For brain cells to communicate effectively with each other to create neural pathways, they require chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the ‘messengers’ carrying messages from neuron to neuron.
Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids found in protein foods e.g., meat, fish and cheese.
Vitamins and minerals are needed to convert ordinary amino acids into these powerful neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are found in the food we eat, hence why some foods are called ‘brain foods’.
The three key neurotransmitters are:
- Acetylcholine (ACh) – This neurotransmitter excites other neurons and may be responsible for memory. It is involved with voluntary movement of muscles, behavioural inhibition, drinking and memory.
Acetylcholine rich foods include: egg yolks, peanuts, wheat germ, liver, meat, fish, milk, cheese and vegetables (especially broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower)
- Dopamine generally excites and is involved in movement, attention and learning but is also inhibitory. It is involved with voluntary movement, emotional arousal.
Dopamine rich foods include all proteins (meat, milk products, fish, beans, nuts, soy products). 3-4ounces of protein will help you to feel energized, more alert and more assertive.
- Serotonin (or 5-HT) usually inhibits and is involved in arousal and sleep, mood, appetite and sensitivity. However, it is also excitatory and is part of the brain’s reward system producing feelings of pleasure.
Serotonin rich foods are carbohydrate based e.g., pasta, starchy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, breads.
Brain Foods – Protein
Protein is found in meat, fish, milk and cheese. Protein provides the building blocks for most of the body’s tissues, nerves, internal organs (including brain and heart). Proteins are used to make neurotransmitters and are essential to improve mental performance.
Brain Foods – Carbohydrate
- Carbohydrates enhance the absorption of tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin in the brain. Within about thirty minutes of eating a carbohydrate meal,, you will feel more calm and relaxed. The effects will last several hours.
- Grains, fruits and vegetables are key sources of carbohydrates.
Digestion causes the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) which is the brains primary source of energy. If your glucose levels fluctuate too much, you may experience mental confusion, dizziness and if severe, convulsions and loss of consciousness.
Brain Foods – Fat
- The brain is more than 60% fat. This is because the brain cells are covered by the myelin sheath which is composed of approximately 75% fat. Fats also play a crucial role as messengers. They regulate key aspects of the immune system, blood circulation, inflammation, memory and mood.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to the optimum performance of your brain. Lack of omega-3 fats in your diet can lead to depression, poor memory, low IQ, learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD and many more mental disorders.
- To ensure that your diet is rich in omega-3 fats, ensure that you eat plenty of oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, herring, mackerel and anchovies.
Brain Foods – Vitamins & Minerals
- Vitamins and minerals are essential for the growth and functioning of the brain.
- The ‘B’ complex vitamins are particularly important for the brain and play a vital role in producing energy. Vitamins A, C and E are powerful antioxidants and promote and preserve memory in the elderly.
- Minerals are also critical to mental functioning and performance. Magnesium and manganese are needed for brain energy. Sodium, potassium and calcium are important in the thinking process and they facilitate the transmission of messages.