How to eat for optimum cognitive
In order to work fast, your brain needs
a steady supply of ready-to-use fuel.
Because the brain’s job is to think, not
to process food. And also, the brain does not have any ‘food storage
The fuel in this case is
In practice, the brain utilizes about
120g of glucose, or 420kcal (1760kJ) per day, irrespective of how much thinking
or learning we are doing (6).
The tricky bit is that the supply of the
fuel needs to be steady.
Because both a drop and a high in blood
glucose can have a negative effect on the ability to concentrate.
A drop in glucose levels in your blood,
even if you are overall healthy, is likely to make you feel tired, nervous,
restless, and unable to concentrate and think clearly. On the other hand, a
sudden spike in blood glucose is not good for your brain either. A snack high in
carbs or a sweet drink can give you an initial boost in energy, but this peak in
glucose level in your blood will be quickly brought down by insulin (assuming
you don’t have any metabolic/diabetic problems), resulting in another low.
You’re likely to go searching for another ‘sugar fix,’ resulting in another
sugar high and subsequent low. This yo-yo effect although it may initially help
you to focus, is not good for longer-term work and your overall
What you eat and how you eat is
important to effective focus and other mental capabilities. Read on to learn
more about focus-enhancing nutrition.
Here are some suggestions for
1. Eat ‘Brain friendly food’
As I said above, brain food is simple
and plain glucose. It’s practically the only nutrient our brain is able to use.
Without any ‘food storage capacity,’ the brain needs a continuous supply of
glucose. But glucose is a simple sugar and disappears quickly from our
bloodstream. So we need to eat something that would release glucose in a
continuous way without harmful highs and lows.
How can you ensure your brain is ‘fed’
By eating so called ‘brain friendly’
Complex carbohydrates (complex sugars)
are great for providing slow-release glucose. Foods in this group include:
grains and whole-grain breads and pastry, starchy vegetables such as potatoes,
corn, and pulses (beans, peas, lentils).
Proteins are also important, although
not a direct source of brain food.
Fats are a rich source of energy that
is slowly released, so it acts as storage in times of starvation. Omega-3 fatty
acids, present in some fish (mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon) and nuts, may help
improve concentration and academic ability.
Antioxidants—nutrients of various
kinds, whose main role is to get rid of free radicals, which damage brain cells.
Foods rich in antioxidants are berries, cherries, citrus and other fruits, and
vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots, some herbs and spices (onion,
garlic, cinnamon, basil), and some kids of tea (green and white).
2. Avoid “Brain unfriendly”
Simple sugars (simple carbohydrates)
such as sweets, biscuits, fruit juice, and jams are like an injection of fuel
that causes a temporary boost in energy, but is used up or stored away (by
insulin) quickly and causes a low—not good!
Junk food is not only calorie-rich and
nutrition poor, but also rich in saturated trans fats, which are considered to
have adverse effect on cognition.
3. Be smart about how you eat
How to eat is as important as what to
eat when it comes to brain-friendly nutrition. As we already know, the key to a
steady intellectual ‘workout’ is a steady supply of glucose.
Eating 3 meals a day, even if well
balanced, still creates three spikes of ‘glucose highs’ in our system, leading
to lows a couple of hours after the meal.
A morning and afternoon tea, or a
small snack, should keep the blood glucose levels steady. It’s best to eat
something with complex carbs and some protein to keep a steady supply of glucose
for the brain. A grain & nuts bar, low-fat yoghurt with muesli, or a slice
of wholemeal bread with cheese should keep us going until the next meal.