Give Your Brain a Boost with Healthy Foods
Your brain is an incredible organ.
Not only does it power every system in your body, the brain is responsible for learning, thinking, and speaking. It contains 100 billion neurons, specialized nerve cells to transmit information to other neurons, and can generate almost 23 watts of power when you’re awake. There’s close to 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your brain.
The most important fact about your brain is it consumes 20 percent of all the blood and oxygen produced in your body. The brain is an apex feeder. It requires the most nutrition to function and will take nutrients from other organs to survive.
Feed Your Head
You might forget where you put your car keys, but chances are you won’t forget about eating lunch. That’s because your brain is focused on keeping you alive. Tucked inside those billons of neurons in a super-wrinkled structure is your personal operating system. Flair your nose. Your brain made you do that, and it does so much more. Learning, breathing, playing the cello, regulating blood pressure, and skipping rope are all controlled by the brain.
Your brain does a lot, but it doesn’t store glucose. And your brain needs glucose to function. Glucose is found in carbohydrates—sugars found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are foods like table sugar, corn syrup, molasses, candy, and soft drinks. This type of carbohydrate is excellent at spiking your blood sugar level, but is often followed by a nasty crash that can leave you feeling wrecked. They tend to have no nutritional value and lots of calories.
Complex carbohydrates are what your brain craves. Nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fruits contain these natural sugars to help stabilize your blood sugar levels and power your brain. Complex carbohydrates traditionally are higher in fiber and digest slower. They offer the added benefit of feeling fuller, longer and are a good option for weight management.
Given a choice between simple and complex carbohydrates, your brain (and body) function better with complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates power your body, and you want the best to keep your brain operating at optimal levels. Focus on whole, natural foods and avoid packaged meals with high levels of salt.
A good rule of thumb: if it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your brain. Here is a list of foods that can help give your brain a boost.
Avocados are packed with nutrition. Full of monosaturated fats, avocados help promote blood flow, great for brain health. Whether you smear avocados on toast or use it to boost your smoothie, avocados are full of folate, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E. And there isn’t a smarter dish to bring to your next BBQ than a bowl of fresh guacamole.
Walnuts are an ideal choice for an afternoon snack. Maybe because you have to be a physics teacher to crack one open. But once you get to that sweet, nutty goodness, you’ll get a rich supply of omega-3 fatty acid. Walnuts are also packed with antioxidants, vitamin E, and minerals that can support your brain. They even look like a brain…if you really think about it.
Good for more than Halloween roasting. Raw pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc—a valuable mineral to enhance memory and thinking skills. Plus, they have magnesium, vitamin B, and tryptophan, the precursor to the good mood chemical serotonin. Fun as a snack but better on a salad, pumpkin seeds are a tasty way to boost your brain health.
Omega-3s. Say it again, omega-3s. Nothing you eat benefits your brain more than naturally sourced omega-3s. A type of polyunsaturated fat, your body doesn’t make omega-3s, yet it’s dependent on this brain cell-building nutrient. Try eating three servings a week of salmon to help maintain triglyceride levels in your blood already in the normal range and support circulation.
Dark, Leafy Greens
A colorful diet is a good diet. And cruciferous vegetables like bok choy, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and watercress are power foods for your brain. These leafy, crisp, delicious vegetables are packed with folate—a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that supports the formation of red blood cells and helps the production of energy. That’s a fancy way of saying raw cruciferous veggies can aid blood flow and help your brain.
Beans are low on the glycemic index. While the song makes them the magical fruit, your body slowly digests beans to help keep blood sugar levels stabilized. Because your brain utilizes so much energy, beans are a good source of complex carbohydrates that slowly enter your blood stream. A half-cup of beans or lentils is the perfect recipe to fuel your brain.
The hottest pepper on Earth is the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million Scoville heat unit (SHU). Over 200 times hotter than a jalapeño, eating a Carolina Reaper may be the dumbest thing you ever do. However, adding peppers to your diet is a smart idea. All peppers contain capsaicin, the compound responsible for their heat. Foods rich in capsaicin trigger the brain to release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals released when we exercise. Habaneros, serranoes, and even the sweet bell pepper contain capsaicin.
Berries, especially blueberries, are not only a delicious afternoon snack, they are chalk-full of brain-healthy flavonoids—antioxidants that help with oxidative stress. They support neurons against neurotoxins, and may assist with memory, learning, and cognitive function.
Speaking of flavonoids, dark chocolate is pretty good for brain health. But like most good things in life, it has to be eaten in moderation. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, which help blood flow to the brain. There’s also magnesium and zinc, plus a bit of fiber. Try not to eat more than an ounce a day.
Here’s a smart idea: first thing in the morning, drink a glass of water. After sleeping 6–8 hours, your body is dehydrated. A glass of water when you wake up quickly rehydrates your body, increases your level of alertness, and helps fuel you brain. Fuel your brain? Yes. The human brain is 73 percent water, and an early glass of water helps hydrate your brain to get ready for the day.
Something to Think About
Healthy lifestyle choices don’t end with this list. Try making small changes every day to find the diet that works best for you. Make smart choices. Swap out a side salad with balsamic dressing for fries. Eat a chicken sandwich instead of a hamburger. The smartest food choices you can make are the ones you actually think about before eating.
USANA has lots of options to help kickstart your healthy journey. Check out the benefits of incorporating a daily vitamin to your diet. And if you’re looking for a dedicated brain health optimizer, you’ll want to learn more about USANA CopaPrime+. Made with InCelligence Technology, CopaPrime+ offers a boost of brain nutrition to help your mind focus, support learning, creating, and recalling memories.*