Our mood, learning ability and memory are all affected by the type and quality of foods we eat.
Our brain is composed of the nutritients found in our diet:
Brain Boosting DHAs - These healthy brain fats help to enhance learning, memory, brain growth and development. Include DHA-rich fish (such as salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, herring, halibut and mackerel) at least three times a week.
Your body can also make DHA from the Omega-3 fat found in flaxseed oil and unsalted nuts and seeds - add to breakfast cereals or salads.
‘Feel good” Neurotransmitters - did you know that certain foods can influence your mood by altering the level of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine?
Dopamine and norepinephrine affect our brain process that control movement, emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure and pain. These neurotransmitters also make us more alert, excitable and talkative and help us concentrate. Dopamine and norepinephrine levels are increased by consuming protein-rich foods (such as fish, lean meat, poultry, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and eggs).
Serotonin on the other hand is our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, helping us to stay calm and happy. It helps reduce anxiety and relieves feelings of sadness and depression. Serotonin levels are affected by our hormones; this is one of the reasons why women can have big mood swing during their menstrual cycle and the menopause.
Serotonin is manufactured in the body using the amino acid tryptophan (which is an amino acids that the body cannot synthesise itself). This amino acid is also needed to produce melatonin, which is vital for sleep. Low serotonin levels are linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue, therefore it is important to provide your body with food containing tryptophan (such as turkey, chicken, beef, fish, brown rice,eggs, cheese, nuts and bananas). Eating complex carbohydrates with these tryptophan-rich foods will help increase its absorption and enhance the production of serotonin (for example eat a turkey and salad granary sandwich or salmon with brown rice and vegetables).
Balanced Blood Sugars - complex carbohydrates provide the body with a slow and steady supply of glucose which won’t cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels or spike in insulin. By eating foods that remain as close to their natural state as possible (such as foods that are unprocessed and unrefined and don’t contain added sugar, salt or fats) will result in more constant energy levels, reduced sugar cravings and a more balanced mood.
Don’t forget your 5 a day! Every meal should contain an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruit or salads. These contain key vitamins and minerals which are important not only for the functioning of your whole body but also for your brain to help perform vital tasks.
Certain B Vitamins such as B5, B12 and folic acid (found in leafy greens) support the healthy function of the nervous system ( the brain, spinal cord and the nerves), vitamin C (such as kiwi, blackcurrant, red peppers and citrus fruits) has been linked to protect against age-related brain degeneration. Red and purple fruits such as blueberries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss. Zinc is also vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills and the best source can be found in pumpkin seed which also are full of stress-busting magnesium.
As well as what you eat, it is also important when you eat. Eating regular meals will help you maintain steady energy levels. In particular, you should try to always eat breakfast as this will help your concentration and mental performance throughout the day.
And of course, don't forget to stay hydrated!