Teachers have a mentally and physically taxing role. Managing a classroom of young people, explaining complex topics, managing parent expectations, marking assessments, fulfilling school requirements and the dynamics from other teachers (just to name a few things!) can lead to complete exhaustion at the end of each day. To increase our mental and physical performance it is important to consider what food we put into our body.
Research shows there is a strong link between diet quality and neuroinflammatory markers in the brain. In the short-term this inflammation leads to poor mood and concentration but in the long-term it significantly increases your risk of cognitive decline, like Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. A diet low in fibre, high in saturated fat and low in total nutrients causes the hippocampus within the brain to release a series of harmful neuroinflammatory markers. This causes memory and concentration deficits. Here are 5 simple changes you can start making today to help boost your brain power in and outside the classroom:
1. Eat all the colours of the rainbow in vegetables.
It is important to eat a variety of different vegetables of varying colour per day. Different colours mean the provision of different nutrients. Vegetables provide a rich source of polyphenols (micronutrients) and help you meet your vitamin and mineral requirements. These and other bioactive compounds will lower the amount of fat in your cells, which leads to lower cell damage and a reduced risk of other diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. All while improving your brain power! Remember that all vegetables are great for the brain but variety is key. Eating them raw or cooked also does not make a huge difference but it is best to avoid boiling them. Boiling causes the nutrients from the vegetable to seep out of the water.
2. Eat berries most days of the week.
Berries are particularly high in polyphonic rich compounds which are anti-inflammatory. They help reduce the number of free radicals in the brain which is why they are particularly important in boosting brain power. Berries may be frozen or fresh and include blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Add these to your cereal or porridge in the morning, or add to salads for an additional burst of flavour in your mouth!
3. Use high quality extra virgin olive oil when cooking.
Cooking and dressing vegetables with extra virgin olive oil not only makes meals taste fabulous but also helps protect the brain against cognitive decline. Yes, against popular belief research tells us you can bake, roast and fry with olive oil! It is okay and it will not damage the oil (unless of course you reuse the oil or roast for over 12 hours) It is important that you use extra virgin olive oil and not any other refined version of olive oil. The polyphenol content in these refined varieties are not as high and so give limited benefit.
4. Eat fish 3 times per week.
Oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel are a rich source of omega-3. Omega-3 is a type of long chain fatty acid and is an important component of the brain’s cell membranes. The brain is unable to make all the required long chain fatty acids that it needs and this is why we need to get the extra source from our diet. Fresh, frozen or canned varieties of these fish are all great sources. Lightly fry a fillet with olive oil and dress with lemon and pepper. Then serve with a side of salad dressed with some feta and berries and ta da! You have yourself a tasty brain loving meal.
5. Limit added and processed sugars
‘Sugar’ has been getting bad press in the media lately... It is true that the western way of eating includes way too much of it BUT it is important to differentiate between naturally occurring sugar, (like that in fruit) and added sugar (like that in cakes and biscuits). It is added sugar that really is poor for our health and definitely does no good for the brain. Bit of a no brainer (see what I did there). Enjoy cakes, biscuits, fast-foods etc... but enjoy them in a reasonable amount. They should not be a frequent component of your daily food.
Making small positive dietary changes will go a long way to increasing your health and mood - ultimately making your life more enjoyable. Teaching, at times, is a stressful job so it is particularly important to consider health while working in the profession. These have been just a few small ways to improve your memory and concentration.
Dr. Stephanie Pirotta is an accredited practising dietitian and post-doctoral research fellow at Monash University and Monash Health. She also works in private practice and is the founder of Womanly Nutrition and Dietetics. Stephanie specialises in nutrition management for preconception, fertility, polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. If you would like to contact her please call: 0424847066.
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DISCLAIMER: Every individual has different dietary and health needs and Yellow Arrow is sharing this information in a general way not intended as personal advice. Every individual should do their own research to discover what sort of diet best suits their body.