via the bloodstream by having healthy cardiovascular health, so this means being active and eating nutritious foods! Your heart pumps blood throughout your entire circulatory system which includes feeding your brain cells. The more you feed your cardiovascular system, the better it can feed other organs including those in your brain.

It is also another reason why the ‘piping’ of your circulatory system is so important for brain health. You need to take care of your blood vessels so that they can deliver oxygen and nutrients to the organs in your body, including your brain.

Feed your brain glucose

Your body can feed itself with two main fuels: carbohydrates and fat. But there’s something important you need to know about these different types of energy sources… Carbohydrate is the preferred fuel for our brains! This means that while it does feed other organs in your body, including muscles during exercise, your brain needs glucose to feed itself.

Where can I find carbs in my diet?

Carbohydrates are part of a healthy balanced diet. They provide plenty of benefits including fueling your workouts, stabilizing blood sugar levels, keeping you full longer, satiating cravings for sugary foods and helping with weight management. But not all carbs are created equal!

The best kinds of carbohydrates to feed your brain include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. But there’s one type of carbohydrate you want to limit in your diet… Sugar.

Sugar can feed our bodies but it is not the preferred fuel source for the body or the brain!

When we feed our bodies with foods high in sugar, it causes insulin resistance and inflammation, which is harmful to the brain.

The more you feed your body sugary processed foods including candy, desserts, snacks etc., the higher your risk for developing a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. This means that you feed your brain with sugar, you are also feeding it diseases that lead to memory loss! So feed your body healthy organic foods and limit the intake of processed sugars in order to feed your brain its preferred fuel source.

And feed your brain good carbs!

Feed your brain protein

Protein is important because the amino acids that proteins break down are important components of neurotransmitters. And neurotransmitters help the brain’s cells communicate with each other.

That is why it is important to eat some protein every day. However, we usually don’t need the amount of protein that is consumed that in most omnivore diets.

Proteins are found in foods like beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, eggs and meat. You should be able to get enough protein as a vegan or vegetarian by eating foods like lentils, beans, nuts and seeds.

Feed your brain good fats

Although fats are a contentious issue in nutrition, your brain is 60 % composed of fat by dry weight. So it is an important nutrient. This does not mean that you should eat saturated fats though. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and found in places like meat and dairy products. They clog your blood vessels and can lead to increased blood pressure. They are not good for heart health, and therefore they are not good for brain health either.

Polyunsaturated fats that are fried, or deep-fried are not good for you either. Using vegetable oil, sunflower oil or other polyunsaturated fats in fried foods will change the structure of the fats to trans fats. These are definitely not healthy. Not for your heart, or your brain.

The fats that you should be reaching for are omega-3 fats found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, tuna and anchovies. Aim to eat these three times a week. Plants are also a good source of omega fats. They include flaxseeds, chia seeds, sea plants and walnuts. However, they can be harder for the body to convert into the essential omega fatty acids that your brain needs – DHA and EPA.

The other fats that research shows feed your brain in a healthy way are monounsaturated fats or olive oil.

Good fats feed the membranes in your cells, which means they feed all parts of your body including your brain! So to feed our brains well we need to eat healthy foods that contain fat. These include olive oil which can be used in salad dressings or for cooking.

The best fats for your brain are found in avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

Feed your brain micronutrients

Iron

As we mentioned, one of the most important things that your brain needs is oxygen. As iron helps the blood to carry oxygen around the body, it is important to get sufficient iron in your daily diet. Iron can be found in red meat and the dark meat of chicken. However, if you are a vegetarian, you can find it in cacao (or dark chocolate with more than 45 % cacao), dried beans and pulses, tempeh, chia seeds, for example.

It can actually be quite tricky to get the 18 mg a day, and you may have to resort to fortified foods. Although fortified foods have been artificially fortified with the nutrient, they still provide all the other nutrients required by the micronutrient to be absorbed, as they are being eaten as whole food. This is still a better solution than supplementation and a longer-term approach.

B vitamins

B vitamins are important for brain health because they feed the mitochondria. Mitochondria are found in every cell of your body. They produce energy by converting glucose into ATP – this is essentially food for all cells so you need a continuous supply.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another important nutrient that feeds the mitochondria which produce 90 % of the energy in your body. It can be found in oranges, berries and dark green vegetables such as broccoli.

Magnesium and zinc

There is also some evidence that magnesium and zinc play a role in mitochondrial health. This means you need to feed your brain foods rich in these nutrients too. Foods high in magnesium include nuts like Brazil nuts or cashew nuts, seeds such as pumpkin seeds, and dark green vegetables such as kale. Foods rich in zinc include seafood like oysters and crab, red meat and poultry. Vegetarian foods high in zinc include legumes, whole grains and wholegrain bread.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D acts like a hormone that regulates the growth of brain cells. It also helps to feed neuronal membranes, which are responsible for sending messages between neurons in your brain so you can think clearly. Vitamin D is actually made by our skin using sunlight. However, there has been some research showing links with depression and lower levels of vitamin D during darker months.

It is the one nutrient (apart from Vitamin B12) that we would suggest supplementing in your diet if tests show your levels are low.

Feed your brain antioxidants

Have you ever seen an apple or an avocado turn brown when it has been exposed to the air (or the oxygen in the air)? This is what happens inside our brains and our bodies when our cells are exposed to oxygen. It is also why it is important to eat foods containing antioxidants, that help to remove the free radicals causing the damage to your cells from your body.

This is another good reason to feed your brain fruits and vegetables. You can also find antioxidants in green tea, red wine (in moderation), dark chocolate with more than 70 % cacao solids or coffee. These are all foods you may not have thought of as containing anti-oxidants!

Feed your brain water

Water is critical to brain health. If you are dehydrated, research has shown that this is likely to result in reduced cognitive function. Your brain needs water because it’s made up of 70 % water! So if you feed your brain foods that are high in natural fluids like fruits and vegetables, then this will help to keep your body hydrated as well.

Water is important for brain health as it has a part to play in the regulation of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messages between neurons that help us think clearly and make good decisions. It also helps with cognitive function because our brains contain so many synapses or connections between cells. Water can regulate these connections through its ability to make the brain’s electrical signalling more efficient.

How much water should we feed our brains?

We would recommend drinking at least one and a half litres of fluid per day, which is about six to eight glasses. Try to drink this over the course of the day rather than all in one go as it can be difficult for your body to process it.

Recipes that incorporate healthy brain foods

Some recipes that incorporate the nutrients discussed in the article are:

Let us know if you cook any of these recipes. And please share any other recipes you find that incorporate these important brain food nutrients into your diet!

Image credits

“Eat!” by Joshua Rappeneker is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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