Brain food – we’ve all heard the term tossed around. “Eat this to raise IQ.” “Drink that to help mental stability.” “Avoid these to protect brain power.” But how many of these claims are evident in real life? Is the whole notion of brain food just another way of saying eat healthy? Or do some foods actually have specific benefits for the brain? Let’s find out.
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1. Know What To Avoid
Here’s a no brainer (no pun intended): avoid abusing/using drugs and alcohol. Sure, this won’t increase brain power, but relative to those who do use drugs and alcohol, you’re brain will stand a better chance at development. Both drugs and alcohol directly affect your brain as well as other important organs like the lungs, heart, and liver. Avoid 'em!
2. Know Your Omegas
Many of us have heard about the benefits of linoleic acid and linolenic acid, or omega-6 and omega-3, respectively. Omega-3 is found in the brain in the form of DHA and works with a number of enzymes used for coordinating brain mechanisms. While this is true, keep in mind that a proper balance of both omegas is essential. They both as precursors for the production of local tissue hormones and are essential in a number of other bodily functions such as blood clot formation and dissolving clots. They have also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Where you find these? Well, there are supplements, but we’d like to avoid these and instead get our omegas from food. Fish, flax seed, broccoli, and red kidney beans are all good sources. “But wait,” you may ask, “isn’t the cholesterol content the same in fish and steak?” The question is an astute one and worthy of consideration. The answer is yes, they are. The key difference though is the fatty acid composition in both. Fish is richer in omegas, making it a food that controls cholesterol rather than a food that adds to it.
Foods to consider: Salmon, flax seed, eggs, legumes
3. Hydration Is Crucial
Hydration? Brain power? Really? Yes, yes, and YES! The brain (and body) is substantially made up of water, with the brain being about 80 percent H20. Because of this, you need to make sure you have plenty of water in your system to avoid stress and headaches. Ever heard someone suggest drinking water when you have a headache? This is why!
When hydrating, avoid drinks like soda, coffee, or alcohol (of course). Sugary drinks will throw us into a insulin roller coaster that will eventually end in an insulin crash. Consider lightly caffeinated drinks, like tea, if you’re looking for a extra boost, but don’t go overboard!
Foods to consider: green tea, good ol’ fashioned water, juices
4. Antioxidants Galore
Here’s another word we hear often, but what are the purpose of antioxidants in the brain? Here’s the low down: we need oxygen to live, but in consuming oxygen, our bodies create these nasty little things called free radicals. These create chemical reactions that break down and damage brain cells. The more there are, the more out of control the process will be, and presumably the fewer brain cells you’ll have at your disposal.
Where do antioxidants come in? While these free radicals fly around, searching for something to latch onto, antioxidants provide a lucrative new partner. Free radicals(for a reason that a physicist should explain) prefer antioxidant molecules rather than cellular components, such as brain cells. That said, the more antioxidants, the fewer the free radicals, and the less brain cells are put at risk.
Foods to consider: blueberries, acai berries, carrots, spinach, mango, papaya, red peppers, broccoli, tomatoes
5. Be Balanced
Ideally, we’d like to get all of our vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids directly from food, not supplements. At the same time, we want to be sure to eat smaller meals more
frequently. Too heavy of a meal will divert blood away from the brain and into the stomach to help with digestion. The lower the amount of blood in the brain will adversely affect cognition (so don’t eat a huge meal before a test or presentation!). In relation to this, be sure you have a good breakfast every day. A well-rounded, balanced meal to kick off the day is the perfect way to energize and prepare your mind for anything the world throws at it.
So what’s the verdict with brain food? Yes, it does exist, but not in some magical form. It exists in a balanced diet, and in a healthy approach to snack foods. No one food will “raise you IQ”, but eating the healthiest, freshest foods can help guarantee that you’ll be able to use the smarts you have.