How to improve your energy levels with food – part 1: best foods for the brain

How to improve your energy levels with food – part 1: best foods for the brain
16 January 2020 Serena Sabala

One of the most common complaints we hear in our work as health coaches is that of energy. If only I made a pound for every time someone tells me that they’d like to have more energy…Most people wake up feeling already tired, they struggle to get going and barely push through enough to make it to the coffee maker for the first of many shots which will be needed to keep them going through the day. We hear daily complaints about the struggles of busy professionals to keep the energy levels up and in particular to keep their focus and concentration sharp consistently so that they can feel like they’re giving their best at work and in life.

This constant sense of depletion can be really frustrating and demotivating, adding an extra layer of stress and tension to their already “heavy” lives, which surely don’t help matters.

Most people think this simply has to do with their very busy lifestyle: “I just have too much on”, they say; or “If only I could add some hours to the day”, we hear; “It’s my job: maybe I should find a new one?” or also “my children take all my energy from me”. The truth is: we are all busy (some more than others, of course). We also all have the same amount of hours in one day. I can assure you that if you had more hours in the day, you will simply spend more hours feeling tired, overwhelmed and burnt out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating the challenges of modern living but we have witnessed enough transformations to know for a fact that your energy levels are WAY more in your control than you realize, regardless of your circumstances.

One of the single most impactful things you can improve to see almost immediate improvements in your nutrition. In my own experience and through my work as a certified nutrition consultant, I’ve been able to make a powerful and very useful distinction. Energetically speaking, there are two kinds of food: there’s food that gives you more energy than it takes to process. Then there’s food that takes more energy to process than it gives.

In the next few blogs, I’ll share my top tips to boost your energy through nutrition and other means.

Let me start now by delving deeper into the best way to feed an organ that profoundly affects your energy and performance: your brain!

Glucose is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain, except during prolonged starvation. It is a simple sugar mostly derived from carbohydrates found in plants.

But isn’t sugar bad for you? you may ask. Well, let me tell you, not all sugar is created equal…highly processed sugars and carbohydrates such as most packaged sweets, snacks and ready meals are the ones to avoid not only because of all the salt, harmful additives and preservatives they contain but also, most importantly because they lack many essential elements the brain and body need to function at their best, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

So what are the best foods for the brain then? It is important to know that the brain takes up less than 2% of the bodyweight but can burn up to 50% of the body’s fuel, creating lots of free radicals. High amounts of free radicals can speed up the aging process and cause damage to healthy cells in our bodies which in turn may increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

Antioxidants are substances that protect our cells from the damage caused by free radicals and can even help repair some of the damage. Although our bodies make some antioxidants, we need to get way more from the food we eat. The best sources of antioxidants are whole plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. 

The colors of the fruit and veggies determine the kind of antioxidant they contain so the key to getting as many antioxidants as possible is to “eat the rainbow” or in other words, eat a diet that contains a combination of fruit and veggies in all colors of the rainbow. We should all eat 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day in order to get all the antioxidants we need to prevent disease and age-related decline.

Here are some of the antioxidant-rich foods which are best for brain function: 

⁃berries such as blueberries and other purple foods such as beets which contain a high amount of Flavonoids;  

⁃greens which are some of the nutrient-dense foods on earth and  cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. These contain healthy nutrients such as vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene which are particularly good for the brain

⁃finally, nuts and in particular walnuts which are rich in DHA, a type of omega 3 fatty acid essential for brain development and to reduce inflammation.

It is not only important to eat the good stuff, however, but also decrease the consumption of the foods that cause degeneration and disease. Cholesterol, which is only found in animal products, is a major culprit. Untreated high cholesterol in the blood over time can cause atherosclerosis, a thickening of the artery walls which affects the blood supply to the brain. This can lead to degenerative issues such as Alzheimer’s disease which is the number 1 cause of Dementia and even strokes.

Last but not least, we must remember that Water is essential for optimal brain function. The brain is composed of 73% water. Water is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain and it also helps to eliminate toxins. Did you know that many headaches are actually just a symptom of dehydration?  When the body is dehydrated, the brain can temporarily contract or shrink from fluid loss. This mechanism causes the brain to pull away from the skull, causing pain and resulting in a dehydration headache so before you reach for a pain killer, next time you have a headache drink a pint of water first and wait half an hour to see if that helps. 

Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll delve deep into the best food to feed your body for maximum performance and please feel free to share any questions or comments.

P.S. In my book “Make The Shift – a proven method for busy professionals to transform their health, wellbeing, and confidence”, I share even more useful information, tips, and exercises to improve your energy and the quality of your life as a whole. Check it out now on Amazon! #maketheshift