Brain Boosting Nutrition Tips this Christmas
BY JENNY TSCHIESCHE BSc(Hons) Dip (ION) FdSc BANT
Brain Boosting Nutrition Tips this Christmas
Christmas can be an exhausting time of year, not least this year because of what we have all been through to get here. You may be feeling stressed, have low mood, be tired, anxious, or distracted. To find out which foods and which drinks could help you beat stress, concentrate more, sleep better, relax more and reduce anxiety this Christmas read on….
How to eat to beat stress
Stress breaks down protein in the body so ensure that each of your meals and snacks contains some form of protein so that your intake is regular. The quality of that protein is important, as is variety. Opt for organic dairy, organic or grass-fed meats, wild fish, quality nuts and seeds (including nut and seed butters), tempeh/natto and legumes.
Stress hormones also trigger inflammation. To reduce inflammation, you should try and get a sufficient quantity of omega 3 fatty acids into your diet. Both flax and chia seeds provide a vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids whilst oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines are ideal animal-based sources.
Liquorice tea supports adrenal function which is often affected when your body is under stress. Your adrenals are located just above your kidneys hence the term ‘ad’ ‘renal’ – upon your kidneys. They produce stress hormones when your body senses that they’re required. Our modern western lifestyle causes a lot to be asked of these small glands. Try adding a cup of liquorice tea to your daily routine if your Christmas period is proving stressful.
Foods to Boost Your Mood
Depression has been linked to low levels of folic acid. You can find the supplement form of folic acid i.e. folate in Nutriburst’s Prenatal Gummy. There are also food sources, and these include green vegetables, pulses and citrus fruit. Try sautéing your green leafy vegetables in some butter or olive oil and serve with your main meal.
Spicy foods have been shown to release endorphins which are the body’s natural way of relieving pain by blocking the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals. For some, eating spicy food triggers a sense of euphoria similar to a high! Be sure to include chillies in your festive and seasonal soups and curries to boost your mood.
Foods to Improve Sleep
Green tea a brain relaxing chemical called L-Theanine which encourages the production of alpha waves. These are the brain waves we produce when we are relaxed. Green tea can be consumed throughout the day and even into the evening, unlike other caffeinated drinks.
Foods rich in the amino acid L-Tryptophan have been found to improve sleep because they provide the amino acid which is the precursor to both serotonin (our happy hormone) and melatonin (our sleep hormone). Foods rich in L-Tryptophan include turkey, seeds and nuts, beans as well as dairy products.
In order to sleep well it’s important that you simply eat enough. One 2013 study found that people who slept for a very short period of time overnight consumed less relative protein and carbohydrates than normal sleepers. Aim for quality proteins and slow-energy release carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruit.
Potassium has been linked with improved sleep. Food sources of potassium include leafy greens, baked potatoes, yogurt, fish, avocadoes and bananas. Including these foods is a good idea to help improve your quality and length of sleep.
Foods to improve concentration & memory
Ripe bananas (especially those with the brown spots on the skin) can stimulate the production of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in increasing motivation and concentration. Freeze peeled and sliced ripe banana in freezer bags or containers and when you want a quick and easy dessert simply whizz the banana up with avocado, frozen raspberries in a food processor. You’ll be amazed at the delicious ‘gelato-style’ dessert it makes.
Another food that can stimulate the production of the brain chemical dopamine is seed and nut butters. Enjoy a dollop of either on top of your porridge, in a smoothie or with wedges of freshly chopped apple.
Foods that are high in antioxidants such as fruits (especially berries and tomatoes) and vegetables (especially cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli) are beneficial to concentration levels. These can help with blood flow to the brain, which will supply the brain cells with more oxygen.
Eating berries at least once a week may protect the brain from age-related memory loss according to a very large 2012 study. Blueberries and strawberries were the berries used in this study so perhaps that’s where we should be focussing our attention. At this time of year, they’re best bought frozen.
Foods to reduce anxiety
B-Vitamins are often depleted in individuals who suffer from anxiety. Algae’s such as spirulina and chlorella provide a wide range of B-Vitamins. These can be added to your porridge, smoothies or just sprinkled over any of your main meals.
Certain teas such as valerian and chamomile can help calm you down. Valerian seems to work like a sedative on the brain so the best time to have a cup is late in the evening i.e. just before bedtime. Meanwhile, chamomile tea can be consumed throughout the day, perhaps 2 or 3 times as and when needed to reduce anxiety.
Magnesium is a calming mineral that nourishes the nervous system and helps prevent anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness and irritability. Magnesium is also very protective of the heart and arteries which is important if you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. Food sources of magnesium include cacao, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils.
Insufficient intake of L-tryptophan, L-phenylalanine, or L-tyrosine are associated with increased symptoms of anxiety. Foods rich in these amino acids include poultry, seeds and nuts, beans, dairy products (L-Tryptophan), lentils, chickpeas, nuts, flaxseeds (L-Phenylalanine) and spirulina, eggs and fish (L-Tyrosine).