The current COVID-19 pandemic might seem like an appropriate excuse to let healthy food choices slip. But in fact, working from home affords us the opportunity to be more intentional about what we eat on a daily basis, and how those choices affect our performance.
When most of us think about the effects of our eating habits, we consider how certain foods help us slim down, or bulk up, make us hungry for more, or leave us satisfied. But have you ever thought about foods that fuel your brain?
Certain foods are proven to fuel your brain and if you’re not already eating them, you should start today.
The brain is a blood, glucose, and oxygen-hungry organ. It requires 15% of our total cardiac output, 20% of our total oxygen consumption and 25% of our total glucose use. The circulatory system is essential to maintaining good brain function. Factors that improve blood supply help the brain and, conversely, factors that impair blood flow hurt the brain.
The brain is also a fatty organ and as a result it’s also susceptible to the ravages of oxidative stress and inflammation. Food, sleep, and stress all play a role in helping or hurting the reduction of oxidative stress and inflammation.
So what can you start doing to improve how well your brain is able to function?
Eat More Unprocessed Foods & Increase Plant Foods
Why? All plants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and spices make a vast array of chemical compounds that serve to enhance a plant’s ability to survive. When we consume them, these compounds aid in combating oxidative stress and inflammation.
Some of the plant foods studied most for their positive effect on brain health include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Green tea
All of these have been shown to have beneficial effects, such as improving working memory, staving off or reversing cognitive decline, increasing neurogenesis, and boosting our brain’s ability to manage complex learning tasks.
Plants are also rich in antioxidants, which help to delay or prevent certain types of damage to cells. Studies have shown that antioxidants may help to counteract free radicals and delay and reverse some of the symptoms of aging, such as memory loss.
Some of the most antioxidant-rich foods are:
- Dark leafy greens
- Spices & herbs
Fiber has also been shown to be helpful for brain function by helping to regulate blood glucose levels. One study found the presence of fiber in the diet is associated with higher alertness ratings and less perceived stress.
Foods high in fiber include:
- Beans and legumes
- Cooked whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables, such as apples, berries, broccoli, and kale
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Eat Fewer Processed Foods & Animal Products
The closer we can get to eating foods in their natural form, the better. Many health foods today are marketed as “healthy,” but can actually be highly processed and not ideal for us to consume.
Try to shop on the perimeters of the grocery store, where most of the unprocessed foods are kept. The inner aisles should be shopped more sparingly, and when buying packaged foods, be sure to take a look at the ingredient list. See how many ingredients there are and how many you can pronounce, and decide from there.
It’s a good rule of thumb to fill your plate with as many fruits and vegetables as possible. These foods are nutrient dense, fill you up, and will fuel your body to perform at its best. Fresh fruits and veggies are great, but don’t be afraid of frozen produce! Frozen produce is often harvested and frozen at the peak of ripeness, so nutrients are maintained. They’re convenient to keep on hand – especially during current Stay at Home mandates – and can provide the base for quick and healthy meals.
When you eat well, you feel better, and that can have a tremendous ripple effect into other areas of your life – including work and relationships. As you begin to replace processed, less healthy foods with wholesome, nutrient-dense choices, you’ll be amazed at how your mental clarity and overall outlook will improve.
As a next step, consider these questions:
- Why is brain health important to me?
- What can I eat in the next 24 hours that will fuel my brain?
- What routines do I need to create to be successful?
Start improving your brain function today by shifting your diet to be more plant forward and you’ll soon find yourself performing at peak performance.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Help your people develop resiliency habits that create conditions for peak performance with our online program, The Resilience Advantage. The practical, scientific, and application-based approach will allow your leaders to avoid burnout, and instead, burn bright.
Show up as your best self during these challenging times by fueling your body with nourishing foods. This collection of recipes from our exercise physiologist will keep you performing to your full potential as you cook from home more often.