Keeping your gray matter gorgeous is really a no-brainer, isn't it? A healthy brain can mean proper mental development, good learning skills, strong cognitive function and a high quality of life. Who doesn't want that?! I know I do. Here are some simple steps to boost brain power - great for adults and kids alike.A healthy brain depends on:
Essential fatty acids
Topping the list are EFAs, also called Essential Fatty Acids, because they support a healthy brain and nervous system. Since your body doesn't make these nutrients, you need to get them from food sources. These days, many people get too much omega-6 fatty acids from processed foods so healthcare providers suggest adding sources of omega-3 fatty acids to our diets in order to create balance. Omega-3s are crucial for the development of the brain as well as the heart, nervous system, tissues, skin and the immune system. These important fatty acids make up much of our brain cells. Children can especially benefit from an added focus on omega-3s since the sources (salmon, sardines, walnuts, hemp and flax) are not generally eaten by little ones. Deficiencies may be present in kids with focus and learning problems. For more information, check out our podcast on Back to School Brain Power. You may want to try this delicious Flax and Pumpkin Seed Cornbread for a boost in omega-3s.
This B-vitamin is super important for good memory and a strong, healthy nervous system. Beets, navy beans and pinto beans are excellent sources of folate while broccoli, Brussels sprouts and oranges supply a good amount as well. I love to make these Tangy Buttered Beets.
Many of us don't get the fiber we need every day and this can be especially true for kids who don't eat enough fiber sources like fruits, veggies and whole grains. And as we age, we often notice the effects of a digestive system that isn't quite what it used to be. Ever hear someone say: "I just can't eat that way anymore!"? Time to think of probiotics! Good gut-bacteria can equal good digestion, and that means the "good bugs" are looking out for us, ensuring an efficient digestive process. How does this relate to the brain? Preliminary research suggests there may be a link between poor digestion and brain function. Yogurt can be a good source of gut-friendly probiotics. Try this Greek Yogurt with Honey Thyme Walnut Crumble.
Zinc and Magnesium
These important minerals are essential for helping our brains process information. Studies have shown that people with ADHD may have lower levels of both these minerals, and supplements of both are currently being researched for a possible link to staying calm and alert. Zinc comes from oysters, meat, eggs, seafood, black-eyed peas and tofu. You'll find magnesium in whole wheat, quinoa, almonds and walnuts.
Low Glycemic Breakfast
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is digested, enters the blood stream and then raises blood sugar levels. The lower the glycemic index, the steadier the blood sugar. When breakfast is made of mostly sugary cereals, pastries and such, we cheat ourselves out of the good nutrition and steady energy levels we need for our day. Including a source of protein such as eggs or cheese and a good source of fiber such as whole grains and cereals, nuts and berries is a sure-fire way to keep the glycemic index down. This is especially important for breakfast as research suggests that breakfast positively affects the cognitive function and academic performance of children. Kids who ate breakfast showed increased cognitive performance and a breakfast of lower glycemic foods, such as oatmeal, showed even greater cognitive enhancement. This is likely due to the slower, sustained energy release that helps to maintain concentration and focus. The same goes for grown-ups. For a low glycemic start to your day, try this Overnight Oatmeal.
Proper Iron Intake
A deficiency of iron can be caused from a number of health issues and is associated with depression and inability to focus. Ensure you get iron in your diet from black beans, raisins, dried apricots, blackstrap molasses, lean beef, liver, lean pork or chicken to your diet. To help make sure the iron is properly absorbed, get some vitamin C too from food like veggies, tomatoes and citrus.So, in general, focus on a healthy, balanced diet with a wide assortment of whole foods. It always seems to come down to that, doesn't it? Got your own special way to feed a healthy brain? I would love to hear!