Written by: Michael Mantz, M.D.
A third way to develop sustainable brain energy is to eat a nutrient dense breakfast. If you have been following this 5-part article series – practicing getting high-quality sleep (Part 1) and working out your mitochondria with your morning vitality shower (Part 2) – it’s now time to learn how to break your daily fast by providing your brain with the best building materials and give it long lasting fuel to catapult you into your day.
Your body and brain are primed to absorb a high nutrient load which provides a window of opportunity to flood your brain with the best materials possible after fasting at night. Your brain – despite being only 2% of your body weight – uses 20% of your body’s energy production. It runs like a refrigerator – it is always running at a relatively stable energy level even while your asleep.
You want your meals to provide slow and steady energy in order to keep your blood sugars stable which decreases inflammation, stabilizes mood, and gives clean long-lasting sustainable energy for the brain to function optimally.
The general idea for breakfast is to create an easy to make meal with brain-enhancing foods that provide a balance of nutrient dense carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that are soothing to your gut and give you stable energy.
I. Nutrient dense low-glycemic carbohydrates:
a) Brain power fruits: Berries, Cherries, Pomegranate seeds, Red and Black Grapes
These brain power fruits are loaded with powerful phytonutrients called polyphenols that provide a wide array of benefits for your nervous system. Polyphenols are the pigments found mainly in the skins of these fruits that bathe your brain with broad-spectrum positive effects that protect your neurons from oxidative damage, cool down inflammation, and stimulate brain growth. Fruits with red, blue, purple and other dark rich pigments are loaded with these potent compounds.
Personally I try to consume at least 2 cups of these brain-power fruits every day. I find that incorporating them in my first meal gives me the boost that I need for my mind to be at its best when I take on the challenges I may face during the day.
II. Nutrient dense proteins and fats
a) High protein nuts and seeds: Hemp seeds, Almonds, Pistachios, Sunflower and Pumpkin seeds.
Raw nuts and seeds are strongly associated with longevity, brain and cardiovascular health. One meta-analysis (a study of studies) published in 2015 reported that one daily serving of nuts reduces the risk of death from all causes by 27% and cardiovascular death by 39%. In general, when a food or supplement helps with cardiovascular health it is likely to benefit brain health since a healthy brain requires a healthy cardiovascular system.
The high protein nuts and seeds listed above come packaged with a treasure trove of nutrients including but not limited to: vitamin A and C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and fiber.
b) Brain-boosting fats – Chia seeds, Flax seeds, Walnuts, Avocados, Shredded unsweetened coconut.
Animal studies suggest that walnuts (and almonds) are helpful for preventing age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. In human studies, regular walnut consumption was associated with better working memory – a measure of fluid intelligence.
In one human study – nuts and seeds outperformed olive oil and low-fat diets in promoting BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which acts like brain fertilizer, stimulating the growth and survival of nerve cells.
Walnuts, chia and flax seeds are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids which provide a host of brain benefits including: structural support (60% of your brain in made out of fat), enhancement of neuron to neuron communication, stress protection, anti-inflammatory benefits, improvements in cognitive and eye function and a lot more.
Avocados are loaded with omega-9 fatty acids which help lubricate your blood vessels to your brain and soothe your gut. They also provide high amounts of B-vitamins that are important for neurotransmitter and energy production and carotenoids that help promote eye health.
If you are going to use coconut, I advise using coconut products that are minimally processed using low-heat methods and don’t have their beneficial fibers ripped out of them. Intact coconut foods contain brain healthy polyphenols, fiber, and nutrients like potassium.
Side Bar: Coconut oil has become a popular “health” food but after a thorough review of the literature I cannot recommend the use of this processed food.
Do not be fooled by the hype surrounding coconut oil. Despite claims that it is high in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that may help support brain health, the MCTs in coconut oil are predominately Lauric acid (C12) which is not metabolized like the MCTs Caprylic (C8) and Capric (C10) acids.
Lauric acid appears to be metabolized similarly to regular long chain saturated fatty acids and does not appear to confer the benefits associated with Caprylic and Capric acids. Most articles that promote coconut oil will conflate the benefits seen in studies that use purified MCTs (mostly Caprylic and Capric acids) and try to convince you that coconut oil will give similar benefits. It does not. The MCTs found in coconut oil are around 77% Lauric acid – most studies using purified MCTs do not include Lauric acid.
The healthy fats help slow down the rate of digestion and provide more time for your gut to absorb the polyphenols and other nutrients in your breakfast. The result is a stable influx of potent brain-boosting nutrition that will give you a leg up on your day and decrease your desire for snacking.
III. Putting it all together
I suggest to my patients, when they are making their breakfast, to first choose which brain-boosting fruit(s) they want to eat that day. Next add in a high protein nut/seed to the mix and then add in a healthy fat to the dish. For those who respond well to grains I recommend gluten-free oatmeal if desired. If you are on a grain-free diet one can use chia seeds or flax seeds (or both) as the base for the meal.
Breakfast Example: Add 1 cup of blueberries and ½ cup of pitted cherries in a pan with a little bit of water or nut milk. Gently warm. Add ¼ – 1/3 cup of gluten free oatmeal and stir in 1 tsp of Ceylon Cinnamon. Turn off the heat. Add 1-2 servings of nuts/seeds.
Grain free – use unsweetened shredded coconut/chia and flax combination as the base for the dish instead of the oatmeal.
Coming soon – 5 tips for sustainable brain energy part 4: Time-Outs are also good for adults