“It is the mind that makes the body rich.”
When the alarm on her smartphone buzzes, Julie groans and hits the snooze button. She lies in bed dreading the second ring and when she finally drags herself out of bed she feels dead on her feet before she’s even on them. Getting dressed, it feels as if Julie is putting on a suit of armour as she prepares to face the battles of the day. Although she is on a caffeine buzz, Julie’s thinking starts feeling a little fuzzy after an hour or so. A colleague asks a simple question and, even though she knows the answer is lurking somewhere in her brain, she simply can’t think of it. Julie gets pulled into more meetings and deals with urgent calls and proposals and before she knows it, she’s sitting at her desk with a pulsing headache. It is 14h45. Julie realizes she has had nothing to eat except a handful of biscuits and quite a few cups of coffee! The rollercoaster of a day goes on and it’s well after 10pm when Julie finally gets into bed. Although she is physically and emotionally exhausted, she cannot fall asleep and stop her mind from racing.
Does this scenario sound familiar? In today’s high-pressure work environment, most of us are under constant stress. Stress produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol that, in the short term, help to make you more alert, energised and focused. But when stress is prolonged, these hormones can interfere with the thyroid, cardiovascular system, digestion and also your brain chemistry.
Eating for cerebral balance and to keep your mind in bulletproof shape, learn your ABC’s.
A – Amino acids – Ensure adequate amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine (because these are precursors of neurotransmitters)
- Eat good quality protein foods at every meal. Ideally eat eggs for breakfast and chicken or fish for lunch and supper.
- Have a serving of fish, chicken, turkey, tofu or beans a day.
- Eggs provide good levels of the nutrient choline. This is needed for the manufacture of acetyl-choline which is the neurotransmitter in the brain involved in memory.
B – Balance Blood sugar
If you crave sugar often, think about the way you refuel – snack on healthier options (fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, yoghurt, popcorn, lean biltong) and don’t skip meals. If you feel tired, you first instinct may be to reach for a cuppa java or some sugary snack, but this will be counterproductive as the energy lift will only be short term.
- Avoid sugar and sugary snacks.
- Reduce your intake of stimulants – tea, coffee, chocolate and cigarettes.
- Avoid alcohol (less than 2 units per day).
- Choose more slow-release high fibre foods.
C – Comprensive nutrient intake (vitamin B3, B6, folate, B12, C, zinc, magnesium and essential fatty acids)
- Antioxidants help combat the deterioration of the brain by free radical formation and oxidative stress from poor diet, stress and pollution. Antioxidants are found in fruit and vegetables. The deeper the colour, the more the antioxidants. Think blue berries, cranberries, beetroot, plums, kiwi fruit, rocket, spinach, broccoli etc. Aim to have more than 5 servings of fruit and/or vegetables every day.
- Omega 3: Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring provide essential fatty acid omega 3, which is necessary for the integrity of brain cell membranes and healthy neuron synapses for good message relaying. Try to eat tuna, mackerel, herring or salmon three times a week.
- Sardines and anchovies are a good source of DMAE as well as of omega 3 essential fats, so they make excellent brain food.
- Snack on raw nuts and seeds instead of biscuits and crisps. Nuts and seeds provide important nutrients, essential fats, protein and fibre and are far more nutritious alternatives.
So, when stress is getting you down and affecting your mental performance, have a look at your diet! You will be amazed at the big difference a few simple changes can make in the long run.
Celynn is a registered dietitian and although still occasionally consulting as a private practicing dietician, today she is regarded as a full time professional speaker and writer. Celynn is a regular media columnist, founder and developer of the WELLCULATORTM and has published a BESTSELLER book with Tafelberg entitled Fast Food For Sustained Energy. Celynn speaks enhancing your performance by managing fatigue and boosting energy levels. As a professional speaker, Celynn energizes local as well as international audiences and runs workshops in the UK. She is also a Yorkshire terrier, mosaic art and trail runner enthusiast!
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