Advice Column, Education, Health

Brain Food For Exams

  • Paarl Dietitians
  • Category Advice Column, Education, Health

Our brain, a mass of fat and protein weighing about 1.4 kilograms (equal to 3 bricks of butter), is the organ that makes us human, gives us the capacity for art, language, moral judgments and rational thought. It’s also responsible for each of our personality, memories, movements, and how we sense the world. So, one would think that it is the organ that we would take the most care of. We have days dedicated to heart, kidney and bone health, but how often do we take time to appreciate our brain and make sure we are looking after it!

What we eat can have a direct impact on how well our brain works. Our brain is a hungry organ and reportedly uses 20-30% of our daily energy intake. Relative to its size and weight, that is rather demanding and if we don’t take in adequate nutrition, our brain is going to go hungry. None of us feel good when we are hungry, so just imagine how your brain must feel when it goes hungry. Just by skipping breakfast alone, you can adversely affect brain functions like fluency when speaking, ability to solve problems and motivation to tackle tasks.

What we need to realise is your brain works just like your car. Just like your car requires good quality petrol, oil, water, brake fluid and other components to function well, so does your brain. The nutrients key to your brains health and function include glucose, vitamins & minerals and other essential chemicals.

If you want to keep your brain fit and healthy and make sure it serves you well, keep reading to learn more about food and brain health.

Glucose = carbohydrate = brain power

The ability to concentrate and focus comes from the adequate supply of energy – from blood glucose – to the brain. The glucose in our blood comes primarily from the carbohydrates we eat – foods including fruit, vegetables, cereals, bread, sugars and lactose in milk. Eating breakfast and regular meals containing some carbohydrate ensure you will have enough glucose in your blood. Low GI carbohydrates are the best choice as they will ensure a steady supply of glucose to your brain.

Not having enough glucose in the blood makes us feel weak, tired and our minds cloudy. This may happen when we don’t eat enough carbohydrate-containing food e.g. when you are following a low carbohydrate diet or if you have an erratic eating patterns. However, though glucose ensures good concentration and focus, once your blood glucose is within the normal range, you CANNOT further boost your brain power by eating more carbohydrates and increasing your glucose levels. This will not make you smarter but only cause you to gain weight! Your dietitian would be able to guide you on how much carbohydrates you need to prevent weight gain.

Choose fats wisely

Our brains are made of around 40% fat, and our cells need fats to maintain their structures, therefore an adequate supply of healthy fat is needed to maintain brain health. Healthy fat choices include the mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado pear, nuts and seeds and omega 3 rich foods like pilchards, sardines, salmon, trout and walnuts.

If you don’t like fish you may decide to take an omega 3 supplement. Make sure your omega 3 supplement has a high proportion of the active ingredients – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Take up to a total of 1g/day of these essential fatty acids every day. We stock various omega-3 supplements at the practice that meets the recommended dosage.

Include protein at each meal

Tryptophan is one of the building blocks of protein, and has been shown to play a role in depression. Studies have shown that adding pure tryptophan to the diet of people with depression can improve their mood. Tryptophan is found in most foods like seafood, dairy, nuts, seeds and legumes, but is found in the largest quantity in turkey, chicken and red meats.

Protein also contains essential nutrients and eating it little and often helps to keep us feeling full, which in turn, can prevent overeating. Fresh meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs are the best sources of protein. Fill around one-third of your plate with a protein food.

Don’t forget your fruit and veggies and wholegrains

Wholegrain cereals, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are rich in a range of vitamins and minerals that your body needs in order to function well. These foods are also rich in B vitamins, (including folate) and zinc, which evidence suggests is important in managing depression. Try to eat at least five different fruits and vegetables daily to get all the vitamins and minerals you need.

Drink enough fluid

Water makes up 85 percent of the brain weight. So, it is but natural that lack of water can lead to brain shrinkage. Researches have shown that dehydration not only shrinks the brain tissues but also adversely affects concentration and memory.

So, how much water is required by the body every day? Drink water according to your body weight. Dividing your weight in kilograms by 30 gives the amount of water in litres a day. For example, if you weigh 75 kg, drink (75/30= 2.5) 2.5 litres of water spread out over a day.

Be careful of caffeinated beverages though. Caffeine may affect your mood and may lead to withdrawal headaches and to low or irritable mood when the effects wear off. Drinks such as coffee, cola, energy drinks, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine. Avoid all energy drinks, and try to limit intake to three cups of coffee, or five cups of tea a day. Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect. Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to B vitamin deficiencies, and can make you more depressed or anxious. Try to limit intake to no more than two to three drinks on no more than five days per week.

Try to include a super food each day

Super foods for the brain include the following:

  • Blueberries
  • Salmon
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado pear
  • Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli

And yes – dark chocolate!!!

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