|Welcome to part 2 of 3 in our series on self-care. If you missed part 1 on quality sleep, it’s just below this blog. This blog focuses on brain-friendly nutrition and eating habits.
Self-care forms an intrinsic part of self-leadership, resilience and ultimately, high performance. Just like the oxygen mask analogy on a plane, we can’t look after others until we look after ourselves, and as leaders and role models in our business, it’s important to walk our talk and set the best examples.
If you know someone who could benefit from learning more about brain-friendly nutrition, please forward this – thank you.
Our brain weighs between 2 and 4 percent of our body weight yet consumes 20 – 25% of our daily energy. What we eat directly contributes to the quality and sustainability of that energy.
When we feed our brain well, we remain focused and attentive, maintain good habits, use willpower correctly, sleep well, make good decisions and perform at our best. When we feed our brain poorly, the quality of our memory and our ability to learn is impacted, we become more vulnerable to stress and actually compromise the functional integrity of our brain.
|3 Insights (4 Today as all 4 are essential for Brain Health)
1. Our gut is now known as our second brain and contains 100 million neurons. Looking after our gut health is critical to optimising our brain and supporting our psychological health. 90% of serotonin, considered one of the happy hormones as it helps regulate mood, is produced in the gut. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.
Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid tryptophan can help the body to produce more serotonin. Foods high in tryptophan include salmon, eggs, spinach, milk, soy products, nuts, seeds, pineapples, turkey and, wait for it……dark chocolate!
Serotonin directly contributes to higher order brain function so at work this means our ability to plan, analyse, evaluate, predict, make good decisions problem-solve etc.
|2, About 60% of our brain is made up of fat and half of that fat is the omega-3 type. Our brain uses omega-3’s to build brain and nerve cells and these fats are essential for learning and memory. They may also help age-related mental decline and help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Lack of Omega 3 has been linked to lack of concentration and depression. Our diets are often high in pro-inflammatory Omega 6 (which we get from saturated fats etc.), but low in anti-inflammatory Omega 3.
3. Our brain is made up of 80% water and keeping it hydrated is essential. When it comes to water, think of it as a nutrient that our body, and especially our brain, needs. Keeping our brain hydrated helps to balance our mood and emotions, maintain memory function, increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, prevent and relieve headaches and reduce stress!
At work, if we don’t take in enough water, we can become lethargic, easily distracted and irritable. Dehydration also impacts our attention and concentration.
|4. Our willpower is impacted when our glucose is low. We depend on our willpower to stop us reacting to pop up notifications and ruining our productivity! Willpower though is a deplete-able source of energy and is impacted by the amount, and type, of glucose we take in. For example, a biscuit might give us a quick hit of energy followed by a low, but a banana, which contains natural glucose, is much better at offering a slower, more steady release.
At work we need willpower to stay focused, to manage distractions and interruptions, to not give in to procrastination and to be effective, so feeding our brain with the right type of carbohydrate is essential.
|4 Tips for achieving Brain-friendly Nutrition Habits
“Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food”
1. Choose brain-boosting foods! As we mentioned, foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are your brain’s best friend. These include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. Vegetarian sources include chia, kidney and flax seeds, edamame beans and walnuts (they even look like brains!) . If you are considering taking Omega-3 as a supplement, ensure they contain high levels of DHA and EPA.
Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit because of their anthocyanin, vitamin C, and vitamin E content. Their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects act against oxidative stress and inflammation which can contribute to brain ageing and neuro-degenerative diseases.
2. Drink green tea. Green tea contains an organic chemical EGCG, (epigallocatechin-3 gallate) which is neuroprotective, cardioprotective, anti-obesity, and aids neurogenesis (the production of new brain cells) which is essential for memory and learning.
3. Ensure you’re getting enough iron. Research published in The National Academy of Sciences reveals that variations in iron levels impact our brain structure integrity, in particular, the brain’s white matter and myelin, a sheath that covers and insulates neurons.
Iron deficiency has been linked to impairment of the reward centre of our brain (striatum) and the hippocampus, the centre of memory.
Foods rich in iron include pumpkin seeds, quinoa, tofu, dark leafy greens, red meat (especially beef), dried fruit, clams, mollusks or mussels and various beans.
4. Use intermittent fasting to aid digestion. From evolution, we were not designed to eat 3 meals a day and certainly not to snack in-between! Our bodies need time to rest and digest our food and intermittent fasting is now recognised as an effective way to do this. How? By leaving a longer time between our last meal of the day and our first meal of the next day, allowing a fasting time of at least 12 hours.
Going to bed whilst still digesting food impacts our brain’s ability to flush out toxins and do all the important jobs it needs to do whilst we are sleeping.
We hope that this article has highlighted that we literally are what we eat! Staying alert, focused, in a positive mood and energised at work is, pardon the pun, a no brainer and feeding our brain the essential nutrients it needs is a sure recipe for success!
Caveat – new studies and experiments are either validating or disproving the effects of certain foods on brain health so we have done our utmost to give you the most accurate information at the time of going to publish. Too much of a good thing can also be detrimental to your health, so please follow recommended guidelines.
If you think that your current diet is severely impacting your health, please seek professional help.