Sharpen Up: Boost Your Brain Power with Good Nutrition

Ever feel like you’re walking around in a brain fog?  Do you have trouble recalling names, dates and other simple facts like you used to?  Do you go to the other room to get something only to forget what you came for in the first place?  Do you have problems focusing or feel like your mood and energy slump at certain points in the day?  Do you or your child struggle with ADD and other attention issues?  If you answered yes to any of these things, this post is for you.

Your nutritional health plays a huge role in mental clarity, memory and brain function, so today I want to talk about some brain boosting habits, foods and supplements to help you stay as sharp as a tack!

Bulk up on B12.

Also known as the “feel good vitamin,” B12 helps ward off fatigue and weakness.  It also enhances our ability to reason and think logically.  B12 assists in the production of myelin, which keeps the nerves in our brain in good repair.   An added bonus is that it keeps the walls of blood vessels strong to prevent heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.   Depression and memory loss can be sure signs of B12 deficiency.  When it comes to foods high in B12, protein is the name of the game.  The vitamin is abundant in all animal products: meat, eggs, fish and dairy, so it may be necessary for vegans and vegetarians to take a supplement.  Vitamin B12 absorption naturally declines as we age, so the older we get, the more we need.  Recent studies have shown that 16% of the elderly are B12-deficient, contributing to problems with memory retention and cognitive functions.  Certain medications, like aspirin, diuretics, blood pressure lowering drugs, stomach acid blockers, drugs for osteoporosis, and birth control pills, also deplete B12, so a supplement is especially important if you’re on any of these drugs.

43% of vegetarians are B12-deficient.

Reach for Amino Acids.

Brain cells communicate with one another via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which are usually made of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The amino acid tyrosine prompts the brain to manufacture norepinephrine and dopamine, other kinds of chemical messengers in the brain. These neurotransmitters promote energy and alertness.  In addition to meat and eggs, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables are high in amino acids.

Don’t Skip Breakfast!

Not only is it one of my Top 5 Nutritional No-No’s, but skipping the most important meal of the day also takes a negative toll on brain function.  Adults and kids who eat a balanced, high-protein breakfast perform better at work and school and have improved mood and energy levels throughout the day.  Plus, when we skip breakfast, we’re much more likely to reach for unhealthy choices come lunch time.

Get off the Sugar Roller Coaster!

Refined sugars, white flours and other processed foods deplete our tissues of B12.  So when our meals are out of balance, it’s only natural that our mood, energy and focus will take a nose dive.  Many people use starchy carbs and sugars to lift them out of these slumps, only to find that they plummet again an hour or two later.  And the cycle continues day in and day out, taking a huge toll on the adrenal glands and our quality of life.  Limit sugar, starches and other high-glycemic foods to enhance brain function all day long.

Limit Caffeine.

Once again, we turn to the very thing that’s contributing to our downfall when we reach for caffeine to pull us out of a brain fog.  Like processed carbs and sugars, caffeine leaches B12 from our tissues.  Eliminate those harmful sodas and energy drinks from your life all together, and keep coffee and teas to 1-2 cups a day (Don’t forget to drink plenty of extra water to make up for any diuretics!).

Add Antioxidants.

Individuals who eat more brightly colored fruits and leafy veggies have less cognitive decline than those who don’t.  That’s because the antioxidants in produce combat free radicals and protect our neurons from damage.  As we move into the spring and summer weather, more and more antioxidant-rich, colorful produce will be available to us, so eat up!

Pump Some Iron.

The symptoms of iron deficiency include irritability and diminished mental alertness.   Studies show that when the iron level of students increases, they concentrate better and learn better.  Iron is necessary for healthy brain tissue and for adequate neurotransmitter function.

Food sources of iron egg yolks, red meat, dark leafy greens, turkey, beans and artichokes.

Banish Bad Fats.

Looking for yet another reason to avoid processed foods?  They often contain biochemically-altered fats labeled “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the fine print on the package label.  The hydrogenation process produces trans fatty acids which can affect brain function.  The trans fats enter the cells of the central nervous system where they may compete with the action of natural fats, so that the nerves in the brain don’t function as well as they were designed to.   Filling up on these undesirable fats deters us from eating the healthy fats, like nuts, olive oil, avocados and meat protein that are so beneficial to the brain.
Get Your EFAs.

The essential fatty acid DHA is the primary structural component of brain tissue, so DHA deficiency translates into brain deficiencies.  More and more research studies are recognizing the possibility that DHA has a crucial influence on neurotransmitters in the brain, helping brain cells better communicate with each other.  Asian cultures have long appreciated the brain-building effects of DHA.  In Japan, DHA is considered such an important nutrient that it is used as a nutritional supplement to enrich some foods, and students frequently take DHA pills before examinations.  Salmon and other fatty fish are a great source of DHA.  In fact, women who eat these fish during their third trimester of pregnancy have babies who tend to perform better on cognitive tasks.  DHA-fortified eggs and flax seed oil are other excellent food sources of this important essential fatty acid.  Here are a few nore DHA research findings to consider:
  • Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity.
  • The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk.
  • Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the Eskimos who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis .
  • Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains and delayed central-nervous-system development.
  • Many children with poor school performance because of ADD have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet.

Lighten Your Toxic Load.

Our bodies are constantly working to cleanse the toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis, but sometimes we need a little help.   When everyday toxins like pesticides, heavy metals and parasites are stuck in our system, it can lead to fatigue and headaches and greatly impair our ability to concentrate.  Bio energetic testing helps to pinpoint toxins or deficiencies that are bogging us down so we can send in a homeopathic or nutritional supplement to correct it.

Don’t wait until your grades, career, relationships and health suffer to improve your brain function, memory and focus!  Start with a diet rich in healthy proteins, fats, and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, and add in supplements when necessary (Contact me if you need suggestions!).  Many people find it convenient to start the day with a high-quality protein drink where they can add essential fatty acids and antioxidant-rich berries.

Let me hear from you!  What do you do to boost your brain power throughout the day?

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