Banin Shahine is the Resident Nutritionist at Fitness First and an expert in her field. When it comes to nutrition our brains are receptive to everything good and bad. Banin Shahine gives us invaluable insight to the ways in which our daily intake of bacteria, fats, glucose, water and exercise can have a tremendous effect on the brain, cure diseases and fuel this powerful muscle.
Brain and Gut Bacteria
Our brain and gut are in sync. The two are connected by our nervous system which transfers bacteria from the gut to our brain.
We actually have more bacteria in our bodies than cells and so bacteria have an immense effect on our bodily functions. Depression, Autism and Parkinson disease have all been linked to gastrointestinal imbalances and problems as well as the sick feeling you get when you are angry or anxious.
Good bacteria in the gut however helps to prevent these negative emotions whilst also effecting all different areas of the brain aiding its functionality. Good gut bacteria are separated into prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are a sort of fibre which is fermented in our digestive system. This fermentation process feeds and increases the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Foods such as banana, onion, garlic, apple skin, beans and whole wheat products all contain Prebiotics.
Probiotics already contain beneficial bacteria and so do not need to be fermented. Yogurt, pickles, tempeh, kefir, are all probiotic enriched food. There is also a lot of probiotics pills available in the market in case you have an intolerance to any of the above.
Brain and Healthy Fats
We need to be better educated on the benefits of healthy fats as they are an essential nutrient for our brain making up 60% of the brains tissue. Fat is often first to be cut from our diet in a bid to lose weight, however this is a common error made by all. When speaking about healthy fats these are the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 that are responsible for our daily functions such as mood, vision, concentration and memory.
The ratio we should consume is 1:4 (omega 3:omega 6), but now days the ratio among people is 1:8, it means that people are having a much higher amount of omega 6 compared to omega 3. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
To increase your intake, up your consumption of oily fish as they are one of the richest foods in Omega 3 that you can eat. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and also eggs and milk are good sources. If you are vegan options include chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
It is important to note that unborn babies and children are the most effected by a lack of healthy fats as it is a key nutrient for brain development. It is especially important therefore that pregnant women maintain healthy fats in their diets.
Glucose is needed for the main functions of the brain such as thinking, learning, memory, and neurotransmitter release. The brain uses 20% of our total energy expenditure and is responsible for using around 25% of glucose in the body. It is also important to know that glucose is the only nutrient the brain uses for energy.
But like many things, too much glucose can have a reverse effect. High sugar intake causes blood sugar levels to spike and inevitably crash, causing symptoms like irritability, mood swings, brain fog and fatigue. In addition, high sugar foods affect the release of insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar and secreted by the pancreases), insulin also regulates the function of the brain cells.
Interestingly the brain recognizes glucose as a drug. Writing in The Atlantic, neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, states:2
“… [T]he [U.S.] war on drugs has taken a back seat, but not because it has been won. Rather, because a different war has cluttered the headlines — the war on obesity. And a substance even more insidious, I would argue, has supplanted cocaine and heroin.
The object of our current affliction is sugar. Who could have imagined something so innocent, so delicious, so irresistible … could propel America toward … medical collapse?”
Hydration and Brain Function
Water is imperative to the running of both our brain and nervous system. Our brains are made from 80% water and our nervous system is responsible for the communication between brain and the body. Ultimately the brain is a complicated connection of nerve cells and water.
Dehydration and the brain affects bodily functions in a variation of ways. It can be anything from fluctuating moods to decreasing our reaction time when driving.
Whenever you have a headache, make sure you drink 2 cups of water before you have a pain killer, most of the time a headache is the brains way of telling you are dehydrated.
Exercise and brain Health
It’s common to hear from our grandparents, parents, teachers and doctor that a healthy brain is in a healthy body. What is healthier for your heart is healthier for your brain, as the heart helps to pump more oxygen to the brain.
According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.
Exercise is a natural anti-depressant as it helps to decrease the level of stress hormones in our bodies. The effect of running showed it was associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The classes on offer at Fitness First offer a wide range of stress busting classes and the full timetable can be seen here: uae.fitnessfirstme.com/