Food for Thought: Eating your way to a healthy brain

Fuel your brain with healthy foods

Anyone who has ever needed to skip breakfast because they were late for class knows how hard it can be to concentrate on an empty stomach.

In fact, there is a scientific basis behind the fuzzy mind when you’re underfed: the brain requires glucose, a type of sugar that we get from our bodies breaking down food, to function. Glucose is the brain’s (nearly only) fuel, and the brain needs a lot of it. Our brains use up twenty percent of our body’s glucose, despite accounting for a mere two percent of our body weight. A lack of glucose in the brain leads to poor cognitive functioning and difficulty paying attention.

One way to ensure your brain has a steady supply of glucose is by eating foods with a low glycemic index — which means that the body breaks them down into glucose more slowly. Examples of foods with low glycemic index are whole grains, like oatmeal and granola, which provide a balanced boost of glucose throughout the day. Sugary snacks like donuts, cakes, and cookies are more likely to provide you with a spike of glucose right after you eat them, only for you to feel the crash soon after.

But making sure you get enough glucose is only a part of how your diet can boost your brain. Our gray matter also requires other nutrients to thrive. One study from the American Journal of Epidemiology found that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood was associated with better memory performance in elderly people. Eat nuts and seeds to get your vitamin E.

Are you a fan of berries? You’re in luck — they pack a punch. A review of research has identified neurological benefits to eating berry fruits, and clinical trials have shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cognitive benefits in humans. Researchers at Tufts University also found that the berries can improve balance and coordination in rats.

And to end on a sweet note, the last food we recommend for brain health is dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains compounds called flavonoids (study) and polyphenols (study) that can lower blood pressure, while high blood pressure is associated with strokes. The delicious dessert also contains caffeine, which aids focus, and stimulates the release of endorphins, the same feel-good chemicals that make runners happy.

So if you often find yourself in a hurry, don’t go hungry! Instead, make this overnight oatmeal with almonds and blueberries in a mason jar the night before, and grab it to go. Your brain (and your belly!) will thank you.

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