Food for Thought

September 20, 2017

Good for Thought

Can certain foods make you smarter? Ever remember your mom promising you’ll be more clever if you finish all your peas? Is there really such a thing as brain food?

Ummm, not quite. There are, however, certain nutrients that are particularly important in the functioning of your brain, which we guess could translate into smarts J

You brain weighs about 2-3 kgs, which, if you weigh 80kgs is only around 3% of your total body weight, yet it utilises 20-30% of the breakdown products of a healthy balanced diet!

Brain health, like general health, depends on proper nutrition and this can clearly be observed in people with vitamin deficiencies. Inadequate levels of vitamin B12, or certain fats, for example, can lead to an increased risk of illnesses such as depression and anxiety. A vitamin D deficiency has been associated with mood disorders, cognitive disorders as well as increased risk for both major and minor depression. An iron deficiency will cause you to feel sluggish and inhibit your ability to think clearly. In clinical trials, certain nutrients have actually been used to treat illnesses like depression and dementia, which is why a full psychiatric assessment often involves certain tests like thyroid, vitamin B levels, as well as sodium and possatium levels.

There are specific nutrients that are incredibly important for the brain and its functioning. Although these foods are found to be a particularly beneficial for the brain, it is important to remember that they do not work in isolation from one another, but need to be included in a healthy balanced diet that includes a diverse range of foods, prepared in a wide variety of methods.

These nutrients are:

  • Omega 3 fats:
    There are 3 types:

    • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in the oil of some seeds (flax, chia, hemp, canola, sunflower), nuts (walnuts are the best source) and spirulina.
    • EPA and DHA which is found in fatty fish and seafood.
    • ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, however this does not happen efficiently and it is recommended to include them in your diet.
    • These fats have important functions throughout one’s life span. During infancy, they are essential for development of the brain, eyes and central nervous system, which is why breast milk contains EPA and DHA. In childhood, low levels are associated with depression and ADHD. In adulthood, they are play a role in maintenance of cardiovascular function, and low levels are also associated with depression. During the aging years,they play an important role in maintaining cognitive function.
    • Studies have shown clear evidence for the importance of sufficient EPA intake for general mental health, and particularly for nutrition support in conditions such as depression as well as decreasing the risk of age-related cognitive decline, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
    • DHA is stored in the brain and nerve cells. It is involved in metabolic regulation and is needed for normal brain growth, development and maturation, as well as for the communication between brain cells, gene expression and cell membrane synthesis. DHA also plays an important role in the structure of brain cell membranes.
    • Some conditions for which EPA and DHA consumption have benefited include anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, dyspraxia, eating disorders, postpartum depression and schizophrenia.
    • It is recommended to eat a serving (140 g cooked) of oily fish twice a week, such as: salmon, trout, anchovies, herring, sardines, mackerel, pilchards and fresh tuna.
    • Although deep-sea oily fish contain more EPA and DHA per serving, all fish and seafood contain some omega 3 in varying amounts. Canned tuna does not count as an oily fish, because when canned the amount of omega 3’s is reduced to similar levels of white fish. Mussels, crab, oysters and squid also contain some omega 3 fats.
    • Also though one can take a supplement containing Omega 3’s, we believe in “food first”. Fish also contains high-quality, lean protein, and other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, selenium, cofactors and other healthy fats, and can replace other less nutritious foods. Taking a supplement means you’re only taking in DHA and EPA. Furthermore, some studies have actually shown that DHA and EPA are better absorbed when a consumed from food, because other fats and nutrients in the food increase their absorption during digestion.
  • B-complex vitamins are known for having an effect on neurologic and brain health and sufficient intake is important for individuals with psychiatric disorders.
    • Folic acid: very important for maintaining cell health and protecting DNA, as well as helping remove some of the waste products that are produced normally in metabolism. The best sources of folate are mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, kale and other greens, legumes, liver and orange juice.
    • B12: which is important in the production of myelin sheaths which coat brain cells and accelerate signals flowing from one end to the other end of the cell. B12 is found in animal sources only such as beef, liver, clams, oysters, crab, tuna and halibut.
    • B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another. It is needed for normal brain development and function and helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate the body clock. B6 can be found in beef liver, oatmeal, banana, chicken, potatoes, avocado, sunflower seeds, brewer’s yeast, halibut, pork and brown rice.
  • Phytochemicals :
    New research suggests that plant-based food rich in these chemicals are important contributors to normal brain function and mental health. Foods such as berries, citrus fruits, green tea and some spices contain phytochemicals, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals. Phytochemicals can be classified into major categories, which include flavonoids (which are found in apples, berries, (particularly red, blue and purple), chocolate, citrus fruits, grapes and teas). Flavonoids can then be further sub-divided into sub-classes, the most powerful being: flavanols, anthocyanins and flavanones. These phytochemicals have antioxidant activity, but more importantly, they can protect and preserve brain cell structure and metabolism. There is also evidence that foods including onion, ginger, turmeric, oregano, sage rosemary and garlic have possible pharmacological effects in the brain and impact brain health through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
  • Zinc:
    Plays an important role in axonal and synaptic transmission and is necessary for nucleic acid metabolism and brain tubulin growth and phosphorylation. Lack of zinc has been implicated in impaired DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis during brain development. Zinc is found in seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, soy products, oysters, red meat and poultry.
  • Iron:
    Is essential for normal neurological function because of its role in metabolism and because it is necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin, and a variation of iron levels have been associated with various neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Iron is found in red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots, Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas and peas.
  • Trypotphan:
    An amino acid needed to make serotonin and dopamine which are mood-regulating and learning regulating chemicals in the brain is found nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs.
  • Vitamin D:
    Affects hundreds of genes in the body and is recognized as an important nutrient for brain health. Because vitamin D can be synthesized from sunlight, adequate sun exposure or Vitamin D3 intake can help maintain mental health. Best sources oily fish and egg yolks, or fortified foods such as

Other habits particularly important for brain health and preventing diseases are:

  • Getting enough sleep, which is different for everyone but should average 7-8 hours per night. In fact, it has been found that if you suffer any sleep disturbances over the night you suffer an IQ loss of 5-8 points the next day.
  • Hydration; the recommended amount is half a litre of water per 15kgs of body weight per day.
  • Breath: just doing 10 deep breaths can improve concentration and focus
  • Meditation and stress reduction: there is evidence that shows just 12 minutes of meditation a day reduces stress hormone level
  • Exercise: 20-30 minutes per day

Feeling slightly overwhelmed? Don’t worry, we are here to help. Send us your preferences and we will deliver healthy, delicious and exciting meals to your door which include all the above-listed foods to keep your brain (as well as every other organ happy) and help prevent disease.