When you need your little gray cells to be on the ball, a smart snack can give you the boost you need to really concentrate and shine in your job, and even in your private life. You can’t just gobble up wisdom, because intelligence is determined by genetics and education. But the right diet can provide your brain with everything it needs to function at full capacity.
The brain needs glucose
To ensure you can concentrate perfectly and solve tricky problems, your gray cells need a steady supply of energy. The brain consumes an impressive 20 percent of our daily energy resources. And it practically uses only the monosaccharide glucose as its energy source. That’s why you need sufficient carbohydrates in your diet so that you can think clearly and remember things. Carbohydrates include both monosaccharides and complex sugars, which are all broken down into individual sugar components such as glucose.
Sweet foods only help for a short time
So you might think that sweets or the once much-praised dextrose are perfect brain boosters. Far from it! Because monosaccharides rapidly make their way into the bloodstream, they do give you a quick kick – but it doesn’t last very long. Afterward, your blood sugar sinks below its original level and that’s the end of your efficiency and concentration.
Hungry for sweets when you’re stressed
When you’re stressed nowadays, your body is doing you a disservice, which originates from the fact that stress used to mean, for example, that you had to run from a bear. In tense situations, the level of the stress hormone cortisol increases, which means more insulin is produced and blood sugar levels sink. That’s why you often crave high-calorie sweets such as cookies and chocolate when you’re in a stressful situation – although you now don’t actually have to run away from a bear. These foods also trigger the reward center in the brain and give you a pleasant feeling – but it’s unfortunately short-lived. Again, blood sugar levels sink and instead of feeling good you get the blues; instead of a super-performance you get an energy slump.
Staying power with complex carbohydrates
So what really helps and gives your gray cells a continuous boost when you’re stressed? Complex carbohydrates are great as healthy, sustainable sources of energy that enter the bloodstream slowly and provide the steady flow of energy your brain needs over a longer period of time. Whenever possible, carbohydrates should be combined with proteins and healthy fats to slow down the release of glucose into your blood steam and provide you with important additional nutrients. Complex carbohydrates are predominantly found in whole grains, bread, muesli, pasta, rice and potatoes, and also in fruits, vegetables and pulses such as peas, beans and lentils.
Omega-3 fatty acids for your neurons
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your gray cells. Without them, your brain would be unable to memorize or pass on information. To supply your brain cells with omega-3 fatty acids, you should regularly include fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel or anchovies in your diet. These important unsaturated fatty acids can also be found in plant oils such as rapeseed, olive and linseed oil, in nuts, especially walnuts, and in seeds (e.g. flax seeds).
Pimp your brain and nerves with proteins
Proteins are required as building materials throughout your entire body. They not only serve to build cells, but also play an important role as messengers for transmitting information. There is some evidence that tryptophan, one of the building blocks of protein, has a positive effect on the ability to think. The body cannot form the essential amino acid tryptophan on its own; but oats, milk, soy, cashew nuts and salmon, for example, can all provide a rich supply.
Last but not least: plenty of fluids
Only with sufficient fluid can your brain run like a well-oiled machine. Your brain is made of around 85 percent water. If it is lacking fluid, it reacts with headaches, concentration problems and diminished performance. So don’t forget to drink regularly. You normally need 1.5 liters per day – ideally water or unsweetened tea.
Try these five smart snacks if you wish to keep mentally fit:
It’s not just hikers who get a boost from this popular mix of nuts and fruits. The fruit provides the brain with the glucose it needs; the nuts contribute the energy, important unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein and the minerals that all help the brain and nervous system to work. But be careful: Trail mix is high in calories, so it’s best if not to eat more than a handful.
Muesli with yogurt and berries
Crunchy whole-grain muesli guarantees a steady supply of glucose for your gray cells. The tasty berries indulge your eyes with their bright colors, your palette with delicious flavors and your body with additional energy, fiber and vitamins. Round this off with runny, creamy yogurt with its high-quality protein to make this the perfect brain food.
Whole grains with milk
Whole grains are brain boosters. Thanks to their complex structure, carbohydrates are released slowly into the bloodstream to steadily provide the brain with new energy. One study even showed that the participants scored better in memory tests after eating porridge than when they had eaten a high-sugar breakfast.
Whole-grain roll with salmon
This classy combo provides the finest brain food. With its many complex carbohydrates and fibers, a hearty whole-grain roll will keep you full and fit for longer. And salmon will power your body and mind with its high-quality protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Add some fresh salad or chopped vegetables and you have a power snack that’s hard to beat.
Smoothies with bananas, nuts and oil
If you’re pushed for time or so agitated that you’re struggling to swallow, a turbo-smoothie will help jolt your brain into action. Using milk or fruit juice as a base will give you enough liquid and valuable nutrients. The sweet flavor of a banana is balm for the soul and will fire up your brain with a quick burst of energy. In addition to providing an earthy flavor, the nuts will also serve as a source of high-quality protein and healthy fat. Last but not least: A dash of rapeseed oil will support the brain’s information processing with good omega-3 fatty acids. Excellent nourishment for your nerves that you can slurp down with pleasure.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.