Power Eating for Executives and Entrepreneurs – Enhancing and Sustaining Mental Sharpness (3 of 4)

Brainpower can make all the difference

Brainpower can make all the difference

Your brain is only about 2% of your body weight but uses about 20% of your calories to power itself. It is an energy hog. The brain functions by passing signals from one neuron to the next, between billions of neurons via neurotransmitters. Seratonin, dopamine and acetycholine are among the more common neurotransmitters. The chemistry of this process requires specific nutrients to work.   Any deficiency in these can lead to mood swings, disturbances in sleep patterns, mental dullness and confusion. Taken at its worst, it may be manifested as depression. So what should a brain powering diet look like?

Your level of glucose sugar available to the brain will significantly impact your cognitive abilities. Glucose is the brains sole source of energy. The same carbohydrates recommended to improve your energy levels will also power your brain. The low glycemic index carbohydrates such as those provided by fruits including bananas, oranges and apples are most efficient at fueling the brain. A mix of fruits at breakfast will provide the brain power to start the day right and to sustain focus. Low glycemic index foods do not create the peaks and crashes that high glycemic carbohydrate intake, such as from energy drinks, create.

While glucose will produce immediate benefits to the brain, we should also concern ourselves with eating for its long term health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain health and improved mental sharpness and concentration. They help to regulate serotonin levels and prevent depression, mood swings and a feeling of lethargy. The primary source of Omega-3 is

Salmon, an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids

Salmon, an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids

actually marine microalgae and diatoms, but a more accessible source is fresh oily fish like salmon, herring, trout and tuna. Non-meat foods high in omega-3 include, flax seeds, walnuts, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and avocados.

Mental stamina and memory are supported by an adequate intake of B-vitamins. Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli or high protein foods, like meat, egg yolk or peanuts are excellent sources of B-vitamins. Whole grain foods are rich in vitamin B6, which plays an important part in synthesising some of the neurotransmitters. Bananas are often labeled as brain food because they are high in vitamin B6, contain potassium and provide glucose. Brown rice and bananas in addition to providing the carbs necessary for energy also supply B-vitamins to support brain function.

Antioxidants help the body guard against free radicals and hence the effects of aging. Memory and general cognitive ability may be improved by eating foods rich in antioxidants such as spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, raisins, plums, pecans, sunflower seeds, dates, red kidney beans and the cocoa bean.

By way of practical advice, invest in a juicer or become a regular at your nearby juice bar. Juiced fruits and vegetables provide the water, antioxidants and other micronutrients critical to your cognitive functions. While I am on the subject of what you should drink, this may be a good time to say what you should not drink particularly as it impacts mental acuity. Alcohol is widely derided as impairing judgment. I know that if I smell a vodka I can’t see straight and the rest of the day is best spent at home in bed; but the body of research on the subject actually supports a moderate degree of alcohol consumption to improve cognitive function. A study on alcohol consumption and cognitive performance carried on at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health reports that ‘Women who drank moderately (2-4 drinks/day) showed superior performance in many cognitive domains relative to abstainers. For men, superior performance was found within the range of 4-8 drinks/day, although fewer significant relations were observed.’ In all cases ‘heavy drinking’ degenerated cognitive capacity.

Branson BeerI pass on to you two of the more salient pieces of advice I have gotten in my life on the subject of drinking; first from my grandfather: ‘If you are going to drink, make sure you can hold your liquor’ and second from a mentor ‘never ever invest in a business whose active Founder or CEO is an alcoholic.’

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