Our brain makes up 2 percent of our body weight, but requires almost 20 percent of our daily caloric intake. It requires a certain kind of glucose and in the proper amounts to function properly.
Many people set weight loss goals, but they don’t take into account how their diet will affect their brain.
There are numerous studies that indicate that recording your daily calories, fat intake and carbohydrate consumption can take a toll on your short-term memory. How and what we eat has a definite affect on how our brain functions.
Regardless if you are looking for brain food to bone up for a test, or just want to be at mental best, there are five things to know about proper feeding of the brain.
1. Feed it Fuel
It was previously mentioned that the brain takes up nearly 20 percent of our calories every day. It wants those calories in the form of glucose which can be found in fruits, grains, and vegetables. The brain only uses other sources of food in times of severe food deprivation.
The frontal cortex is more sensitive to fluctuating glucose levels than some of the other regions of the brains are. Leigh Gibson from Roehampton University in England says that a symptom of lowered glucose levels is confused thoughts.
This does not mean that we should be consuming soft drinks all day to keep our brain operating at its peak. Soft drinks contain high levels of sugar that will slowly damage your brain cells.
High blood sugar levels combined with a mental task results in increased levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that when found in large amounts can harm memory. So, don’t try to do a mental task after you’ve eaten your dessert.
2. Get the Proper Amount
The brain requires an exact amount of energy.
Michael Green from Aston University in England recommends eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. He says the brain functions optimally with 25 grams of glucose flowing in the bloodstream. This is the amount of glucose found in one banana.
3. Know the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a ranking of foods in order of how they affect blood glucose levels. For example, pretzels are higher on the index since they cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. Carrots give a slower rise in blood sugar and are on the lower end of the index.
Carbohydrates in the lower index foods break down into glucose more slowly, which produces a continual energy supply to the brain. Meals lower in the glycemic index are best to satisfy hunger.
High fiber carbohydrates tend to be low in the glycemic index, but if you pair them with protein or fat, it makes the absorption even slower. For example, think of white Wonder Bread. It is high in the glycemic index and is digested quickly. This results in a quick boost in glucose levels, and then a large drop. However, whole wheat bread that is high in fiber is lower in the index, so it doesn’t give a large glucose spike. If you spread some olive oil and pesto on the wheat bread along with some meat or other protein, you now have the perfect brain fuel lunch.
The idea is to balance all your carbohydrates, fats and proteins to utilize them most efficiently.
4. Understand Fats
We just stated that fat can help lower the glycemic index of a meal, but not all fats are created equally. Unsaturated fat is the healthiest of all fat. Trans fats are the worst, and saturated fats are better than trans fats, but aren’t all that good.
Gibson indicates that those who consume foods high in saturated fats have a higher risk to mental deficits. An extreme example is the increase of having a stroke. When rats were fed high levels of saturated fats over several weeks, they had noticeable damage to their hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for memory.
You still need to have some fat in your diets. People with extremely low cholesterol levels have been found to have depression, aggression, and antisocial tendencies. Fat needs to be limited in the diet, but should not be completely eliminated.
Essential fatty acids play a role in treating depression and other mental disorders such as schizophrenia. They also help in infant brain development. Omega-3s are an example of essential fatty acids and can be found in cold water fish, nuts and seeds.
5. Understand Yourself
Food tends to affect everyone’s brain in different ways. If you are an extrovert, you have a higher chance of feeling that after-lunch dip in energy. Children and adults who are underweight may experience symptoms of being faint or grumpy when their blood glucose levels are low quicker than a normal sized adult will feel the symptoms.
Eating brain food is great, but you have to develop overall good nutritional habits. Those who tend to not eat enough, exercise to much, or skip meals can become light headed with just a slight drop in glucose levels. They are extra sensitized to not having enough glucose.
As long as you eat the proper amount of the right foods, you don’t have to worry about following the next diet trend. Eating low on the glycemic index is one of the best ways to go.