Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keep your brain in tip-top condition with a nutritious breakfast every morning

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Keep your brain in tip-top condition with a nutritious breakfast every morning
07:32 AM Mar 23, 2010

AT MEALTIMES, you may make a conscious effort to go for waist-friendly and heart-healthy foods. But did you know that your dietary decisions can also influence how your brain works?

Like the body, a nutritious diet can do wonders for the brain by enhancing brain power and improving memory, said Ms Shweta Sharma, a nutritionist in private practice. Ms Sharma spoke on the topic last week at an event organised by the Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings).

In particular, breakfast (see box for nutritious breakfast suggestions) is the most important meal of the day, said Ms Sharma. It helps rev up the brain first thing in the morning.

"After a full night of fasting, our brain needs a fresh supply of glucose - the basic brain fuel - to start functioning properly. A healthy breakfast ensures that the brain gets this kick-start every morning, resulting in better concentration and memory during the day," she explained.

The best bet for proper brain function is a well-balanced diet, said Ms Sharma. But there are certain nutrients which can specifically help keep your mental health in tip-top condition.

Brain fuel

Instead of refined carbohydrates such as white rice and bread, opt for complex carbs from whole grains and unrefined cereals, advised Ms Sharma. They ensure a slow and steady release of energy for the brain.

And because much of the brain's cell structure is composed of fats, she added, it is good to include a good dose of it in your diet. But this is not to say you should pack your diet with fried foods that contain bad fats, or trans and saturated fats.

Opt for healthy fat - unsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, which may be able to reduce incidence of dementia, said Dr Reshma A Merchant, head of General Medicine and geriatrician at National University Hospital. They can be found in fish oils, flaxseed oil, nuts, soy, corn oil and sunflower oil.

And as folate and vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with memory decline, be sure to include these nutrients into your meals, added Dr Reshma. Folate are found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, beans, peas and fruits (such as citrus varieties), while vitamin B12 can be found in shellfish, eggs and fish.

Ms Sharma said that foods laden with antioxidants - grape juice, berries, walnuts, strawberries and tea - can help to reduce oxidation and inflammation in brain, thus improving communication between neurons and enhance brain activity.

Use it or lose it

According to Dr Reshma, the brain has the ability to continuously "remodel" itself, even in old age. "The brain is capable of producing new neurons (connections within the brain cells) well into old age, but probably at a slower pace."

However, she added that a brain-healthy diet alone is insufficient.

"There are many other things that will boost the neuronal connection in the brain, such as physical activity, build up of problem-solving skills and education," she said. "Older people who participate in complex mental activities showed diminished cognitive decline and lower risk of Alzheimer's Disease."

Active learning includes reading, writing, attending workshops, taking up classes to learn computing skills or programming, playing mahjong and puzzles.

A wholesome breakfast should include light but nutritious food.

A wholesome breakfast

An ideal breakfast that can rev up your mental prowess should include light but nutritious foods that are high in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and have the right carbohydrates. Nutritionist Shweta Sharma suggests the following:

- Wholegrain cereal with low-fat milk or yogurt. Add fresh fruits and nuts to power your brain and body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

- Wholegrain toast with low-fat cheese or cheese spread. Add sliced tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce leaves to make your breakfast nutrient dense.

- Wholegrain toast with cooked beans. Make the breakfast wholesome with a glass of 100-per-cent fruit juice or fresh fruits.

- Wholegrain toast with low fat meats is also a healthy breakfast option. Choose from tuna or salmon with a low-fat spread on the toast.

- Choose wholegrain flour when making pancakes for breakfast, and avoid sugar-rich jams or spreads on these pancakes. Add fresh fruit and milk to the meal.

From TODAYOnline.com; see the source article here.