Working as a Dietitian for over 20 years in both health care and education I have learned that eating well with a focus on brain performance is just as important as it is for the rest of your body. Your brain consumes as much as 20% of your body’s energy, which is more than any other individual organ. Just as your other organs require specific nutrients for optimal condition, so does your brain. Given the fact that our brains are what set us apart from other animals, it would be wise to pay special attention to it.
The key to keeping your brain running at optimal levels is to eat high quality foods that provide you with a steady stream of energy over a long period of time. However, sometimes it is necessary to provide a quick burst of energy when you need to focus on a particular task. Natural foods tend to have complex carbohydrates, which give you long-lasting energy. In contrast, processed foods tend to have simple carbohydrates which have the opposite effect. These foods give you an almost immediate rush of short-term energy.
Here is a short list of fruits, grains and vegetables that will keep your brain energized:
These foods all score high on the glycemic index , which ranks foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates that are high on the glycemic food index are broken into glucose molecules more quickly, thereby providing a rapid supply of energy to the brain. In contrast, low glycemic foods are broken down slowly providing a steady supply of energy for a number of hours.
Combining high glycemic foods with fiber, fat or protein slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream if your goal is to sustain a level amount of energy rather than a rapid spike. According to the September 2006 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, low glycemic meals also help you feel full for a longer period of time. There are many glycemic index charts available on the internet. The University of Sydney Australia has a great Glycemic Index website and maintains the International GI Database. This website is also helpful if you are interested in using the GI for diabetes control or weight loss.
Eating using the glycemic diet can be confusing. For example, carrots have a higher glycemic index than a candy bar because carrots have a high water content and the fat in the candy bar slows the absorption of carbohydrates. One of my favorite authors, Leo Galland, M.D. in his book the Fat Resistance Diet, points out a very important fact, ” How a carb performs on the glycemic index matters far less than what kind of package the carb comes in”. It is important consume a food item that is rich in fiber and nutrients as well as how it performs on the glycemic index scale.