Proficient learning and attaining optimal test scores are two skills necessary in achieving didactic proficiency. Your adroitness at attention, concentration and recall are the hallmarks of academic success. What other elements are obligatory factors in attaining these types of cognitive achievements? Brain healthy eating, as well as, brain and body exercise routines comprise a much larger role in brain performance than previously understood.
The food that we opt to consume to fuel our brain determines how adept these areas of cognition will function now and for the rest of our lives.
Research scientists know that nutrition and dietary habits have a momentous effect on learning and academic accomplishment. They also know that they have a critical on how our brains age. Not only is it important to know how certain foods effect our brain and thought processes, it is also equally important to know how the timing of food intake effects any type of performance either academic, athletic or leisure. The effects of academic examination stress on our food intake patterns also plays significant role. So not only is it important to have healthy nutritional behaviors on a daily basis; it is even more essential to know the effects food consumption has on cognition prior to and immediately following academic testing.
We have all heard the adage, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Research shows that kids who regularly eat breakfast score higher on standardized math tests compared to those who skip breakfast. Break-fast, is just that, after sleeping all night the brain (and the body) require refueling to function more optimally as we face our “activities of daily living”. Individuals who skip breakfast tend to have memory problems, much shorter attention spans and difficulty concentrating, all of which are at the core components of academic success.
The Human Brain is the most captivating organ in our body. It is the center of thought understanding and reason, requiring a variety of nutrients to function optimally. Proteins, carbohydrates both simple and complex as well as fats are all utilized by our brain in some special way.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for healthy brain functioning. Proteins are the workhorses of the body, they make up the majority of cellular structure. Choline is a protein (amino acid) essential for neurotransmitters that play a pivotal role in memory retention. Consuming protein such as meat, eggs, chicken, tofu, almonds, navy beans, peanut butter also raises the levels of the amino acid tyrosine and this prompts the brain to manufacture other amino acids critical to memory and concentration. A moderate amount of daily protein is sufficient, timing the intake of the protein is critical to optimal brain functioning.
Complex Carbohydrates are essential for fuel, maintenance and repair of our brain and are composed of several kinds of sugars. The body takes longer to digest these sugars and release them as glucose in the blood streams, thus your blood sugar remains more stable. The more fiber in a complex carbohydrate the more prolonged the absorption. This allows for a constant source of “power up” glucose for the brain and body. The critical role of energy availability and optimal brain function is well established. The Mayo Clinic says that 45-65% of your daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates. Examples are whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, black eyed peas, lentils and more.
Carbohydrate foods with high fiber content are essential in invigorating brain memory. These high fiber foods are the search engine for antioxidant health. The brain makes use of more oxygen that any other organ in your entire body. Good blood flow is essential to supply oxygen to these cognitive areas. Our brains are at high risk for damage as a result of the oxidation process. Balancing nutrient rich carbohydrates with foods high in protein will result in the best brain protection possible from a nutritional stand point.
Fats. Specialized brain cells that allow us to think and feel are created from fatty acids derived from fat. Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are “good fat” and they play a vital role in health brain functioning. The omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important ingredient for optimal brain performance. Th at is why fish is known as a “brain food”, it is a rich source of (DHA). The brain and its long spidery neurons are basically made of fat. Essential fatty acids are so important to the development and proper maintenance of the brain that “some scientists even postulate that it was the ingestion of omega-3 EFA’s that allowed the brain to evolve to the next stage of human development.” Check out the chapter called “Smart Fats” in this book for more information on omega 3 fats and why they are so important for optimal brain health.
The bottom line for you as a student is that choosing to eat more brain healthy foods puts your brain and body into the best shape to help you get higher grades and test scores.
Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.
– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Stephen A. Konstenius, Ph.D., C.A.S.N.S. is a Certified Advanced Sports Nutritional Specialist and Director of 40Plusleap.com. He has extensive training in cognitive health, medical psychiatry & psychopharmacology from Harvard Medical School.
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