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Food for thought

You are what you eat, that includes your brain. So what is the ultimate eating for quality thinking?

YOUR brain is the greediest organ in your body, with some quite specific dietary requirements. So it is hardly surprising that what you eat can affect how you think.

First, go to the top of the class by eating breakfast. The brain is best fuelled by a steady supply of glucose. Many studies have shown that skipping breakfast reduces people's performance at school and at work by as much as 10%.

According to research published in 2003, kids breakfasting on fizzy drinks and sugary snacks performed more poorly on memory and attention. Barbara Stewart from the University of Ulster, UK, discovered toast alone boosted children's scores on cognitive tests, but when the tests got tougher, high-protein baked beans worked best. Beans and toast are a good source of fibre, and other research shows a link between a high-fibre diet and improved cognition. Wholemeal toast with Marmite makes a great alternative. Yeast extract's B vitamins, has been shown in many studies to boost brain power.

A smart choice lunch is salad and eggs - rich in choline, and used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine necessary for memory function. A salad packed full of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamins C and E mops up damaging free radicals. Round off lunch with a yogurt dessert, and you should be alert and ready to face the stresses of the afternoon. Yogurt contains the amino acid tyrosine, needed for the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin, among others. Studies by the US military indicate that tyrosine becomes depleted when we are under stress. Supplementing your intake can improve alertness and memory. However, have a cigarette and you will undo all these benefits as smoking subjects the brain to reduced oxygen and oxidative stress which apparently makes it less effective!

Don't forget a healthy mid-afternoon snack to keep up your glucose levels. Just make sure you avoid junk food - highly processed goodies such as cakes and biscuits, which contain trans-fatty acids. Last year researchers at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego California implicated the role of diet in dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism. Hard evidence for this is still thin on the ground, but isn't it just another good reason to eat well.

Brains are around 60 per cent fat, so if trans-fats clog up the system, what should you eat to keep it well oiled? Evidence is mounting in favour of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. In other words, your granny was right: fish is one of the best brain foods.

Finish off your evening meal with strawberries and blueberries. Rats fed on these fruits showed improved coordination, concentration and short-term memory. And even if they don't work such wonders in people, they still taste fantastic, and make a great bed time snack with a glass of milk packed to trigger serotonin to help you sleep.
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