Food for positive thought
Food is fuel for your brain. In fact, your brain consumes roughly 20 percent* of your body’s calories, so it’s not a coincidence that you find it harder to concentrate when you start to feel hungry. And just like the rest of your body, your brain health is affected by your dietary choices. Given all this, the food you eat matters, and it helps to choose the best snacks for brain power!
When your diet consists mostly of high-nutrient foods, you’re helping your brain function at its best. Just the opposite, if you eat a lot of processed or refined foods, your brain may not be getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay balanced—which ultimately affects how you feel.
“Good” fat vs “bad” fat
While we’re all more accustomed to connecting fat in foods with weight fluctuation or heart issues, fat is also present in your brain. Just like with your heart, there are both “good” and “bad” fats connected directly with what you typically eat. Not only have bad fats been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s and in some cases of dementia, they’ve also been associated with a condition called mild cognitive impairment. This condition is connected to slight memory loss or forgetfulness that becomes more common in day-to-day living. This furthers the connection between healthy diets and perceptive thinking.
Eliminating hunger is better than a quick energy boost
Consuming refined carbohydrates (such as sugar, white rice, white bread, soda, etc.) can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate and eventually crash. A short burst of energy is usually followed by a tired, moody feeling. For this reason, it’s best to limit the amount of these foods in your diet.
A better option is to snack on high-protein, vitamin-rich foods that provide substance over empty calories. Including high-fiber foods, such as oats, beans and peas, can also help boost your mood by slowing down sugar absorption.
Portion matters, too
The amount you eat in a sitting also affects your mood. Rather than eating a few large meals that leave you feeling full immediately, eating smaller portions every few hours can provide you more energy while keeping your metabolism active. This way, you’re continuously fueling your body and keeping your mood stable without feeling too full or hungry. Consider eating three lighter meals with some light snacking between to help you stay healthy and feel energized throughout the day.
The best snacks for brain power
Including healthy snacks in your meal plan is a good way to stay fueled and productive, and avoid “brain fog”. Here are some healthy snack ideas to energize your body and sharpen your mind:
Berries. Berries of all kinds are a popular healthy snack option. They’re quick and easy to eat, and like a bag of chips, you can eat berries on the go, individually or by the handful. But unlike chips, berries are high in nutrients, antioxidants, fiber and vitamins, with little to no fats or sodium. Plus, they come in a variety of “flavors”—blueberry, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, etc.
Nuts. Nuts are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats. Walnuts, in particular, are high in a healthy omega-3 fatty acid linked to lowering blood pressure, strengthening your arteries and giving your brain more of the “good fats” it needs.
Seeds. Seeds are rich in nutrients, healthy fats, fiber and magnesium—which are great at reducing the effect of stress on your brain. Sunflower seeds, roasted pine nuts (technically a seed, despite its name) and pumpkin seeds are easy to eat at your desk or in the car. And don’t throw out those watermelon seeds at your next summer picnic—they can be roasted in the oven and enjoyed as a snack, too! Pumpkin seeds are especially high in zinc, which has been connected to helping increase memory and thinking.
Dark chocolate. Like berries, dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants and fiber. It also contains caffeine, potassium and iron, which can give you an added boost of energy. Research suggests that dark chocolate can improve blood flow to your brain and it has been shown to positively affect cognitive functions.**
Veggies. Vegetables offer quick and tasty options to boost your intake of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Broccoli is an especially great source of vitamin K (as are prunes), which is known to improve brain activity and enhance cognitive functioning. Enjoy raw broccoli, sugar snap peas and carrots with dips like hummus, Greek yogurt or guacamole. You can make kale chips by baking kale with olive oil, salt and a spice of your choosing, like cumin, lemon pepper or a drizzle of hot sauce. The leafy green gets crunchy but retains its nutrients and lasts up to a week, so you can pack small bags to bring with you to the office.
Tea and coffee. This might not quite qualify as a “snack” per se, but enjoying a cup of coffee or tea during the day can give you that caffeinated boost in energy without all the sugar you’d get from sodas or energy drinks. These beverages also provide antioxidants known to remove free radicals from your body—molecules that can lead to illness or aging defects in skin cells.
Whatever snacks you choose, be mindful of your sugar intake and any dietary restrictions you may have. Pairing your snacks with unhealthy dips, fatty toppings or sugary additives negates the nutritional value of your healthy snack. And this won’t help any sluggish state of mind you’re looking to fix.
If you’re snacking, be sure to lighten up on your main meals
It might seem obvious, but if you’re eating three full meals a day and start to add healthy snacks between meals, you may find that you’re “spoiling your appetite.” What mom used to say is right! When you add in snacks, just focus on reducing your portions during mealtime. As with so many things in life, balance is key.
You might also feel that if you’re eating three full, healthy meals, why would you need snacks? Maybe you don’t! If you’re eating healthy meals that are the right balance of low-fat proteins, nutrient-rich vegetables, high-fiber grains and heart-healthy unsaturated fats, your body may be completely satisfied without the need for snacks. However, if you find hunger creeping in here and there between your meals, it’s always a good idea to reach for something healthy to boost your energy and focus with the best snacks for brain power. It could help you to be more alert during your next work meeting, have more energy when you work out, or be more attentive in social situations with your friends and family!
This article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant as medical advice.
* Markham Heid at Time.com. Does Thinking Burn Calories? Here’s What the Science Says. September 19, 2018
** Kris Gunnars, BSc at Healthline.com. 7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate. June 25, 2018.