Is there such a thing as brain food? Will supplements make me smarter? Which vitamins boost memory? I hear these questions a lot from people who strive to be sharper right now and want to ensure they remain that way as they get older. Given the mysterious complexity of the mind, the intricate interplay of neurochemical messages coursing through the brain, and the myriad factors involved in perception and memory the answers are not likely to be simple.
Before exploring micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, there is a lot of benefit to be found in the basic components of the daily diet. Here are some common sense tips to consider when it comes to feeding the brain:
- Refreshing water. Many of us walk around dehydrated without knowing it, and serious dehydration can temporarily affect mental sharpness. Nothing hydrates like pure water. For most of us, the number of ounces needed in a typical day is estimated by taking half the body weight (in pounds). So a person weighting 160 lbs. would need about 80 ounces of plain water. Exercise, heat, and other factors can increase needs. Caffeinated drinks can act like diuretics in those who rarely drink them; however, the body seems to adjust to this effect over time in those who regularly drink caffeine.
- Calming carbohydrates. Our brains use the sugar glucose for energy. That doesn't mean that a spoonful of sugar is the best way to feed the brain. Simple carbs might give a temporary boost in blood sugar, yet swings and dips in glucose levels are not ideal. The middle path is best. Being ravenously hungry is not conducive to sharpness, and a huge meal creates sluggishness for many of us. Over the course of a few hours, the body can metabolize complex carbs such as whole grains into the glucose that the brain needs. So enjoy complex carbs in moderate amounts when you want to be calm and relaxed. When fats are added to a carbohydrate meal, absorption is slowed down; this can result in a more even keel in terms of blood sugar.
- Remember protein. While carbohydrates generally have a soothing effect on the brain, eating a few ounces of good quality protein might help promote alertness. Proteins serve as building blocks for the natural brain chemicals that keep us alert. If the same meal also contains significant amounts of carbohydrates or lots of calories in general, then protein's effects may not shine through. Significant amounts of fat taken at the same meal may slow down absorption, so protein's effects may not be as brisk.
Individuals differ with regard to the effect of food on the brain. Consider experimenting to see whether meals that are predominantly protein vs. carbs affect your mental abilities. Our own personal experience and observation may ultimately be the best teacher. The next blog highlights micronutrients and mental function.
This information is purely educational and does not replace a physician's advice that may be unique to each individual. For all medical concerns, please see a physician to establish a diagnosis and explore proven treatments.