Brain nutrition- do we get enough to stay switched on?

Did you know that the human brain constitutes a mere 2% of our total body weight yet uses between 20-50% of our energy intake from food? This organ requires constant energy to function, even when we sleep! That is why we need enough vitamins and minerals to avoid any negative mental and emotional capabilities.

The Benefits of vitamins and minerals

Studies show that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are widespread, even in affluent countries. These deficiencies are affecting brain functions in a variety of ways. Evidence shows that the intellectual performance of between 30-50% of children can be significantly improved through vitamin and mineral supplementation. Not only does it increase their IQ scores, but it also reduces violent behavioural incidents. Poor nutrition can therefore cause both academic difficulties and antisocial behaviour in modern adolescents.

In adults, studies show how intellectual performance improved significantly, such as memory, abstract thinking and problem solving, when using vitamin and mineral supplements, which include high levels of antioxidant vitamin C and E and complex B vitamins. These studies showed that adults performed 25% better than those with low levels of vitamins and minerals.

Furthermore, older people who took supplements performed as well or even better than younger adults on memory tests. Quite interesting, considering memory loss is associated with aging, but could actually be caused by deficiency in brain nutrient.

Therefore, important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are important for the production of brain energy and function.

How does lack of vitamins and minerals affect our brain?

Vitamin deficiencies are associated with an ageing brain. People over 60 years who are deficient in any of the B vitamins or vitamin C not only under perform on mental tests, but they are more likely to be emotionally unstable.

Another important nutrient for the brain to function is fat. If our brain is not provided with the correct balance of different fatty acids, it uses what is supplied by our diet. If we eat mostly saturated fats (lots of meat and dairy products) our brain structure and performance will be severely affected. This is because the outer membranes of our brain cells, which are composed largely of fatty acids, hardens and stiffens when saturated fatty acids are used instead of unsaturated fatty acids. This results in our brain function to slow down and our mood becomes impaired.

Improving our brain functions

There is some good news though! It is possible to reverse these harmful effects of our brain by:

  • Reducing the saturated fat content to around 15-20% of our calorie intake
  • Increasing our intake of the all-important omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the form of DHA and EPA-rich fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, mackerel, trout and tuna) or as fish oil supplements.
  • Other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include linseeds, green leafy vegetables, canola oil and walnuts.

Whether we have a nutrient rich or poor diet, it seems to have a dramatic effect on our brain function. Therefore, appropriate dietary changes and vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended to make sure you experience optimal mental and emotional health.

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