The examination period for students will set in soon as the academic year comes to an end. So, paying attention to something as equally important as reading and mastering what has been taught in school is healthy food choices that fuel and nourish the brain.
If you give your brain the right nutrients, you will think quicker, have a better memory, boost your IQ, improve your mood, be more emotionally stable, have improved concentration while being better coordinated and balanced. This helps one to focus optimally on the task at hand, whether at work or school.
In the search for the next super food, it is easy to overlook the potential that lies within an egg. Egg yolk is a good source of choline, an important nutrient for mental health.
Choline plays both a structural and a functional role in the brain. It is a component of many fatty molecules in the body, including the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve fibres in the brain.
It is also part of a molecule called acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter (messenger molecule) that sends message transfers between nerves and muscles.
Choline boosts brainpower by speeding up the sending of signals to nerve cells in the brain. Choline is an additive in some breakfast cereals because of its role in brain development.
However, there is much more choline in one egg than you would get from a serving of cereal.
One large hard-boiled egg contains 113mg of choline, 20% of the daily required intake for adult males (or 25% of the daily required intake for adult females) for this nutrient.
Other foods rich in total choline include beef and chicken liver, wheat germ, bacon, dried soybeans and lean pork.
Choline content aside, eggs are also a cheap source of good-quality protein.
Having protein in your meals helps stabilise your blood sugar levels, which in turn prevent you from feeling worn-out too soon when your blood sugar drops.
Many of us associate eggs with breakfast, but there is no reason they cannot be part of your lunch or dinner choices. Besides serving eggs as they are, here are some other ways to enjoy them outside of breakfast:
Swirl a beaten egg into boiling soup or pasta sauce.
Top an omelet with green beans- then cut up and toss with cooked spaghetti or rice for a delicious meatless meal.
Add diced hard-boiled eggs to your vegetable or potato salad.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates.
Instead of a short burst of energy, these carbohydrates have long chains of sugar molecules that the body breaks down gradually, releasing glucose to fuel the brain over time.
Mental exercise drains glucose, so feeding your glucose level throughout the day with fruits is a great way to keep energy levels up all day.
Watery and crunchy fruits are low in calories and can be eaten all day, any time. Berries and citruses are highest in complex carbohydrates and also antioxidants which reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.
In the morning, a cereal with a fruit is a very quick and easy breakfast to kick start your day. It saves time and helps one enter the work-mode immediately.
A food pyramid helps one include a variety of nutrients the body needs, including the ones for the nerves and brain, for all daily functions.
Although food is the preferred source for nutrients, if you are concerned about your ability to meet your nutritional needs and are considering taking a multiple vitamin and mineral food supplement, talk to your doctor/dietitian to receive advice on the appropriate one for you.
Fish and fish oils are sources of various omega-3 fatty acids, which play crucial roles in maintaining healthy cardiovascular and nervous systems.
While there are some plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids (such as flax), the omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish play an integral part in the functioning of the nervous system.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an important fatty acid for the normal functioning of the nervous system, which affects memory, learning and cognitive performance.
Structurally, the brain is more than 60% fat, with DHA as the most abundant type of fatty acid there.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids have specific roles in the brain and deficiencies have been linked to a risk of developing a variety of cognitive impairment disorders;
A review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that consuming 2.7 servings of fish per week was associated with a 50% reduction in dementia risk.
Like eggs, fish is a source of protein that stabilises blood sugar levels and prevents one from crashing when blood sugar dips too low.
Get two to three servings of fish per week. If you are already a fish or sushi lover, you may be eating enough. Start by adding one serving a week and work your way up to two.
Choose baked or boiled fish instead of deep-fried fish because frying damages the omega-3 fatty acids so that they are no longer in a beneficial form.
These seeds are extremely high in vitamin E, the main fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E protects the brain from the negative impact of free radicals in the body, thereby sparing fatty structures like the brain from the damaging effects of oxidation.
Vitamin E from foods – and not from supplements – offers some protection against Alzheimer’s disease. A quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds provides 90.5% of the daily value of this vitamin.
Sunflower seeds are also a good source of magnesium, an important nutrient in the prevention of migraine headaches.
Magnesium counteracts the actions of calcium. When there is too little magnesium, calcium can rush into nerve cells and over-excite them, which leads to excessive contractions.
Magnesium helps the nerve cells stay relaxed. A quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds contains approximately 1/3 of the daily value of magnesium.
How to prepare and enjoy sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds taste mildly nutty and have a firm yet tender texture.
Because the seeds are high in fat, they can easily go rancid.
Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
l In case you are watching your sodium intake, purchase unsalted ones instead of the salted variety.
Sprinkle them on cereals, salads, scrambled eggs, spaghetti, pasta or pizza.
Grind and use them as the breading or crust on your roast poultry, meat or fish.
Add them to bread dough or smoothies for some extra crunch and nutrition.
Make your own sunflower seed butter by grinding the seeds in a food processor.