The brain rules human capacity to think, learn, and remember; it is the body part that controls every body process. Therefore, it is not surprising that it uses up from 20 to 30% of a person's energy intake. There is a lot of evidence suggesting that the food given to the brain now, can have a big impact on how it performs in the future. Thus, it is important to start taking care of brain health during pregnancy and infancy (87% of the infants' daily energy intake goes to the brain).
Stress, sleep disturbances and fatigue can be signals that the brain is not being correctly fed. Although these states are not considered diseases, they affect human ability to think and focus. Paying attention to psychological well-being can help us understand the brain nutritional needs.
The brain's main fuel is Glucose (sugar) which can be found in carbohydrates of all sorts. An adult brain can use up to 5 grams of glucose per hour. Glucose can be found mainly in two forms: complex carbs and simple carbs. Simple carbs (refined sugars and white flours) are a fast but not lasting source of energy. They will give the brain a boost of energy due to the increase of glycemia into the blood stream, but the body will not be able to use it, so it is stored as fat. Complex carbs on the other hand will help keep glucose levels steady and will provide the brain enough fuel throughout the day. Good sources of complex carbs are whole grains such as brown rice, oat, and millet, among others; whole grains bread can also be a healthy choice. Proteins are also essential for the production of vital neurotransmitters. They can abundantly be found in beans, seeds and nuts.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) such as Omega 3 and 6 are vital for proper brain function. Both of them can be found in correct proportions in hemp seeds or hemp oil. But there are many other sources like chia seeds, sunflower, flax and sesame seeds, olive and coconut oil, soya beans, almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts and avocados.
Some vitamins are considered “brain vitamins” such as those found in the B vitamins complex. B12, B6 and Folic Acid play an important role in DNA production. Good sources of B complex vitamins are peruvian maca, yeast, wheat germen and spirulina. A vitamin also plays an important role in the regeneration of skin conditions and vision, specially in night vision. Carrots, sweet-potatoes, pumpkins, mangos and melons are rich sources of A vitamin. C Vitamin found in goji berries, inca berries, kiwis, citrus and pineapples, is a powerful antioxidant with an important role in biochemical activity of neurons, being essential for memory and concentration.
Minerals are vital for proper brain function. Potassium and sodium are essential components for neural transmission. Iron makes possible oxygen transport to the brain. Magnesium is a good sedative. Iodine (found in sea salt and sea weeds) is important to maintain good intellectual activity.
There are moments when the brain requires extra nutrients. Those can be provided through supplementation. During pregnancy, for a healthy fetal development, pregnant women should increase the intake of Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3 and 6)and proteins. Students can also benefit from supplements during exams season. Adults can prevent age-related memory loss by adding to their diet antioxidants, present in many foods such as goji berries, inca berries, blue berries and cocoa, among others; and B1 Vitamin (hazelnuts, brown rice and beans).
In conclusion, to keep the brain in good shape we need to balance our diet considering brain's nutritional needs. Starting the day with a good breakfast is the basis for a healthy diet, because in the morning our glucose levels are low and need to increase fast. Skipping breakfast can lead to lower concentration, lack of motivation and other long term consequences. Eat well, supplement if necessary, and live healthy!
Insert date: 2013-11-11 Last update: 2013-11-11
Authors > Translators > Ana Alpande
Authors > Contributor writers > Cristina Rodrigues