We eat for many reasons. First and foremost, we need fuel to allow us energy throughout the day. Many of us eat a particular way for the benefit of our heart, our diabetes, our hypertension, our muscles, our weight, etc., however I rarely hear of individuals eating for their brains. The brain controls the body and our ability to think, communicate, move and function. Shouldn’t we then include foods that help our brains as much as foods that help our heart? The USDA school breakfast program officially began in the fall of 1975 and in 2009 over 11 million children were provided free or low-cost breakfast before their school day even started. Why is this important? It’s important because the school breakfast program has significantly improved children’s academic performance. Children who missed breakfast were more likely to make errors in their work and had more challenges with memory and recall. Further, children who skipped breakfast scored lower on cognitive tests than children who did not. Looking at the impact of the school breakfast program on children’s brains truly shows the importance that proper diet has on brain function.
The brain uses sugar in the form of glucose to perform just about any task it needs to do. It is, in fact, the only fuel that the brain uses. Since the neurons of the brain do not have the ability to store glucose the way the rest of the body does, it relies completely on the blood stream to provide it with this needed fuel. We’ve all had times where we have gone too long without food and we begin to feel weak or shaky. Many of us can recall a time when we simply could not “think straight” because we were hungry. These feelings occur because the brain is being deprived of the only fuel it knows and has no storage to draw from. Carbohydrates are great for the brain because they provide a rapid, steady stream of energy but it’s important to choose complex carbohydrates as opposed to simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates include 100% whole grains breads, rice, pasta and cereals as well as starchy vegetables and legumes.