Tuesday, 25 November 2014

How To Use Food To Feel More Alert

Want to feel more alert? To keep up your mental energy and focus, you have to eat the right foods, at the right time.

The next time your mental energy is fading and you feel like you can’t string two sentences together, think back. When did you last eat? What did you have? Have you been drinking enough liquids? Skipped meals, unbalanced meals, and dehydration can all zap your mental energy and focus. (And don’t forget that getting adequate sleep and rest is part of the equation, too).

How what you eat affects your mental energy
What is mental energy, anyway? It’s actually got several features – including your overall mood, your motivation, as well as your attention and focus. When your mental engine is revved up, there’s a good chance your diet had something to do with it. So, here’s some “food for thought”.

What to eat to keep your mental energy up all day long?

Carbs fuel your brain
Glucose, derived from carbohydrates in your diet, is the only fuel that normally feeds your brain cells. After they’re broken down during the digestive process, carbohydrates enter the bloodstream as glucose (your ‘blood sugar’).

Since your brain is active 24/7, it has high energy demands – higher than any other cells in your body. And, since brain cells can’t store glucose, your brain needs a continuous supply. High-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, take a longer time to digest, which leads to a more gradual release of glucose into your system, and to your brain.

On the other hand, a meal high in refined carbohydrates – think starchy, sugary foods – can actually backfire on you. Since these foods are digested relatively quickly, you may experience a quick rise in your blood sugar, often followed by a quick drop. This is commonly known as a sugar crash, and can make you feel mentally sluggish.

Your brain wants fuel at regular intervals
Since your brain wants a steady source of glucose, it’s important to eat at regular intervals throughout the day to keep your mental energy from taking a nosedive. Aim for small meals and healthy snacks every 3-4 hours.

Your brain wants breakfast
There’s plenty to be said about the importance of breakfast, and giving your brain a boost is just another reason to fuel up first thing in the morning. Even while you sleep, your brain keeps working through the night, burning through the fuel, such that the ‘glucose’ tank is pretty empty by morning. Do your brain a favor and start your day with a well balanced breakfast that includes both healthy carbohydrates and protein.

The best proteins for your brain
Even though your brain doesn't use protein directly for fuel, it does use amino acids, derived from the proteins that you eat, to manufacture important brain chemicals. Dopamine, a brain chemical that promotes alertness and brain activity, is derived from tyrosine, an amino acid found in poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts and beans, while serotonin, which promotes feelings of calmness and contentment, is derived from tryptophan found in seafood, poultry, dairy products and soybeans.

The best beverages for the brain
When your body is dehydrated, it can affect your mood and your energy level. Mild dehydration reduces alertness and your ability to concentrate, and by the time you feel thirsty, your mental energy has already taken a hit. Water is always a good choice, but coffee and tea in moderation are fine, too. Caffeine containing beverages may help with focus and concentration – but are advisable only in small doses. You need to hydrate properly, eat right, and monitor your own response to the caffeine you’re taking in. If it makes you jittery or keeps you up at night, you’d be wise to cut back. Using caffeine for a brain boost during the day won’t do you much good if it interferes with a good night’s sleep.

Written by Susan Bowerman MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.
Nutrition Information from Herbalife-Hub, October 2014.

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