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The brain uses carbohydrates for energy and omega-3 fatty acids for the formation of its cell structure. B vitamins play an essential role in brain function. What foods should you eat to offer your brain what it needs?

The Right Brain Nutrients

Clinical observation strongly links folic acid to brain development. In combination with folic acid, vitamins B6 and vitamin B12 help manufacture and release chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. The nervous system relies on these neurotransmitters to communicate messages within the brain, such as those that regulate mood, hunger, and sleep. 

In addition, foods rich in antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin A, C and vitamin E and beta-carotene, help protect brain cells from free-radical damage caused by environmental pollution. [1] They are known as free radical scavengers and defense from free radicals is important to protect the brain well into the golden years. Studies suggest that taking supplements of vitamins C and E can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and slow the progression of memory loss. [2]

How Brain Foods Help You Think Soundly

The brain utilizes 20 percent of the body's carbohydrate supply. When the brain receives a steady supply of sugar for fuel, it chugs along smoothly at a steady pace. But when levels of sugar in the blood fluctuate, the brain doesn't get its steady fuel supply. As a result, you may experience mental confusion, dizziness and if severe, convulsions and loss of consciousness. Foods with a low glycemic index provide brain-friendly carbohydrates because they do not push the pancreas to secrete excess insulin, so the blood sugar tends to be steadier. Vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits and dairy products are foods with best brain sugars. [3]

Sugars with a high glycemic index can adversely affect the thinking and actions of some children. The sugars at fault include glucose, dextrose, and sucrose, and the highly refined, highly processed junk sugars found in candy, icings, syrups, packaged baked goods, and table sugar. The roller-coaster effects produced by these sugars affect moods and concentration in some children and adults, leading to sugar highs and sugar blues. [3]

Proteins in the diet affect brain performance because they provide the amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made. [4] The two important amino acids, tryptophan, and tyrosine are precursors of neurotransmitters. Fats are major components of the brain cell membrane and the myelin sheath around each nerve. So, our diet should include an adequate amount of fat and the right kinds of fat can greatly affect brain development and performance.

Minerals are also critical to mental functioning and performance. Magnesium and manganese are needed for brain energy. Zinc is essential in protecting your mind and brain from the aging symptoms of forgetfulness. Sodium, potassium, and calcium are important in the thinking process and facilitate the transmission of messages. Iron is also required to carry oxygen to the brain cells and aids in the formation of brain neurotransmitters, which affect attention and learning capacities [5].

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