Information about the brain is finally big news as people come to realise the important role the brain plays in our health, happiness and success. Most people never think about how what they eat impacts how they feel emotionally, how it either helps or hinders their ability to focus and concentrate and how it affects their memory. However, according to psychologist-turned-author Delia McCabe, our thinking, planning and focussed action-taking occurs across a huge network of very sophisticated and super-coordinated cells, chemicals, membranes and molecules, all of which rely on the nutrients we eat and how well they are absorbed.
“The brain uses up to 20 per cent of the carbohydrates that we eat, with that figure increasing when we are stressed. However, there is nowhere in the brain to store carbohydrates, so when blood glucose levels run low due to haphazard eating or choosing highly refined foods, the brain battles to function well, and moodiness results,” Delia says.
“Another startling fact which most people are surprised to discover is that 60 per cent of the dry weight of the brain is made up of fat. Each and every one of the 100 billion brain cells that we have need good fats in their membranes to allow effective communication to occur between them and to build neural pathways, so it’s critical that we eat the right fats to ensure optimal brain function. Most people think olive oil, coconut oil or omega 3 are the only ones to concentrate on eating, but other fats and oils also play an important role in brain health. If you have dry skin, it’s a sure sign that your brain isn’t getting enough of the good fats.
Delia says the brain also needs protein to make hormones and tiny messengers called neurotransmitters, which allow brain cells to communicate effectively with each other. When brain cells communicate well our emotions are balanced and our thinking can be clear and decisive. A wide variety of vitamins and minerals also play critical roles in brain function, by supporting hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis, ensuring efficient use of carbohydrates for fuel and maintaining the important balance between brain activity and a sense of calm and peace. The brain uses up more nutrients during times of stress, so it’s important to continue eating a wide variety of nutrients when life feels overwhelming.
“Although it’s vitally important to feed your brain well regardless of your age, it’s even more important to ensure children eat foods that support them realising their genetic potential,” Delia says. “Getting enough sleep, exercising and thinking positively all help keep our brain in great shape, but if the building blocks aren’t there – the right amounts of the right nutrients – the brain will battle to perform its tasks optimally, making it hard for you to live your best life.”