Time to load up on back to school brain food!

I’m starting class on Thursday and I’ve been reading about how what I eat directly affects my brain function. Our brains are made up of an impressive network of neurons – 100 million of them – all interconnected to each other and constantly transmitting messages.

The sending and receiving stations in our brain are made of essential fats (omega 3s found in fish and seeds), phospholipids (found in eggs and meats), and amino acids (protein). Our neurotransmitters (the messages that our brains carry) are made up of proteins. Turning a protein into a neurotransmitter requires nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and other amino acids.

The books I’m reading, Patrick Holford’s New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, describes the gut-brain connection in what I thought was a fascinating quote:

It used to be thought that all our thinking is done by neurons in the brain. Now we know that the digestive system contains 100 million neurons, and produces as many neurotransmitters as the brain. The gut, for example, produces two-thirds of the body’s serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter. So in essence, you’re feeding two brains. Every time you eat something it sends signals to the brain because the gut and the brain are in permanent communication. This is why the right foods can make you happy and the wrong foods can make you feel anxious or depressed.

Holford has come up with the following five essential brain foods:

1. Glucose – fuel for the brain

2. Essential fats – keeps your brain well oiled

3. Phospholipids – memory molecules that boost the brain

4. Amino acids – the brain’s messengers

5. Intelligent nutrients – vitamins and minerals

Out of all these, there are two amino acids that I think will be especially useful for back to school season: tryptophan and phenylalanine.

Tryptophan is used to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is what makes us feel happy. And phenylalanine makes adrenalin and dopamine, which makes us feel motivated. So motivated and happy students are likely to be eating some of the following foods:

  • seafood
  • chicken breast
  • spinach
  • turkey breast
  • tofu
  • kelp
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • egg
  • swiss chard
  • beans
  • cucumbers
  • apricots
  • celery
  • onions & garlic
  • almonds

A few other random brain facts from Holford:

  • On a sedentary day, our brain can consume up to 40 percent of all the carbohydrates that we eat!
  • Every day we have approximately 6,000 thoughts.
  • If you squeezed out all the water from your brain, a whopping 60 percent of the dry weight would be made up of fat.

I’m actually genuinely excited about going back to school. There are a couple of courses that I’m particularly looking forward to – like a body/mind/spirit course, and Cellular Biology (I have a thing for those science courses). Plus I get to buy new pens and notebooks! I’m not sure exactly why this excites me, but it does every single year.