Brain Food

Keep your teenagers away from sugar and gluten if you want them to do well in exams.


This is the view of Dr Peter Hill of Met-S Care and a specialist in Metabolic Syndrome. Hill says what we consume as food and drink has a major effect on what happens to our brains and since the two biggest brain inflammation producing food ingredients are sugar and gluten, it therefore follows that the two inflammatory foods we most need to avoid in order to get rid of brain fog is any food or drink that contains either sugar or gluten.


“This is often tough,” says Hill when teenagers are cramming for exams and looking for junk comfort food or quick energy-releasing snacks to keep them going. Almost all breakfast cereals, boxed or otherwise, are full of blood sugar producing glycaemic carbohydrates as is fruit juice, biscuits and sweets. On the gluten side, quick fixes like processed cheese and meats, sausage, soups, ice cream, mayonnaise, salad dressings, tomato sauce, hot dogs, non-dairy creamer are also full of gluten and should be avoided.”


So what does one need to boost cognitive function? Hill says fats are the first group which are essential for optimal brain function. “One should avoid non saturated fats such as those found in margarine, corn, peanut, sunflower, soya and canola – the Omega-6 oils – and rather consume saturated fats such as animal fat, including dairy fat. These Omega-3 fatty acids make up 25% of the fat in our brain.”


The key to brain health may also well lie in ensuring gastrointestinal tract (GIT) health. Hill says the GIT bacteria produce neurochemicals which play a key role in the manufacture of vitamins, essential for healthy brains.


So ensuring gut health means clearing your pantry and fridge of all things containing gluten and sugar. “If you haven’t already it is time to start stocking up on healthy fats and probiotic containing foods.”


Fats such as avocado, coconut oil and other coconut products, olives and olive oil, nuts, eggs, fish, meat and chicken are great as are full cream natural yogurts.


In addition to using food to combat brain fog, Hill says there are a few lifestyle changes worth thinking about:


  • Intermittent fasting: research shows that mental alertness is improved during periods of fasting. An easy intermittent fasting model that is easy to follow involves not eating or drinking energy containing foods or  beverages after 19:00 and before 10:00 or 11:00 the next day.
  • Sleep: ensure you get at least 7-9 hours of sleep per day. Good quality sleep is essential for the restoration of mental vigour.
  • Physical exercise: it is thought that exercise may play a role in neurogenesis as well as in optimising neurotransmission and in protecting neurons from oxidative damage and inflammation.
  • Mental exercise: the very act of thinking about what you are thinking about, i.e. putting your thoughts processes to work helps to get you ‘brain fit’.


As far as dietary supplements go, the following brain power supplements are worth considering:


  • DHA: Omega-3 fatty acid can be consumed as a dietary supplement, if fatty fish is not on your menu. Aim for around 1000 iu per day.
  • Turmeric: this popular spice contains curcumin which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. It ‘switches on’ genes that protect brain function. If you don’t like lots of curry, then consider taking 350mg in capsule form twice a day.
  • Coconut oil: the brain’s superfuel and probably the best fat to use for frying as it is heat stable.
  • Probiotics: For good stomach health consider taking a good quality probiotic every day. Choose one that contains at least 10 billion active cultures from at least 10 different strains (including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium).
  • Vitamin D 3: also known as the sunshine vitamin. Have a simple blood test done and aim to get your Vitamin D3 level to around 75ng/ml. To get to this target level will probably require supplementing with about 5000 iu of Vitamin D 3 per day.