It is true that you are what you eat, but I’m not sure that people fully realise how deep this runs. We tend to think of food in more physical terms – energy, muscles and bones not realising the impact on emotions, moods and intelligence is equally strong and arguable a bigger influence in our daily lives. Everything you are or are not is from your food – hormones, brain tissue, brain cells, even our very thoughts are chemical messages made from the food we eat.
Can foods make you more intelligent and smarter? Absolutely! While there are many factors involved in intelligence (IQ), food is the back bone of your intelligence. Many studies have shown that the proper foods can raise your IQ. The impact depends on your starting point. Some studies have shown a rise of 4.5 pts which is significant and others a staggering 10 to 20 point improvement! How can this be? Well because brain cells (neurons), their connections (dendrites) and the actual messages (neurotransmitters) are all made from foods so we can improve the speed of processing, our concentration, our memory and so our intelligence with the optimum amount of key nutrients.
Many of us eat well below recommended requirements and are operating well below our intelligence potential. The daily stresses of life add an even greater demand (the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to rapidly shrink brain connections) and so affect concentration and memory. Then there are individual differences and this can be one of the most important factors of all. The more I research nutrition, the more I find how great are the individual differences and nutritional requirements between us. On a superficial level we think we are basically all the same but nothing could be further from the truth. The individual requirements for nutrients can vary enormously and this can really only be found out my trying different levels and monitoring any benefits.
There are 3 main classes of brain foods that can help make you smarter – essential fats, phospholipids and amino acids. These nutrients have a huge role in the formation of brain cell receptors (points at which messages are transferred and received), their operation and the very messages themselves. Then there are some nutrients that play a huge supporting role, in particular vitamin B1, B5, B12, vitamin C and the minerals zinc (the no.1 mineral we are most likely to be deficient in) and magnesium (considered the second most likely mineral we would be deficient in)
Outlined below are the best foods for supplying all these nutrients and so the best foods to make you smarter! However, before this you need to know that the very foundation of effective brain activity is steady stable blood sugar levels so that the brain has a steady stable supply of glucose which is its main operating fuel. It doesn’t matter how good you are with brain foods if your blood sugar levels are not stable it will not count. The best source of stable glucose for the brain is unprocessed carbohydrates especially whole-grains, lentils, beans, peas and low GI fruits including apples, pears, plums, grapes, grapefruit and cherries.
Flax Seeds (a.k.a. Linseeds) are the top source of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) the grand mother of Omega 3 essential fats. Omega 3 essential fats are the most important of the essential fats we need for brain function and are called essential because they cannot me made in the body and must come from our food. Seeds are high in fibre too which is great for helping stabilise blood sugar levels and maintain a steady glucose flow to the brain. Finally seeds are high in zinc which is one of the most deficient and major supporting nutrients for brain activity. Choose unprocessed organic seeds ideally. Hemp seeds are an alternative top source of ALA.
Wild Salmon is one of the best direct sources of the Omega 3 essential fats EPA and DHA. These fats can be derived from ALA, but many people are inefficient at doing this and getting them from a direct source like Salmon can be very helpful. Salmon also provides ‘complete’ protein meaning it has all the essential amino acids we need for brain activity. The combination of essential fats and amino acids make this a super brain food. Mackeral is another oily fish that is a top supplier of EPA and DHA.
Sesame Seeds are packed with Linoleic Acid (LA) which is the grandmother of the Omega 6 essential fat family. Omega 6 fats are the other essential fats we must supply from food for proper brain activity. As with other seeds they have lots of fibre to help with a steady supply of glucose to the brain and lots of much needed zinc. Sunflower seeds are an alternative other top source of LA. Choose organic unprocessed seeds only.
Blackcurrant seed oil is a natural food supplement but makes the list here because it is a great source of Omega 6 essential fats with the added advantage that it is a direct source of Omega 6 GLA. GLA can be derived in the body from Linoleic Acid (LA) the grandmother of the Omega 6 essential fat family but some people have difficulty with this process. This is most likely due to having less of the enzymes that assist this conversion. Supplementation with GLA has been shown to significantly improve many aspects of brain function.
See part 2 for my 6 other super brain foods!!