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What Are You Thinking?

By Greg Samples


Originally published in Everything Knoxville in September, 2014

September has arrived and the mantra of the day is back to school. Traditionally fall is the time of year when young and old return from the labor of the fields or the leisure of the lake to learn, theorize, philosophize, or discover. How and what we think is largely the result of our entire life experience, but our daily intake of sights, sounds and even food has a great influence as well. Food can affect our focus, our moods, our opinions, our reactions, and our decision making. It has been said that if you want to see your tomorrow, look at your dinner plate today.

Glucose is the primary fuel for the brain and nervous system. When blood sugar levels get too low we lose focus or get sleepy. Simple sugars found in soft drinks, candy, and even fruit, cause the blood sugar level to rise sharply, which can result in an exaggerated state of excitement and a corresponding difficulty in the ability to focus. When the pancreas injects insulin into the blood stream to reduce the sugar levels, thereby resulting in below normal levels, we tend to get sleepy or unaware, especially in mid afternoon. Complex carbohydrates found in grains, beans, and vegetables, by contrast, provide a steady supply of brain fuel that remains relatively constant and thereby enhances our ability to think, learn, and understand. Replacing simple sugars with complex carbohydrates is the single most important measure we can take to enhance our thinking.

Beyond proper glucose levels, there are certain foods and nutrients that will enhance nervous system function and therefore our thinking ability. Dark leafy greens, sea vegetables, egg yolks, raisins, and beans such as lentils, chick peas, and soy beans are rich in iron. Iron carries oxygen to the brain and thereby enhances mental acuity. Grains, legumes and fish are high in omega 3 oils that help regulate neurotransmitters. Seeds and nuts such as flax, sesame, almonds and walnuts are good sources of vitamin E which is thought to inhibit cognitive decline as we age.

It is important to note that supporting your brain function is not just about passing a test in school or achieving optimal job performance. It can effect our decision making in every aspect of our lives, including those involving personal relationships or the avoidance of accidents. The lifelong consequences can be profound. What makes you think the way you do?

It’s something to think about.

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