Get Smart: Registered Holistic Nutritionist and coach, Andrew Raines, sheds light on 5 things you can do to improve cognitive function through food.
When it comes to achieving optimal health, few would argue with the importance of eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. We know that this combination is beneficial for our muscles, immune system, energy levels and much more, but we often overlook the importance of diet and healthy self-care for our brain health. Follow these steps to ensure you are giving your brain all the love it deserves!
1. Eat healthy fats
Gone are the days of the low-fat diet where fat was consistently replaced with high amounts of sugar. We embrace healthy fats as a vital part of our diet, and high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids can certainly help with brain health. There are many great sources of plant-based omega-3s including chia, flaxseeds, walnuts and SaviSeeds (sacha inchi seeds). Omega-3 fatty acids from plant-based foods are converted into DHA and EPA, and DHA is of particular importance in building the myelin sheath. For those on a plant-based diet, I recommend supplementing with algae-based DHA supplements. If you’re a smoothie drinker, you can also get Omega-3 in Vega One Nutritional Shake or Vega Essentials.
2. Love your gut
More and more research is shedding light on the fascinating connection between your gut and brain health (see reference below). Your gut lining produces neurotransmitters and the billions of bacteria living there also create them. If your gut lining has been damaged by inflammatory foods, or your intestinal flora does not contain a prevalence of healthy gut bacteria (dysbiosis), there is a good chance this can affect your mental performance. Ensure you are eating probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha tea, or supplement with a high-quality multi-strain probiotic. To ensure you minimize damage to your gut lining, limit your consumption of foods that cause inflammation . Common offenders include refined sugars and high amounts of caffeine.
3. Drink less caffeine
Coffee-lovers will unanimously agree that caffeine can improve your mental performance. Like most things in life, too much of a good thing can have a negative effect. The more caffeine you consume, the more you will need to feel its brain-boosting affect. People that regularly consume coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks can alter their brain’s chemistry over time, resulting in a reliance on caffeine. If you measure your caffeine consumption in pots of coffee instead of cups, you can kick your habit by taking a week-long break from all things containing caffeine. Try switching to decaf coffee for 1 week every month to ensure your morning coffee is giving you a mental boost, rather than just making you feel normal every morning!
4. Stress less
Not all stress is bad. Complementary stress, such as exercise, can be very beneficial for our overall health. Chronic stress on the other hand, whether real or perceived, can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Luckily there are numerous ways we can handle stress, from deep-breathing exercises and yoga, to nourishing our adrenal glands with good-quality nutrition. For more info on how to deal with stress, check out this blog post on new ways to deal with stress like a man.
5. Get you ZZZs
Even if you eat your healthy fats, treat your gut with love, limit your caffeine consumption and de-stress whenever possible, you will not benefit from optimal brain performance unless you are sleeping properly. Getting enough good quality sleep is arguably the single most important strategy you can use to enhance your mental function. Following a consistent routine that focuses on sleep hygiene is of the utmost importance. For tips on how to set yourself up for sleeping success, read these 8 tips for better sleep.
What is your favorite way to strengthen your brain power?
References 1. Keightley PC, Koloski NA, Talley NJ. (2015). Pathways in gut-brain communication: evidence for distinct gut-to-brain and brain-to-gut syndromes.The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 49(3):207-14. 2. Qasim A, Thompson D. (1998) Brain-Gut Axis in Health and Disease. Gastroenterology. 114:559–578Accessed on 6/12/15 from: http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(98)70540-2/pdf
Andrew Raines is an advocate for clean, plant based sports nutrition, and is a former competitive kickboxer and soccer player turned ultra-marathon runner. As a coach and trainer, Andrew thrives on seeing people boost their performance with plant-based power. He’s a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Plant-Based Culinary Professional and has a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation.
This article originally appear at myvega.com
Photo credit: Flickr/AllanAjifo