Eating the right diet could help keep your brain alert throughout the day

Eating the right foods can improve your memory, lift your mood and help you concentrate for longer hours. Everything you eat affects how your brain performs. Food consumed is broken down into energy that’s distributed throughout the body, and the brain receives a large portion of it. “Your brain weighs just 3lb or so; that’s 2 per cent of overall body weight, but it requires 15-20 per cent of energy from your daily calorie intake,” says Niti Desai, a Mumbai-based nutritionist.

With the right foods, you can ensure your brain works efficiently throughout the day. When the brain is not stressed out, it can work without getting fatigued. Here’s a look at how food and nutrition can give you a mental boost.

Feed the brain

The brain gets energy from glucose in carbohydrates. “Eat carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grain, cereal, bread and pasta to keep the brain functioning optimally,” recommends Dr. Anju Prasad Vardaan, dietician and nutritionist, based in Mumbai. When you work hard at something and the brain functions optimally, it uses up nutrients faster. Apart from complex carbs, if you eat fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes, pulses and nuts, then they treat your brain well. Stay away from junk food which is addictive. Fatty and sugary snacks trigger the same pleasure centres in the brain as drugs do, which explains why many people can’t stop themselves from bingeing on them. It could also lead to an obesity epidemic. “You think a sugary treat is giving you an energy boost, but it does not last and can leave you feeling more tired, drowsy and irritable than before,” says Niti. Children should avoid fried snacks while studying as they are difficult to digest under stress.

Favourite foods

Some of the foods your brain benefits from are bananas, dates, currants, figs, olives, grapes, lettuce, parsley, garlic, avocado, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, plums, asparagus, radish, broccoli, lemon and sprouts. Many of these make great snacks that you may reach for instead of cookies and chips. “There is no denying that as we age chronologically, our body ages too. But you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain in your old age by making brain-friendly foods part of your daily diet,” suggests Anju. “Omega 3 rich foods such as fatty fish could boost mental capacity and memory,” says Niti.

Eat smart

It’s not just what you eat that makes a difference. How and when you eat it also matters. If you are used to eating three meals everyday, perhaps you could think of breaking those down into five or six smaller meals. A heavy meal can make you sluggish and your brain cells would find concentrating on a task difficult. Eating something nutritious and non-fattening every three hours will ensure that the brain gets food consistently and your energy level is stable. Keep some healthy snacks ready such as sprouts/fruit salad, veggie sticks with a curd dip, baked potatoes, dried fruits and whole grain cereal bars. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Consume a mix of carbohydrates so that energy will be released at different rates. Cereal, milk, toast, porridge, fruits and eggs are all good breakfast options. “Eating breakfast helps children concentrate and recall facts. Kids who skip breakfast don’t perform well in studies,” says Niti. Serve a nutritious, not-too-heavy, non-fattening lunch. Large and high-fat meals can make you feel tired and lethargic. Include plenty of carbs, rice, veggies, and multi-grain rotis in your dinner. Drinking warm milk before bed time is relaxing and helps ensure a good night’s sleep. “Take a food break rather than eat with a book in hand or while working at your desk because that’s likely to lead to mindless eating in inappropriate quantity,” says Anju.

Stay hydrated

Don’t forget to drink enough water. It is essential to keep the brain and body working. It hydrates, reduces stress and keeps one healthy. Not drinking enough water can lead to headache. Herbal tea and green tea are good substitutes for caffeine as it relaxes the brain and induces mental alertness. Caffeine is a stimulant and too much of it can induce a feeling of edginess and nervousness. Juices too make great brain food just like fruits and vegetables, besides the hydration benefit.