As entrepreneurs, our brains are an essential part of our everyday lives. We need the ability to not only complete our day-to-day work, but also to dream up new ideas and creative solutions.
Today's guest post is from Jess Cording, and she's breaking down the best foods to eat to support your brain.
When you’re building your professional empire, you need reliable fuel to keep the fire going. As a dietitian and health coach who helps busy people find their sweet spot with healthy living so they have the energy they need to reach their personal and professional goals, brain food is one of my favorite topics.
Why Food Matters
We often overlook basics like food, sleep, and fitness when crafting our business plans or plotting how to grow our side-hustle, but they’re absolutely vital. How we fuel ourselves dictates how much energy we have to sustain us through the day and impacts the quality of the work we put out. It can even play a role in how well we connect with others— which key to fostering healthy relationships. If you’ve ever tried to attend a networking event with a growling stomach at the end of a long day where maybe you forgot to eat lunch, you know what I’m talking about.
Balance Your Blood Sugar
Maintaining a stable blood sugar level supports stable energy and keeps hanger at bay. Balanced meals that provide an appropriate combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates spaced out well through the day helps us avoid sharp energy (via blood sugar) spikes and steep crashes.
The short version of the story: Carbohydrates raise your blood glucose as the body breaks down those foods. Protein and fat buffer that breakdown by slowing digestion. Fiber also helps with this, which is one of the top reasons whole grains products are a better choice than their refined counterparts.
To avoid overthinking it at meals, aim to fill half your lunch and dinner plate with non-starchy vegetables (think greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts and the like), a quarter with some kind of protein, and that last quarter with some kind of carbohydrate, such as a starchy vegetable (potatoes, peas, corn), grain products, or beans. Fruit is also a great source of carbohydrate.
At breakfast and snacks, aim to get some protein into the mix and/or healthy fats to balance out whatever carbs you’re eating. For example, half an apple with a tablespoon of nut butter has a lot more staying power than just an apple.
Top Brain Foods
Eggs provide a great balance of protein and fat in a neat little portion controlled package. One large egg supplies about 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat all for about 70 calories. Eggs also are a great source of choline, an important mineral for supporting efficient brain function. Enjoy a couple hard boiled eggs as a snack or use a poached or fried egg to dress up a salad, avocado toast, grain and veggies bowl, or even a bowl of soup. An omelet or frittata is also a great way to sneak some veggies into your day. If you’re keeping an eye on your saturated fat intake, you can do a combo of whole eggs and whites. If you’re on the go a lot, I’m a big fan of egg and veggie cups—it's so easy to bake in a muffin tin!
Aside from being a great source of protein, salmon is also packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient for overall health, including cognitive function. A 3-ounce portion of cooked sockeye salmon also supplies 112% of your vitamin D needs , another key factor in cognitive function. Just be mindful that many places serve oversized portions, so if you’re watching your calorie intake, know that a restaurant portion could contribute upwards of 350 calories. Your best choice would be wild salmon.
Not into salmon? Try sardines, tuna, mackerel, or trout. Oysters also provide a significant amount of omega-3s, so take advantage of that oyster happy hour!
Avocados are a high-quality fuel to add to your day. They’re packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (the kind that lower the bad and raise the good cholesterol) and fiber. Half a medium avocado will provide about 10 grams of fat and 5 grams of fiber.
This combo makes them a super-satisfying addition to sandwiches, salads, grain bowls, omelets, and more. I even like to eat half an avocado right from the skin with a spoon and a garnish of Himalayan pink sea salt and hemp hearts. Sometimes I see avocado noted as a good protein source, which baffles me, as an entire avocado only has about 2 to 3 grams.
These little guys are packed with powerful antioxidants to support optimal brain and body function. They’re also a fantastic source of fiber. You’ll get about 4 grams per cup. Add some to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, salads, and more.
Plain Whole Milk Yogurt
Yogurt is a great source of protein. If you opt for a strained variety like Greek or Icelandic, you’ll get as much as twice the amount of protein as other yogurts. The beneficial probiotic bacteria found in yogurt are important for supporting regular digestion (constipation can make you feel sluggish), strong immune system function, and clear communication between the gut and the brain. Skipping flavored varieties cuts down on added sugar and other not-helpful additives.
So why whole milk? For starters, that fat helps you stay full for longer and also helps you absorbs some of the fat-soluble nutrients in the yogurt, such as vitamin A and vitamin D. Additionally, certain fatty acids found in full fat dairy have been shown to benefit brain health. That said, portions still count, so keep it to small servings within the context of your calorie and nutrient needs for the day.
Enjoy yogurt as part of a healthy breakfast bowl (try it with fresh or frozen blueberries, walnuts, and a teaspoon of honey) or enjoy it as a snack. To add flavor, sprinkle in some cinnamon. A tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax is also a delicious way to add fiber and plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.
I’m allergic (adult onset food allergies are no fun), but I wish I could make walnuts part of my wellness routine. They’re a delicious source of healthy fats and fiber plus a little protein. They’re also a great source of plant-based omega-3s. Enjoy them over a salad, on top of oatmeal or yogurt, crushed into a pesto sauce, or, of course, on their own as a snack. You can also make your own healthy trail mix. Just keep portions in mind. About a ¼ cup is all you need.
All that being said, you’re the expert on you, so if you find that certain foods help you feel energized and focused, by all means, keep them on the menu! If you’re struggling to keep your energy up and want to some pointers for establishing a balance eating routine that suits your lifestyle, a registered dietitian or health coach can help you get into a good-for-you groove.
Want to learn about which energy-sucking foods to avoid?
About Jess Cording
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, INHC is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping people streamline their wellness routine and establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise so they can experience a happier, calmer life. Through her writing, consulting, public speaking, and counseling, she works with individuals, corporations, and the media to help make drama-free healthy living approachable and enjoyable.