Do you find it difficult to study for an hour? Is it hard for you to concentrate? In many ways our brains are like computers – garbage in garbage out. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as bread and pastries, is not ideal for anyone who needs to concentrate.
Many people know that the brain’s preferred fuel is glucose and it uses approximately 120g daily which is about 60% of the body’s glucose in its resting state. This energy is required to make neurotransmitters and also initiate nerve impulses (1). Without adequate fuel we can’t think or function effectively.
On that basis if its optimal to have a constant stream of glucose entering our brain then don’t we need to be eating lots of refined carbohydrates?
Well actually no because whilst these give you a short term bounce in the blood’s glucose levels they do not actually allow for a slower release which actually provides more effective fuel. Ideally what you want is either a slow release carbohydrate which tends to be found in whole foods plus a small quantity of protein. Protein is required to make most neurotransmitters in the body and it forms an ideal combination – we don’t require large amounts and respond better to small serves regularly.
How do you know if your diet is slowing your brain? Common symptoms are things such as feeling hungry or tired within a couple of hours of eating, particularly getting sleepy two to 3 hours after lunch.
Another nutrient that is really important to brain health is DHA – an essential fatty acid found in oily fish . It is critical for brain development but also for the maintenance of the brain. Low levels of DHA contribute to learning difficulties. Good food sources are oily fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, organic meats as well as dark green leafy vegetables.
If you are preparing a student to head off for a day of study at school or University then ideally breakfast needs to include some form of protein containing food in a whole form. Some ideal options could include;
- Oat based muesli or porridge. If you can’t tolerate dairy then make the porridge with half a cup of frozen berries per serve added about 1 minute before its finished.
- Yoghurt and fruit with LSA mix or chopped nuts.
- Traditional fry up of bacon or sausage with vegetables.
- Scrambled eggs or tofu
- Omelette with left over roast vegetables
- Green smoothie with spinach, strawberries, almond or coconut milk or water and a protein powder.
As always nutritionally variety is ideal, so mix it up – have the smoothie when rushed and the omelette or fry up when you have a little more time.
Try these changes for for two weeks and then see what a difference it makes to your study performance.
Christine Pope is a nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives and a director of ATMS. She can be contacted on 02 8084 0081 for appointments.
(1) Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Section 30.2, Each Organ Has a Unique Metabolic Profile. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22436/