Nutrition for Brain Power


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High performance racing cars need high octane fuel and adolescents who are growing rapidly and thinking quickly need regular nutritious meals that will provide appropriate levels of energy to enable high performance.  Energy for the brain comes from the digested food which releases sugars into the blood.  High ability adolescents think efficiently but they use up more glucose in the process. They need regular supplies of glucose to provide the required energy and this is best provided through foods that are digested slowly and release blood sugars over time. 

Breakfast is a critical meal for us all because our bodies have been deprived of food for hours and we need the energy from a nutritious breakfast to get us through the day.  Students who rush out of the house without breakfast often suffer from headaches, dizziness, irritability, declines in concentration and reduced memory function around mid-morning. A breakfast which includes complex carbohydrates as well as protein allows the body to slowly release energy, enabling the brain to function at peak efficiency.

When we experience depleted levels of blood sugar, there is a tendency for the body to crave sweet, sugary food to provide a quick increase in blood sugar levels.  The problem is that sugary foods or simple carbohydrates provide a surge in blood sugar levels but these levels crash again as the blood sugars are quickly used up, setting up a pattern of fluctuating blood sugar levels and frequent cravings for another sugar “fix".

Snacks throughout the day are needed to provide the steady release of energy, but the snacks should include fruit, vegetables, wholegrain and protein foods rather than sweets, cakes and biscuits.  Energy levels are maintained because the digestion of these foods provides a slow release of blood sugar into the blood and then to the brain.  Students who arrive home tired and irritable may be suffering from depleted blood sugar levels and need another nutritious snack before they sit down to study. Brains don't work properly without nutritious food to keep brains energised.

Fluid – preferably plain water, not high sugar or caffeine drinks – throughout the day is also critical to hydrate the body and provide the biochemical environment in which neurons synapse. A lack of fluid will also contribute to reduced brain function, irritability and headaches as well as placing stress upon kidneys, especially in our hot climate.

When students have had a good night's sleep and begin the day with breakfast which includes whole grains, fruit and protein, have nutritious  lunch and snacks at morning and afternoon breaks, they are well equipped to concentrate in class, think clearly and maintain energy for their bodies and brain throughout the day. 

​© Michele Juratowitch

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Last reviewed 10 March 2023
Last updated 10 March 2023