Procrastination has its place. Sometimes procrastination is simply the body telling us to take a break. Yet, oftentimes, we’re simply putting off completing a task that we just don’t want to do.
Ever wondered if there was a natural way to get your rear in gear sometimes? Per a few recent studies, it may all come down to boosting productivity through the food you eat!
Our brain is an incredibly complex network, and it also happens to be an easily influenced organ. From exercise to water to nutrition, a slight imbalance can affect the way our brains operate. For instance, glucose — also called sugar — is a form of brain energy, yet not all sugars are equally effective or healthy for our brain. Those foods that are lower on the glycemic index — meaning they release sugar at a slower rate allowing the body to process it in a more manageable way — have been shown to help people avoid late-day brain fog.
With that said, how does food boost brain productivity? On top of that, what foods are best to eat to get your juices flowing?
How Our Brain Works
First off, let’s just marvel at what the brain provides us. This organ gives us “the power to speak, imagine and problem solve,” it controls body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, handles physical movement — such as walking, talking, sitting, and standing — it allows us to dream, reason, experience emotions, and processes the mass quantities of information flooding in from the outside world (i.e., seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.)
How can one organ accomplish all of this? Well, it doesn’t work alone. All of these tasks are completed in a coordinated effort by the central nervous system — an “integrated information-processing and control system” made up of “your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves” all of which control both conscious and unconscious tasks.
Sitting atop this complex system is your brain “made of approximately 100 billion nerve cells” — referred to as neurons — which “gather and transmit electrochemical signals.” Neurons are defined by their functions, with three major players: motor neurons — transmit signals from the “central nervous system to the outer parts (muscles, skin, glands) of your body” — sensory neurons — transmit signals from the “outer parts of your body (periphery) into the central nervous system” — and interneurons — which “connect various neurons within the brain and spinal cord.”
What about the physically tangible attributes of the brain?
The brain is made up of a brain stem — controlling “reflexes and automatic functions (heart rate, blood pressure), limb movements and visceral functions (digestion, urination) — the cerebellum — which integrates information to “[indicate] position and movement and uses this data to coordinate limb movements — the hypothalamus and pituitary gland — tasked with “visceral functions, body temperature and behavioral responses such as feeding, drinking, sexual response, aggression and pleasure” — and the cerebrum (cerebral cortex or cortex) — which “integrates info from all of the sense organs, initiates motor functions, controls emotions and holds memory and thought processes.”
The Brain and Plant-Based Food
Ever wonder why it’s so difficult to say no to that slice of cake or that bag of salty chips? It’s all mind games!
Every human brain is intricately wired, yet we’re not all the same. When it comes to food, our reaction to certain foods and the ability to avoid unhealthy options has been found to lie with how the “brain responds to food rewards.” In a study performed at Penn State in 2018, researchers discovered “that when certain regions of the brain reacted more strongly to being rewarded with food than being rewarded with money,” participants were likely to overeat even when not hungry.
So, the connection between the brain and food is intense, but what does this have to do with the brain’s level of productivity?
The theory is that “if you put sub-par, toxic, artificial materials into whatever you’re making [such as your body and therefore your brain], you can’t expect top-notch quality products to come out the other end [such as energy, creativity, and productivity, for instance].”
Yet, there’s so much more.
While the food you eat will affect almost every physical aspect of your body — from regular digestion to weight, to sleep to energy — food also affects your mood, which can boost or diminish your productivity. For instance, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked at the relationship between dietary patterns and the risk of depression over five years. Researchers found that “individuals eating whole foods reported fewer symptoms of depression compared to those who ate mostly processed foods.” On top of that, another study published in the Nutrition Journal discovered that “vegetarians reported more positive moods than meat eaters.”
How it Works
There are two ways in which plant-based foods are conjectured to have these positive brain effects.
First off, by eating more plants instead of animals, you’re avoiding the harmful effects of animal foods. For instance, meat is known to elevate stress hormone levels (also called cortisol), putting the body into a constant state of fight-or-flight.
Secondly, fruits and veggies are known to be protective guards of the body. Inflammation of the brain and chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters — both of which have been found to lead to mood disorders — can be fought with antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are found in high quantities in plant-based foods. Along with protecting, antioxidants have been shown to repair damage and can help “restore balance to neurotransmitters.”
5 Plant-Based Foods to Boost Productivity
We know why plant-based foods boost productivity: eliminating toxic waste, protecting our brains from free radical damage due to high antioxidant levels, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones circulating throughout our bodies at any given time. Now, let’s focus on the types of veggies that are particularly potent for these tasks. Here are five of the countless options when it comes to brain-boosting plant-based foods!
Source: Nutty Matcha Latte
Instead of focusing on plant-based foods, we generally just go for that morning cup of joe to give us a boost of productivity in the morning. While there are many health benefits of consuming black coffee, this jolt of energy is short-winded and oftentimes leads to an afternoon slump. Try switching out your coffee with a cup of green tea.
Green tea is not only high in caffeine, but it’s also rich in a powerful flavonoid antioxidant called quercetin. This specific antioxidant is found in many deeply colored, nutrient-packed plant-based foods, including “leafy greens, tomatoes, berries and broccoli.” Quercetin is known to help fight free radical damage, specifically the “effects of aging and inflammation,” which makes it a wonderful, all-natural way to keep your brain healthy and productive.
Plus, if tea is simply not your jam, you can get the powerful quercetin health benefits through matcha powder (the powdered form of green tea). With matcha powder, you can create culinary delights to get you powered in the morning. Replace your coffee with this Café Style Matcha Green Latte or this Nutty Matcha Latte. You can also infuse breakfast with matcha powder such as in this Antioxidant Green Tea Porridge, these Matcha Berry Pancakes, or this Mint Matcha Shake.
Source: Cheddar Apple Pie Oatmeal
Along with being rich in dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, phosphorous, and potassium, apples are also a rich source of quercetin, especially in the skin. Quercetin is not only a great brain-energizing and protecting antioxidant, but it’s also linked to other health benefits, including protecting your liver and skin, boosting heart health, fighting cancer, increasing endurance, and even fighting pain. Apples also have another hidden compound that is profoundly good for us, called pectin. Pectin is another form of “starch called a heteropolysaccharide, that occurs naturally in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables,” and happens to be a wonderfully healthy fiber, great for gut health.
Due to the high sugar content, apples are traditionally used in sweet treats and desserts, such as these Molasses and Apple Cookies or these creative Cinnamon Apple Dessert Tacos. Yet, apples are great fiber-full additions to breakfast recipes — such as this Cheddar Apple Pie Oatmeal or this savory Apple Sweet Potato and Mushroom Hash, as well as heartier recipes — such as this Winter Salad With Apples and Pomegranates, Apple Chickpea and Coconut Curry, or this Butternut Squash and Apple Soup.
Source: Blueberry and Millet Porridge
Looking for a reason to integrate more of these delicious and sweet berries into your diet? Turns out this powerful antioxidant-rich fruit is an excellent brain-boosting plant-based food. When I say powerful antioxidant, I truly mean it. Blueberries are “one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods known to man, including vitamin C and vitamin K and fiber.” Yet, when it comes to protecting the brain, it’s all about gallic acid. Gallic acid is a “well-known natural antioxidant” that is “especially good at protecting our brains from degeneration and stress.”
Blueberries are a great natural, raw snack to pocket away in your desk or backpack, yet they can also be used to enrich recipes. One of the best ways to start the day with a naturally sweetened treat is with blueberries! Try this protein-packed Chia Pudding Parfait, fiber-rich Blueberry and Millet Porridge, or this antioxidant-filled Beautiful Berry Coconut Smoothie Bowl.
Source: Two-Bite Chocolate Cookies
You’ve most likely heard a lot of back and forth about coconut oil. Most of the controversy concerns the levels of saturated fat that are naturally present in coconut products. While too much of anything can do its fair share of harm, small amounts of saturated fat have been found to improve health. Many of the studies regarding saturated fat concern the heart, but what about the brain? Turns out coconut oil has some great brain benefits. For instance, “coconut oil works as a natural anti-inflammatory, suppressing cells responsible for inflammation.” On top of that, coconut oil has been shown to help with age-derived memory loss and is great for gut health!
Coconut oil is super easy to substitute in almost any recipe, yet keep in mind the change-up in flavoring! Traditionally, due to its semi-sweet and rich flavor and ability to thicken and combine other ingredients, coconut oil has been used in baking such as in these Peanut Butter Coffee Snowball Cookies, these Blueberry Scones (get a double dose of brain-boosting powers with both coco oil and blueberries), or these gluten-free, antioxidant-rich Two-Bite Chocolate Cookies.
I’ve included this one on the list of five brain-boosting foods to highlight the fact that small, flavorful additions — such as spices and herbs — can make big differences in brain health. In the case of rosemary, it’s all about carnosic acid. Along with being high in inflammation-fighting antioxidants, this main ingredient “helps protect the brain from neurodegeneration … by protecting the brain against chemical free radicals, which are linked to neurodegeneration, Alzheimer’s, strokes and normal aging in the brain.”
As an herb, rosemary is extremely flavorful and aromatic, therefore, it’s great to add to other neutral dishes like bread. A few great rosemary recipes include these Rosemary and Parm Biscuits, this fresh Lemon Rosemary Banana Bread, or these savory Chestnut and Rosemary Scones. Rosemary also adds subtle and enhancing flavors to veggie dishes such as this Baked Potatoes and Peppers or this Chickpea Frittata With Sage and Rosemary.
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