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Biology 202
2000 First Web Report
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Feeding Your Brain

Gwen Slaughter

As a typical college student, I suffer from daily stresses, lack of sleep and lack of a proper diet. I have pulled countless all nighters; my body and brain fueled only by coffee, chocolate and pizza, in order finish a paper or study for an exam. As a result, I may have done better on the paper or test, but I was being very unkind to my body and brain. In terms of nutrition, it is important to think of the brain as just another organ in the body. The food and other substances we put into our bodies affect our behavior, mood, thoughts and emotions. The brain responds very quickly to proper nutrition. However, as a college student who dines daily in the dining hall, I most likely do not get the nutrients needed to maximize my brain potential. In this paper, I'm going to take you through a day of brain friendly meals and explain why our brains and bodies need more than coffee, chocolate and pizza to thrive and survive.

Breakfast: 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 glass of orange juice and yogurt with fresh blueberries

 Most people consume a high carbohydrate breakfast of cereal, toast or pancakes after a night's sleep because the body craves those types of food when its blood sugar level is low. However, meals high in carbohydrates increase the brain's level of the amino acid tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels. Glucose from the digested carbohydrates causes the body to secret insulin. Insulin tells cells to pull amino acids, except tryptophan, out of the blood stream for storage. So, tryptophan keeps circulating and is available for neurons that use it to make serotonin. Serotonin is a calming neurotransmitter that makes you feel relaxed and satisfied. Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter for a well-balanced mood, but a relaxed state right after breakfast is not usually desirable (4).

Eggs and Yogurt: A breakfast full of complex proteins (proteins that contain high amounts of amino acids), such as eggs and yogurt, energize instead of relax the body. The proteins raise the level of the amino acid tyrosine in the blood and brain. If more tyrosine is present, the body's neurons will produce more norepinephrine and dopamine. Norepinephrine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that makes you feel motivated, alert and able to concentrate. It is also necessary for the brain to form new memories and to transfer memories from short term to long-term storage. Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter associated with activity and fine muscle coordination and aids in healthy assertiveness, autonomic nervous system and immune system functions. Dopamine levels can be depleted by lack of sleep and high stress. So, it is important replenish dopamine levels with a protein packed breakfast after a hard night of studying (4).

Eggs yolks contain a high amount of lecithin, which contains the fat like substance choline. Choline belongs to the Vitamin B family and is needed to metabolize fats. It is also the primary building block of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter essential for concentration, focus, muscle coordination and storage and recall of memory (4).

Orange Juice: Vitamin C and E help fight off free radicals that destroy dopamine and norepinephrine. During times of stress and illness your body uses up a lot of Vitamin C. Most animals produce their own Vitamin C, but humans do not, so it is essential that we consume a proper amount of Vitamin C. Studies have shown that vitamin C reduced the level of stress hormones in rats' blood and increased the levels of an immune system antibody in stressed and unstressed rats (2).

Blueberries: Researchers at Tufts University analyzed more than 40 fruits and vegetables and found that fresh raw blueberries contain the highest level of antioxidants compared to the other fruits and vegetables. Animals fed an antioxidant rich blueberry diet outperformed the control group of animals on memory tests and showed fewer age related motor changes (2).

Lunch: Chicken breast sandwich on whole wheat bread, raw broccoli, and a glass of milk.

As with breakfast, it is important to eat a lunch that will keep you energized for the afternoon. Sugary, simple carbohydrates will increase serotonin levels in the blood and put you to sleep. Complex proteins and complex carbohydrates will give you energy and keep you motivated.

 Broccoli: Raw broccoli has a very high level of glutathione, the cell's primary water-soluble antioxidant. Glutathione, like other antioxidants plays a role in protecting cognitive and motor functioning in aging animals (2).

Chicken breast: Chicken, like eggs, contains complete protein that increases levels of the excitatory neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. Chicken is also a good source of coenzyme Q10 (Co Q10), which increases the energy generating potential of neurons. This coenzyme is essential for the Krebs cycle of cellular energy production that takes place in the mitochondria of each cell. Alzheimer's disease is a disease associated with impaired mitochondrial functioning. Researchers gave people with Alzheimer's disease daily supplements of CoQ10 and it appeared to prevent the progression of the disease for up to 2 years (3).

Whole Wheat Bread: Glucose is the form of sugar that travels in the bloodstream that fuels cellular mitochondrial functioning. Glucose is obtained from carbohydrates, which are in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. Natural foods, such as vegetables, are made of complex carbohydrates, which are long chains of sugar molecules that the body slowly breaks down into shorter glucose molecules your brain uses for fuel. The cellulose found in vegetables resists digestion and slows down the release of glucose into the blood stream. Natural carbohydrates release glucose at a slower level and provide a steady supply of glucose to the brain. Most processed foods are simple carbohydrates, which release glucose quickly into the blood stream. So, a steady supply of glucose is not available to the brain. Whole wheat bread is not a complex carbohydrate, but its sugars are released into the blood stream at a slower rate than white bread's sugars. So, glucose will be released to brain cells for fuel at a slower rate (3).

Milk: Milk is also a slow glucose releasing carbohydrate. Its sugars will be released into the blood stream at a slower rate and will be available to the brain for a longer, more stable period of time (3).

Snack: Banana
A banana is a good source of tyrosine. Tyrosine is the amino acid neurons turn into norepinephrine and dopamine. If you recall from breakfast, norepinephrine and dopamine are excitatory neurotransmitters that are important in motivation, alertness, concentration and memory. This banana will keep you awake and motivated all afternoon so you can get your work done productively (4).

Dinner: Grilled salmon, spinach and strawberry salad and brown rice
Salmon: Salmon is high in omega-3 EPA and DHA. High concentrations of DHA are found in areas of the brain where there is a high degree of electrical activity, in the mitochondria of neurons, in the synaptic membranes, and in the retina of the eye. DHA is a long, curved neuron that keeps neuron receptors in place and lends to the suppleness of the neuron membrane. DHA is essential in brain development. In fact, breast milk has very high levels of DHA. Several studies have shown that babies who receive proper amounts of DHA, through feeding on breast milk or formula supplemented with DHA, have higher IQs and better vision than babies who did not receive proper amounts of DHA. DHA does not loose its importance after the brain stops developing. It is important to consume adequate amounts of DHA as an adult to prevent vision loss and other neurological problems (1).

Spinach and Strawberry Salad: Spinach, like broccoli, has a high amount of glutathione. Spinach also contains small amounts of lipoic acid, a fat and water-soluble antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and heavy metals (iron, copper, lead) floating around in the interior of cells and the fatty membranes. Lipoic acid not only fights free radicals, it boasts the level and activity of the water-soluble antioxidant glutathione (2).

Strawberries are high in another antioxidant, Vitamin C. A 1998 study showed that rats that were feed a daily diet high in antioxidants (equivalent to a big spinach and strawberry salad) for 8 months performed better on memory tests than the control group of rats. In addition, neuron transmission of the animals in the high antioxidant group showed less decline due to protection against free radical damage (2).

Brown Rice: Brown rice has significant levels of Vitamin E, the primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E is present in the membrane of the cell and nucleus, where DNA is also present. Vitamin E protects fatty molecules of the brain from free radical damage and helps the brain remain functional and healthy for longer. A study conducted at the National Institute of Aging found that seniors who were supplemented with vitamin E were less likely to die prematurely from any cause than seniors who had not been supplemented with vitamin E (2).

Snack: Cottage Cheese
Cottage Cheese is a good snack to eat before going to sleep because it contains high levels the amino acid tryptophan. The neurotransmitter serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan. Serotonin makes you fee satisfied and relaxed-the perfect mental state to be in to fall asleep (4).

Is this brain friendly diet a feasible diet for a college student? Yes and no. I can take away bits and pieces from what I have learned and get the best nutrition from the food I have available to me. However, in order to feed my brain properly it seems I would have to give up all of the food luxuries, such as chocolate and the fried foods I simply love. So, my next question is, where do those luxury foods fit in? Why do I crave these brain unfriendly foods and how does the brain deal with the cravings?

WWW Sources

1) Nutrition and Your Brain: Fats for Structure , on the Brain.com web site

2) Nutrition and Your Brain: Fruits and Vegetables for Protection , on the Brain.com web site

3) Nutrition and Your Brain: Carbohydrates for Energy , on the Brain.com web site

3) Nutrition and Your Brain: Proteins for Function , on the Brain.com web site


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