At LearningRx, we prove cognitive skills and mental functioning can be improved, but there are other things you can do on a daily basis to enhance your mental abilities—including what and when you eat!
No real surprise here. What’s good for the body, is good for the brain. But what may be surprising is exactly how far science has come in identifying the compounds that are beneficial for the health and function of our brains. Along with proper sleep and exercise, many different types of foods are necessary for optimum mental functioning—including fluids, complex carbohydrates, proteins, beneficial fats, and various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Like many body organs, the brain operates best when blood glucose (blood sugar) is stable. Lack of concentration and other mental lapses can readily occur when blood glucose levels dip or surge. Ways to keep glucose stable include:
- Eating complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars
- Balancing carbohydrates by eating them with small amounts of protein, beneficial fats, and fiber
- Snacking throughout the day instead of consuming giant meals
- Eating breakfast
To metabolize glucose, our brain cells need oxygen, which gets to the brain by hemoglobin—the large, iron-containing protein in red blood cells. Therefore, adequate iron is essential, along with Vitamin C, to help the body absorb certain types of iron.
In one study, less than one-third of the female participants had sufficient iron in their blood. These women performed cognitive exercises better and faster than women who were iron deficient. Iron supplementation closed the mental gap, however, and the formerly anemic women did 5 to 7 times better on their cognitive performance after supplementation.
Other vitamins, minerals, and trace elements are important for brain function too. Vitamin B-1 enables the metabolism of glucose. Potassium, sodium, and calcium are used for nerve cell signaling and metabolic reactions. Zinc is important for concentration and memory. Even slight mineral deficits can lead to fatigue, forgetfulness, and concentration problems.
Unsaturated fats also buttress brain function—especially the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. These oils are crucial for building brain cell membranes and protecting brain blood vessels. Many studies have shown they help guard against depression. Other studies show eating just one to three servings of fish per month significantly decreases the risk of stroke.
Keeping our brains optimally powered is also dependent on when we eat. Eating breakfast is critically important for mental function in the morning. Results from 22 studies of school-age kids show that breakfast eaters have better memories, test scores, and school attendance rates. Snacking between meals can also prevent or reduce mental dips by keeping a consistent blood glucose level.
Make sure to integrate these Top 10 Brain Boosters into your family’s diet to super-charge both mind and body:
1. Almonds: The Wonder Nut – High levels of the powerful antioxidant vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative stress that has been linked to Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Almonds are also high in phenylalanine, supporting healthy neurological function and producing mood-stabilizing hormones.
2. Blueberries: Top Antioxidant Fruit – Shown to slow age-related brain decline, improve short-term memory loss, and reverse age-related loss of balance. A top source of antioxidant phytonutrients, it supports healthy brain function and provides anti-aging, anti-cancer, and disease-fighting benefits.
3. Salmon: Brain Oil – Rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids that buttress brain function by building cell membranes and keeping blood vessels in the brain healthy. Studies suggest diets rich in omega-3s can stave off or lessen depression.
4. Eggs: Nature’s Perfect Protein – High in the B vitamin choline that enhances memory, minimizes fatigue, and boosts brainpower by speeding up the sending of signals to the nerve cells in the brain. Studies show that choline supplementation enhances memory and reaction time in aging animals.
5. Curry: Spicy Brain Cleanser – Studies suggest that a main ingredient in curry, called turmeric, can protect against Alzheimer’s by helping the immune system clear the brain of amyloic beta that forms in plaques of the disease. In India, where curry consumption is high, the rate of Alzheimer’s is about four times lower than in the United States.
6. Hummus: The Magical Bean – Beans contain many important nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that are essential for brain health. They stabilize blood sugar levels and provide a steady stream of fuel for the brain.
7. Veggies: Phytonutrient Power – Broccoli and other green vegetables have been proven to slow age-related cognitive decline, protecting memory and thinking speed with high amounts of vitamin E, reducing the damage to neurons in the brain. Brightly colored vegetables tend to be higher in antioxidants.
8. Pumpkin Seeds: Feel-Good Food – Rich in amino acids and high in omega-3 essential fatty acids and zinc that aids in memory and concentration. The seeds also contain L-tryptophan, a compound naturally effective against depression.
9. Walnuts: Brain Builder – Great, vegan alternative source for unsaturated fatty acids that the body converts into 0mega-3s. These are crucial for building brain cell membranes, protecting brain vessels, and guarding against depression.
10. Dark Chocolate: Oh, Yeah! – Dark chocolate contains several natural stimulants that enhance focus and concentration. Chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties, and stimulates the production of endorphins to improve mood. Studies show that the flavonols found in cocoa may also delay age-related cognitive decline by increasing blood flow to the brain.
We’re excited to partner with LearningRx to give away a game from the LearningRx Smart Mom’s Toybox — “Spot It! Freeze” by Blue Orange ($24.99 value) for ages 8+ to help improve attention, processing speed, and visual processing. The winner will also receive a copy of the book “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child” by LearningRx founder Dr. Ken Gibson.
Additionally, Nashville Moms Blog readers who use the discount code getsmarter will receive 50% off a cognitive skills assessment at LearningRx (Nashville-Brentwood or Murfreesboro) now through February 28, 2015.
Bridgette Butler is co-owner and director of LearningRx Nashville-Brentwood. LearningRx brain training specializes in treating the cause—not the symptoms—of learning struggles. Contact the Nashville-Brentwood center at 615-953-8899 or www.learningrx.com/nashville-brentwood or the Murfreesboro center at 615-867-8717 or www.learningrx.com/murfreesboro.