What mom never told you about brain energy
Your brain is a hog—similar to a domesticated swine in its gluttonous consumption of energy. It sucks up 20% of the body’s total energy. If you’ve ever scrambled to find a word or felt like a thick fog was filling the space between your ears, then you know what I’m talking about. How can you have keep your brain energy high enough for clear thinking when you need it most?
My favorite brain foods
Inspired from Jim Kwik’s list of top brain foods, I’ve put my favorites. If you care about your brain, follow Jim Kwik, a world expert in optimal brain performance.
Dark chocolate, the darker the better. It improves your focus, concentration, and mood. It stimulates endorphins. And it just tastes good. I prefer it raw and as unadulterated as possible (double check the ingredient list).
MCT oil, for the brain high I get when I mix it with my coffee or hot cocoa and blend it all up. It can moderately raise BHB (see main article for why this is cool).
Blueberries, gathered wild if possible, due to fine memories from my teenage years, and their overall ability to reduce brain-aging conditions.
Broccoli, much to my daughter’s despair. I really don’t know why I like broccoli so much, so I’ll claim it’s because of all the vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function.
Eggs. They are such a complete, versatile ingredient, full of memory-improving choline. When I have a very busy day, I add one raw to my morning hot chocolate (with butter and MCT oil).
The brain represents a mere 2% of body weight, yet it gets 15% of your cardiac output and 20% of all your oxygen. It’s packed with mitochondria, those vital organelles so key to cellular energy. Being so energy-dependent makes the organ particularly susceptible to impaired energy production—a polite way to say faulty mitochondria.
You want to pamper your mitochondria to boost brain energy. It’s that simple.
Drink water before it’s too late
If you can’t plan or focus, are in a bad mood, or have a headache, start by drinking some water. Your brain needs water—neurons are 70% water—and it shrinks when it becomes dehydrated. Axons and dendrites shrivel, signals have a hard time getting through, and your brain uses more energy to move them. Without enough water, you’ll be tired and your mind fatigued.
Savor fat to oil the gears
There I go again, talking about fat. Love the stuff. Your brain is 60% fat, so you want to make sure you get enough healthy fat (think fatty fish, butter, eggs) in your diet to keep brain fat in good shape, particularly for the myelin, which coats the branches of the brain cells where the electrical signals run.
Your brain may be made of fat, but it has a sweet tooth, and prefers to fuel on glucose—the brain accounts for 25% of total body glucose utilization. That’s not a reason to go out and binge on cookies. The body has a back-up system when you haven’t had your glucose refill. The liver transforms fatty acids into ketone bodies, which the mitochondria use as fuel—feel the brain lighting up. This mechanism has the added benefit of dampening hunger signals.
One of the ketone bodies produced, known as beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), may even be more efficient than other brain fuel, providing more energy per unit of oxygen used. This makes a case for becoming fat-adapted and getting some keto eating in. Remember, though, it’s likely much better for the body to cycle in an out of whatever you are doing. Don’t do the same think all the time.
FYI, a keto diet also has the advantage of increasing the number of mitochondria in brain cells, which means more energy.
Add color for protection
When the mitochondria make brain energy, they also create what is called oxidative stress, and you need some protection to keep the brain running smoothly. Let’s go back to the infamous keto diet. According to an article on the Scientific American website, it may “directly inhibit a major source of neuronal stress, by—well—acting like a blueberry.” Blueberries protect your brain from oxidative stress with polyphenols that neutralize the free radicals released by cellular metabolism. For that matter, all fruits and vegetables with bright colors have polyphenols in them (blueberries happen to have an extraordinary number of them). The brighter the color, the better. Polyphenols also help you make more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that builds new brain cells.
Hold your breath—a little bit
Speaking of BNDF, depriving your brain of oxygen for brief periods triggers and instant release of BDNF. More brains cells means more energy. Don’t over do it—brains cells will start dying after as little as five minutes of oxygen deprivation.
Snooze or you lose
As a long-time insomniac, with what I’ve learned about the importance of sleep, I hardly believe that I still have a functioning brain. If you do nothing else, please sleep! It’s not to give your brain a rest. In fact, your brain is far more active during sleep than when you are awake. Sleep is repair time. It’s when you clean out waste products, and strengthen brain cell connections.