Nutrition and Brain Power

By Dr. Michael Smith, Naturopathic Physician with Carolinas Natural Health Center

Good nutrition is the basis for vibrant health. Nutrition affects ALL aspects of our health, including physical, mental and emotional. Our bodies crave the naturally occurring nutrients in whole, unprocessed foods. When we provide our bodies with the nourishment they were designed for, we increase our possibility of experiencing optimal health and performance.

Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation with good nutrition and increased academic performance. A 2003 study conducted in Nova Scotia concluded that students who ate an adequate and varied amount of fruit, vegetables, protein, fiber and other components of healthy diet were significantly more likely to perform well on literacy tests.

Our goal is good, balanced nutrition that will give the body and brain what it needs to perform optimally. Healthy food choices will help maintain blood glucose levels and prevent mental fogginess. The following are the do’s and don’t of providing healthy foods for your family.

Do’s

Do provide unprocessed whole foods for your family. Be diligent in reading labels on all packaged foods.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. 

These nutrient dense foods pack necessary phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber in their natural and bioavailable forms. Aim to include fruits and/or veggies with every meal. For breakfast enjoy freshly cut fruit or add blueberries to oatmeal. Scramble eggs with your favorite chopped veggies. When packing school snacks and lunches include easy to eat veggies like cucumber slices, baby carrots, pepper slices and celery sticks. Fruits that pack well are apple slices, berries, grapes and sliced melons. Remember that fruit juices do not offer the benefits of eating the whole fruit. The whole fruit contains fiber which regulates glucose levels along with vital phytonutrients. The pasteurization of processed juices destroys natural enzymes and micronutrients.

Ingest healthy fats. Our brains need healthy fats to function optimally. Organic butter, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), coconut oil, and unrefined, high oleic safflower oil are good options. Also, eating good fats with our meals helps to regulate glucose levels. Steer clear of fat free foods as they usually contain a lot of sugar.

Choose whole grain or sprouted breads. The ingredients in bread should be basic. Stay away from a long list of ingredients with additives like high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. If you are used to eating processed white bread, work up to a hearty whole-grain bread over time.

Opt for healthy sources of proteins. Nut and seed butters are a great source of protein as they also contain healthy fats. For something other than peanut butter, try almond, cashew or macadamia nut butters. Sunflower seed butter is a great non-nut form of protein, especially for those with nut allergies. Be sure to purchase nut butters free from added sugars and or preservatives. Beans, lentils and peas are also a healthy, low fat source of protein. Fermented soy products like tempeh and miso are preferred sources because they are less processed than tofu. If eating meats, choose organically and locally grown if possible. Ideally, beef should be all grass fed, as it naturally contains higher levels of essential fatty acids (EFA’s). These EFA’s are important in brain development and function.

If consuming fish, choose varieties like wild salmon, herring, cod, trout and sardines. They contain omega-3 fatty acids which benefit brain and mental health.

Drink plenty of water.

Start the day with a glass of water, and drink water throughout the day. Enjoy seltzer waters (with natural flavors) too.

Dont’s

Don’t over-consume sugar. Increased consumption leads to chronic diseases like diabetes. All of us have experienced the “sugar high” and the “sugar low” that follows an unhealthy dose of processed sugar. Cutting way down on these types of sugars will keep blood sugars stable, thereby allowing you and your children to focus better and not experience the mental fogginess that occurs after ingesting processed sugars. Avoid all white processed sugars (sucrose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup). Avoid sodas and sugary sports drinks (which typically contain artificial colors along with processed sugars).

Read labels and watch for sugar content in foods like yogurts and packaged fruit. Try “cutting” flavored yogurts with plain yogurt and gradually decreasing the sweetness. You will eventually decrease the overall craving for sweets.

Eat partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). These are oils that have been altered by adding a hydrogen molecule – they are used as a preservative to prolong product shelf-life. Be aware that food manufacturers are allowed to say “0 grams trans fat” per serving if it contains 1/2g or less per serving. This is misleading because the product may still contain partially hydrogenated oils. Read the list of ingredients to be sure.

Consume artificial flavor/colorings: Found in many “kid” targeted products like colored yogurts, fruit snacks, etc. Many people have underlying sensitivities to artificial flavorings and/or colorings based on the simple fact that they are artificial. Our bodies were not designed to ingest artificial ingredients. Behavioral changes are sometimes observable in children who consume artificial flavors/colors.

Working towards these goals will put your family on track for optimal performance. It’s simple, just give the body what it needs, and it will respond in a positive way.

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