Fantastic Brain Boosting Snacks and Where to Find Them
If you’re feeling that midday lull, you’re not alone. There may be a myriad of reasons contributing to your 2 p.m. mental shutdown, but one of the most common causes may be your choice in snack foods. It’s easy enough to ignore, but while the sugar and sodium bombs in the vending machines may be a tasty burst of energy, their lack of nutrition isn’t likely to get you far. Thankfully, by planning ahead and picking the right foods for your midday munchie quest, you can be sure to keep your mind running at top speed.
Nutrients and the Brain
Much in the same way that our heart or muscles run on nutrients, our brain works best when powered by foods with a great nutritional value. And because our brain regulates all bodily functions, it doesn’t get much of a break. Throughout the day, your brain experiences stress and breakdowns from the most mundane of tasks, so fueling it with low-nutrition options is going to offer you little reprieve. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, increase the amount of tissue damage and oxidative stress caused by waste produced during glucose transformation. By feeding your body food that’s high in key nutritional elements, you’ll allow your brain to recover more quickly and efficiently from the daily wear and tear.
I Wanna Munch! But on what?
In order to unlock our brain’s potential, there are four specific categories of nutrients on which to focus when considering what constitutes a “brain food.” Let’s dive in to these necessary chemicals, and take a look at what foods can be a quick source for a brain boost.
- Glucose – Without the energy derived from glucose, your brain would likely be operating at a flat line level. All fuel for thought and brain activity comes directly from converting fats and sugars into glucose, so you won’t want to skimp on this chemical category. Keep in mind, though, that this is not an excuse to start wolfing down Moon Pies. You’ll want to be sure your food has a low glycemic index, so that it can be slowly released into your bloodstream throughout the day, instead of overwhelming your brain all at once (i.e. a sugar rush). The key here is to “think brown” when choosing your carbs. Your best bet for a steady, adequate supply of glucose-based energy will be found in wholegrain options for cereal, pasta, and rice. Popcorn is another well-balanced snack option, but be sure to skip the butter, as that will transform your snack into a saturated fat and calorie bonanza.
- Amino Acids – Your thinking operates in top form thanks to the neurotransmitters in your brain. Norepinephrine will boost your alertness and concentration; serotonin gives a leg up to your mood, memory, and learning levels. These key factors to brain function are amino acids, which can be found in protein-rich foods. Your best bet for tracking down those essential amino acids would be to first focus on any lean protein possible. Chicken, pork, and turkey are all fantastic options, but unless you’re Ron Swanson, it’s understandable if you don’t have a way to keep fully cooked meat in your desk. You can turn to healthy options like nuts, trail mix, cheese, or a hardboiled egg. Be careful on the last one, though, as a daily desk egg might end up offending your coworkers’ senses. Plus, then you’re the “egg guy” and that’s not a great nickname to pick up.
- Fatty Acids: Fatty acids strengthen the synapses that are related to memory and recall. You’ll want to hone in on polyunsaturated fatty acids, which would include omega-3 and omega-6. The main dietary source for essential fatty acids is varieties of oily fish, like tuna, salmon, or trout. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can still gain EFAs from flax, walnuts, almonds, or dark green leafy plants like broccoli. However, if you’re finding trouble integrating these fats into your no-meat diet, a supplement may be required to ensure you’re keeping the proper levels.
- Antioxidants – Despite what your parents might have told you, brain cells aren’t destroyed by bad TV. The destruction of brain cells results from free radicals, which are created when extra oxygen is released while your brain converts glucose to energy. Antioxidants will actually block those to ensure your brain cells stay intact. The good news about antioxidants is that they can be found in so many tasty foods. Snacking on so-called “super foods” like blueberries, grapes, tomatoes, and nuts will help to pump you full of these antioxidants. In fact, dark chocolate has been shown as a huge supplier of antioxidants. Yes, you read that right. Go eat a little piece of dark chocolate right now.
While it may be easy to slip into poor nutritional habits, a combination of proper planning and knowing the facts can make sure you’re snacking right throughout the day. Not only will it provide you with the energy to turn in those reports on time, or sit through a slow-paced meeting, but it’ll lead to healthier brain activity over time. What’s your favorite workplace pick-me-up snack? Let us know in the comments.