Dietary Guidelines to Boost Brain Function

School is back in session in Georgia!  Check out these dietary tips for boosting your child’s cognitive function this school year.

Don’t Skip Breakfast!

Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day and skipping it takes a negative toll on brain function.  Unfortunately, the American model of breakfast includes sugar-laden cereals, toast, donuts, bagels, and other refined carbohydrates.  It is time to break the mold and reach for higher protein items in the morning.  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, it takes longer for our bodies to digest protein than it does carbohydrates so the energy we get from it lasts much longer, keeping us from snacking by mid-morning.

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.  This 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.  If you must use a sweetener, raw, local honey, grade b maple syrup, whole leaf stevia, and xylitol are much healthier alternatives to white sugar.

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.  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.

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.

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 them combat free radicals and protect our neurons from damage.

Pump Some Iron

The symptoms of iron deficiency include irritability and diminished mental alertness.  Studies show that when the iron level of students increase, they concentrate better and learn better.  Iron is necessary for healthy brain tissue and adequate neurotransmitter function.  Food sources of iron include egg yolks, red meat, dark leafy vegetables, turkey, beans, and artichokes.

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.

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 the undesirable fats deters us from eating healthy fats, like nuts, olive oil, avocados and meat protein that are so beneficial to the brain.

Eliminate Food Dyes and Other Artificial Colorings

Artificial food dyes are found in practically all of the processed foods we eat.  In fact, the average person is now getting 5x the number of food dyes than anyone did 50 years ago!  There have been several studies that show food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviors like inattention, impulsivity, and overactivity in young children- so much so that European countries have already mandated that food manufacturers remove most artificial colors from food products.  The FDA is yet to make such a decision, but we are finally starting to see majors companies begin to transition to more  natural food colorings.