Did you know that our brain has priority to energy supply over all organs in our body? The type of foods we eat impact our health and wellbeing as well as proper functioning of our brain.
When you work out too much you feel sore, right? You try to fuel your muscles with sufficient nutrients such as protein, and you might even take an Epsom salt bath or get a deep tissue massage to soothe pain as part of your recovery.
But what about your brain? Brain massage? Brain nutrients? You use your brain 24/7! So just like your gluteus maximus and biceps, your brain needs “fuel” to ensure proper function and to deliver performance.
As an entrepreneur, I sometimes feel I have a billion things and ideas on my mind but it is hard to focus and conceptualize my thoughts every single day. A few lifestyle and nutritional hacks can aid energy, focus and boost alertness in stressful times.
Here are 8 tips for optimal brain health to help you focus
Inadequate or poor-quality sleep can have enormous effects on your brain functions. Make sure you get enough sleep, turn off your phone, meditate before you go to bed or read a book. The blue light of our phones or iPads suppresses melatonin production and thus, can cause interrupted sleep and further inhibits your brain to recharge and regain energy for the next day.
Being active can help boost energy levels, improve cognitive functions and facilitate information processing. Regular exercise boosts your memory, and some studies show it even helps your creativity. I personally agree 100%. I had my best ideas during running, biking or rollerblading. However, you do not have to go to spin class every day or run a marathon; if you don't have enough time to exercise, implement simple changes such as riding your bike to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, carrying your grocery bags home instead of driving the car, or simply walking.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the ones you want to consume. Your body cannot make these, that's why they are essential. The most effective omega-3s include EPA and DHA which occur naturally in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna, salmon, sardines, etc. DHA plays an important role in the development and functioning of the brain and reduction of oxidative stress. Alpha linoleic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants such as flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and their oils. Snack on nuts, eat fish regularly or consider taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Avoid refined sugars
Food high in simple sugars such as candies, white bread, pasta, cakes, muffins, or sodas spike your blood sugar level right after consumption. If you are about to go to the gym, a run or a hike, these blood sugar spikes wouldn't be a problem. However, if you have to go back to your desk, you will feel the “sugar rush” followed by a “sugar crash”. Our brain needs carbs as energy, so the best you can do is opt for 'brown' wholegrain cereals, bread, rice and pasta that are digested more slowly and do not result in blood sugar spikes. Great wheat alternatives include quinoa, millet, amaranth, barley, black rice or buckwheat.
Vitamins + Minerals
Eat the rainbow! Make sure your diet includes a variety of fruit and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants which reduce oxidative stress and fight inflammation. Numerous flavonoids, ginseng, vitamin B2, A, C, D and E found in berries, leafy greens such as kale or spinach, seaweed, sweet potato and avocado are very potent for brain health. Magnesium, vitamin B6 and B3 and carnitine show neuroprotective powers in energy metabolism. Opt for B-rich foods like chicken, whole grains, fish, eggs and leafy greens. You can find some nutrient rich delicious recipes here.
Curcumin, the natural active ingredient in the spice turmeric, is shown to prove neuronal function in Alzheimer’s disease patients due to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory potential. Further it aids the growth of new neurons and fights several degenerative processes in the brain. Daily, add a pinch of turmeric to your tea or coffee, smoothie, salad dressing, meat or fish marinade and benefit from all its potential. Try this delicious smoothie or chia pudding.
Our brain needs optimal hydration to function properly. Make sure your drink enough liquids during the day, such as water, unsweetened or slightly sweetened tea, mild fruit juices, etc. Even mild dehydration may reduce levels of energy and alertness. Carry a water bottle with you or have a jug of water on your desk. Some people even set their alarm so they don't forget to hydrate.
Following a nourishing, balanced diet should give you all the nutrients you and your brain needs. In stressful times or when your diet is not on point, you may want to consider multivitamin, mineral complex and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to help make up a few of the essentials. If you are considering taking a supplement, it is best to discuss with your general practitioner or qualified healthcare professional. I can highly recommend ‘Brain Evolve’, a powdered supplement that acts to aid your brain function, developed by Vancouver Entrepreneur Matthew Bennett.
Julie Zeitlhuber is a scientist, food lover and the founder of Ready to Nourish. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Nutritional Science from the University of Vienna. She lived in Melbourne, worked at the WHO in Geneva and currently pursues a career as a nutritionist in Vancouver, BC. She is continuously inspired by the different countries she visits and their food cultures.