Continuing with the theme of optimal focus and concentration (and self-love – since it’s almost Valentine’s Day), it’s important that we are taking care of our brains. Often self-care is focused on relaxing the body and mind, which is very necessary, but what about feeding our most important piece of equipment?!If you can’t concentrate as well as you’d like – and you’ve tried mindfulness, breathing, yoga and other emotional regulation techniques (the EQexpert in me would tell you to start there) – it’s possible that your brain isn’t getting the nutrition it needs. Unfortunately, many diets are focused on shrinking bellies, not feeding brains! I’d like both!Here are some guidelines that I’ve known and taught (during our Attention to Detail, Focus and Efficiency Programme) but only fully practiced the last few years. I honestly found it hard to avoid additives but being closer to 50 than 40 has made me acutely aware that if the body feels wear and tear, the brain must too. I hope these tips help you to perform at your best and…
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as they are high in the vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients your brain needs. According to Harvard Health leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards and broccoli are rich in nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene. Plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline. TIP: I drink 500ml of celery juice every morning for gut health (which equals brain health). Then I add a full packet of spinach and cup of coriander into my morning smoothy apple and banana smoothy. I also add spirulina powder and berry powder too. If I didn’t follow this morning routine, I’d never get in my quota for the day.
- Avoid refined sugar and carbs because they send your blood sugar level on a roller coaster ride. Your brain needs a steady supply of blood glucose since brain cells don’t store energy. Fruit sugar, honey and coconut sugar are much better options. You just don’t want too much of those either. I have also switched to legume-based pastas (much healthier carbs) because I avoid gluten and corn in my diet.
- Avoid additives and use a wide variety of herbs and spices. MSG, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are known neurotoxins. Rosemary and turmeric are particularly good for the brain. The antioxidants in coriander may reduce brain inflammation, improve memory and reduce anxiety symptoms. Animal studies demonstrate that coriander extract is nearly as effective as Diazepam, a common anxiety medication, at reducing symptoms of this condition. Although more research is needed, I’ve overcome my distaste for coriander and now drink it daily.
- Eat plenty of healthy high-fat foods like fatty fish, walnuts and avocados. Low-fat diets haven’t made us thin, and they have been a disaster for our brains! They may even contribute to Alzheimer’s.
- Avoid vegetable oils like canola and soy oil which are highly inflammatory. Use coconut oil instead. It contains medium chain triglycerides that bypass glucose metabolism, getting energy directly to the brain cells that need it.
- Treat yourself to good coffee and dark chocolate. Flavonoids, caffeine and theobromine work together to improve memory and concentration. In a 2014 study, participants with higher caffeine consumption scored better on tests of mental function. Caffeine might also help solidify new memories. Investigators at Johns Hopkins University asked participants to study a series of images and then take either a placebo or a 200-milligram caffeine tablet. More members of the caffeine group were able to correctly identify images the following day
- Address nutritional deficiencies. The three most common deficiencies that can wreak havoc with brain function are omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is a major building block of the brain. Deficiency has been linked to many brain problems and psychiatric disorders. Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have all been found to improve with DHA supplementation. Vitamin B12 is the most common deficiency. People who eat little or no meat are particularly at risk, since animal foods are the only dependable sources of B12. Vitamin D can lift your mood, improve memory and increase problem-solving ability. I was taking 1000 iu per day and still deficient. It took upping my dose to 5000 iu for two months to get my vitamin D levels right. I’m now on a maintenance dose of 5000 iu every second day.
‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.
Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.
Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to have achieved the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.
Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’