The brain is composed of mostly water and fatty acids. It relies on a steady stream of glucose for energy, burning through a large amount of this simple sugar each day. The brain is a finicky eater, liking mainly glucose or nothing. It can sometimes lean on short fat compounds though when glucose supplies dwindle for any reason. There’s relatively little protein within the brain, but none of this means that proteins aren’t important to how your gray matter functions.
Protein is a vital part of brain growth during early development. Neurons may be mostly fat and fueled by glucose, but they use proteins to communicate with one another and control what happens throughout the body. The enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones that carry signals and help accomplish the tasks the brain dictates are made from protein.
What you eat does affect the brain, alter mood, and change emotions. Protein deficiencies slow down development and lower cognitive function. A lack of proteins depletes the chemicals in the brain that control mood, appetite, and energy levels. Protein deficiencies have also been linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD, epilepsy, and a certain type of autism.
A dense meal of carbohydrates can leave you feeling sluggish and tired as it increases the levels of tryptophan in the brain. The amino acid tryptophan encourages the production of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter associated with appetite, blood pressure, learning, and sleep patterns.
On the other hand, a protein rich meal can leave you feeling alert and energetic as levels of the amino acid tyrosine rise. Tyrosine promotes the creation of norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that boost activity, alertness, and energy.
Many hormones are formed from fat, but some are made of protein. Hormones are a slower form of communication than neurotransmitters, but they are still very important in maintaining your health. You need the essential amino acids our bodies can’t create to manufacture many of these hormones. These only come from food.
Enzymes are made from protein. Protein has unique abilities to bend, twist, and shape itself into the structures that allow enzymes to work. These little industrious workers are vital to brain health. They aid digestion so the brain gets the nutrients it needs, but they also work inside the brain too, breaking down plaque, creating neurotransmitters, and much more.
This doesn’t mean to cut out carbs and eat nothing but protein to stay young, healthy, and alert during your workday. Your body and your brain still need a mix of carbohydrates, protein, good fats, and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep functioning at optimum. Most Americans actually eat way more protein than they need anyway. Most Americans eat too many carbs too, especially the processed carbs that interfere with blood sugar and can damage the brain. Balance is what the body needs, and healthy sources of all the macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Too much animal protein can put some strain on the kidneys and deliver much more fat than you want or need. Plants are not devoid of protein. Nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, beans, and some whole grains are good sources of healthy proteins. Carbohydrates are also important, but should come from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods as often as possible, not from candy, soft drinks, and processed foods.
Variety is important when it comes to nutrition. Your body needs a combination of essential amino acids to create muscle, connective tissue, hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. Plant protein comes with different amino acid profiles. Our bodies don’t store proteins like it does fat, but it does keep protein circulating through your blood stream for several days. Mix up your sources throughout the week to get each essential amino acid you need in the right amount. You don’t have to mix and match proteins with each meal like people once believed, but variety often is still a good idea. The brain and body will take care of themselves if you give them the right materials to build from.
Stress can also deplete neurotransmitters even when you are getting enough of the right amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to create them. Work on reducing stress and getting enough sleep. If you can’t get rid of the things that cause you stress, find activities that help you release it. Pick up yoga, tai chi, meditation, kickboxing, running, biking, or even breathing exercises to keep yourself happy, alert, and energetic when you need to be while tired and sleepy at the appropriate times too.
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Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research.. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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