Key strategies for building a better brain through nutrition to boost your brainpower and keep your gray matter functioning at peak performance levels.
By Trish Krause, Certified Holistic Nutritionist
We all know that choosing the best foods will deliver the best results when we’re trying to sculpt our bodies and make them stronger, faster, and more productive. But what about our minds? We function in a knowledge economy, and count on our intellectual prowess to deliver the goods to clients as well as run our own lives successfully. Given the demands of practicing family law, are you feeding your brain for peak or sub-par performance?
First, a little brain anatomy: your brain, which weighs about three pounds, is nearly 60% fat. Despite the fact that you may feel like you’re losing ground as you age, your brain can actually continue to grow neurons throughout your life in response to the right stimulation – including what you feed it. Your brain’s favorite food? Glucose, followed closely by healthy fats.
Here are some key nutritional strategies to boost your brainpower and keep your gray matter healthy and functioning at peak performance levels.
Building a Better Brain through Nutrition—Glucose? Isn’t that Sugar?
Your brain is a sugar hog and demands a steady stream of carbohydrates in order to keep it running smoothly. But that does not mean that gobbling candy bars on the run between meetings or while chauffeuring kids to soccer practice will give you what you need to stay sharp. When levels of sugar in the blood fluctuate, the brain doesn’t get its steady fuel supply, and behavior and learning become more erratic. Your brain performs best without the highs and lows, and that means choosing the right carbohydrates to avoid those spikes and crashes.
To ensure sustained release, never skip a meal. Eating something small every three hours is critical. Choose carbs from whole foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and legumes, or fiber-rich grains found in oats or quinoa. Whole-wheat products can be a good choice, but read the labels carefully to ensure that it’s 100% whole wheat and not a product that’s mostly made of refined wheat flour. The more refined a grain is, the less fiber it will have in it, and the faster it will spike your blood sugar – something you want to avoid to keep your brain healthy.
Tip: an apple dipped in some nut butter is a portable on-the-go snack that will help level your blood sugar. So is a handful of almonds, a cup of yogurt, or some raw veggies with hummus.
Is Fish Really Brain Food?
Mom was right: eating fish can make you smarter! Feeding your brain with the right fats can strengthen the synapses related to memory as well as nourish the membranes of the brain cells, keeping them supple and strong so they can keep out toxins. This can help you in building a better brain through nutrition.
Fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, cod, or halibut are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that people with high levels of omega-3s reduce their risk of dementia and slow mental decline, so plan to eat fish at least three times a week for optimal brain health.
You can also find omega-3s in walnuts and flax seeds; use the oils as salad dressing or stir-ins to yogurt or smoothies, or grind the flax seeds and include them in baked goods, meatloaf, or oatmeal. Both cauliflower and Brussels sprouts also contain very good levels of omega-3s.
TIP: just a quarter cup of raw walnuts a day will give you your daily requirement of omega-3s and help in building a better brain through nutrition.
The Building Blocks of Calm
Proteins in your diet can affect brainpower because they’re made up of amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made. These neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers that carry signals from one part of the brain to another – for cognition, reasoning, creativity, problem solving, etc. The more you nourish these neurotransmitters, the more clearly they’ll be able to deliver the messages, and the better you’ll be able to perform thinking tasks.
One particular amino acid – tryptophan – is especially critical. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, the hormone that helps keep us calm, balanced, and happy. Given the fast pace and multiple demands of practicing family law, staying calm under pressure is imperative. Serotonin also contributes to memory and learning capacity, and help in building a better brain through nutrition.
Turkey, chicken, salmon, yogurt, eggs, and cacao are all good sources of tryptophan. For those who prefer to eat a plant-strong diet, dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and chard, as well as mushrooms, pumpkin or sunflower seeds will also feed your neurotransmitters.
TIP: Chocolate can indeed help to calm a stressed-out brain. In addition to the serotonin in raw cacao, it contains a compound called theobromine, which increases blood flow – exactly what a hard-working brain needs. So enjoy your daily bite of dark chocolate as long as it’s made from raw cacao and is at least 70-85% cacao.
Trish Krause (CNP, NNCP) is a certified holistic nutritionist. A former corporate executive herself, she specializes in teaching busy professionals how to navigate their nutrition journey while juggling stress, clients, travel, families and life. At Bite Out of Life Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching, Trish works both face-to-face and remotely with her clients. She offers expert lifestyle guidance and fact-based holistic nutrition expertise to help her clients make healthy, long-lasting choices. www.bite-out-of-life.com
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