Eating for mental performance – How we fuel our bodies effects our brains

Your brain is responsible for everything in our body from breathing to our thoughts. The brain is working 24/7, even while you are asleep, meaning our brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “brain fuel” comes from the foods you eat and there has been lots of research on the connection between food and mood. Put simply, what you eat directly affects how your brain functions, how you feel and how you ultimately behave.

Like the rest of your body, your brain depends on food to run at peak performance. That’s why you may feel sharp as a tack after a healthy lunch and mentally sluggish on a junk-food diet. For peak mental function, is to include a wide variety of foods in your diet, as no one nutrient can provide everything your brain needs.

The best brain food

Carbohydrates

Your body converts carbohydrates from food into glucose, your brain’s primary energy source. That’s why healthy conplex carbohydrate sources such as fruits, vegetables and legumes, oats and whole-grains will help ensure top mental performance.

Protein

Your brain needs protein to build neurotransmitters, messenger chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into individual amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosin and phenylalanine, which affect cognition and mood in different ways. For example, tyrosine spurs your brain to produce the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which help you stay alert. Healthy sources include beans, seafood, fish, eggs and lean meats.

Good Fats

As with protein, your body breaks down dietary fats and sends some of the building blocks — fatty acids — to your brain. Omega-3  in particular, are important for healthy brain function. Include natural satured fats such as fish, olive oil , coconut oil, nuts and seeds and avocados.

Vitamins and Minerals

Your brain also needs an assortment of vitamins and minerals to thrive, including B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, iron and magnesium. It’s better not to use supplements and instead to get your fill of essential nutrients, eat a varied diet that includes fresh, unprocessed foods in a rainbow of colours.

How foods interact with your brain

One of the most fascinating things about eating is how various ingredients enter your brain through your blood stream. Whichever elements make it through to power your brain will help you to either focus or lose focus.

Most of what we eat will be broken down to one thing: Glucose. Glucose is our fuel, keeping our brains awake and alert. Certain foods release glucose quickly, whilst others do so more slowly. For example you can eat a bowl of sugary coated cornflakes for breakfast or you can eat a bowl of porridge. There is virtually no difference in the very short term for your brain activity. Over the stretch of a normal 8-hour day however, the differences are spectacular. After eating the sugar coated cornflakes we will release glucose into our blood very quickly. We will have about 20 minutes of alertness. Then our glucose level will drop rapidly, leaving you unfocused and easily distracted. The porridge oats however will release their sugar as glucose much slower. This means we will have a steady glucose level, better focus and attention levels. Another important factor are your Leptin levels. Leptin will signal to your brain how full you are. Foods with a low glycemic index number gradually release glucose into your bloodstream. This gradual release helps minimize blood sugar swings and optimizes brainpower and mental focus.

Try making some changes over a period of a few weeks and make some notes in a diary of how you feel. You will soon be able to track what foods make you feel alert and give you energy and which make you feel sluggish and low. As you start to fuel your brain right you will see a notable increases in your productivity.