Does the human brain need animal protein

Brain food - mentally fit and in a good mood

By: Jutta Kamensky - Consumer Service Bavaria

"Where are my glasses?" "What was your name?" "What did I actually want?" Questions that everyone knows, no matter how old they are. Mental fitness from infancy to senior age also depends on what is on the menu.

Particularly cheap Food for the optimal functioning of the brain are therefore called "brain food"Denotes, in German: Brain food.

Whether you can actually “eat wisdom with a spoon” and whether “chocolate makes you happy” has not been proven. What is certain is that Concentration and the ability to learn can certainly be improved with an intelligent selection of food and drinks. And whoever eats himself in such a way that he forgets less, is also in a better mood.

  • The brain - a small miracle
  • Small organ with great need
  • Nutrients for mental fitness
  • Carbohydrates - the energy suppliers
  • Properly dose carbohydrates
  • Sweet things make you tired and tired
  • Protein - building material for the messenger substances
  • Nerves need fat
  • Brain food for the unborn child
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Water promotes thinking
  • Does chocolate make you happy?
  • Fit for the brain

The brain - a small miracle

The human brain is the body's control center. This is where all information from outside and inside converges and is processed into reactions. Several hundred billion nerve cells (the neurons) are responsible for enabling humans to think, walk, feel, smell, see and much more. Each nerve cell is in contact with the next and transmits the received impulses to them via its switching points, the synapses. A large number of messenger substances, the so-called "neurotransmitters", ensure that the information transfer runs smoothly. Defective brain cells do not renew themselves. They should therefore always be well cared for and nourished.

Small organ with great need

The optimal performance of the brain depends on good blood circulation and the supply of oxygen and important nutrients from food. Every day, 75 liters of oxygen and 1200 liters of blood flow through the brain. The central organ in adults only weighs between 1245 grams (women) and 1375 grams (men), only two percent of the total body weight. In order to be well supplied as a high-performance organ around the clock, however, the brain needs a fifth of the energy requirements of the total nutrient intake. Nutrition thus plays a significant role in mental and emotional well-being, especially in protecting cells and building up messenger substances.

Nutrients for mental fitness

Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water are the essential nutrients for the brain to function optimally. They should be taken regularly in the form of several small meals in order to distribute the performance evenly over the day.

Carbohydrates - the energy suppliers

The brain gets the energy it needs from carbohydrates. For the work of the gray cells, 120 g of glucose, also called dextrose, (simple sugar) must be available daily. The ideal sources for energy supply are the complex, long-chain carbohydrates (the polysaccharides) from whole grain cereals, vegetables, potatoes, legumes and fruits. Trail mix and granola bars therefore serve the brain excellently during study and before exams. Short-term memory also works better after breakfast than before because the brain has enough “fuel” again.

Properly dose carbohydrates

Blood sugar levels affect mood, thinking, and alertness. Carbohydrates keep the blood sugar level constant and thus prevent a drop in performance and poor concentration. Since the brain has no energy store, it has to be permanently "fed" with glucose, the smallest unit of carbohydrates. That doesn't mean you should eat sugar all the time. Complex carbohydrates do better jobs. They consist of long chains and are slowly broken down into glucose in the digestive tract. This has the advantage that the glucose gradually gets into the blood and is continuously available to the brain.

Sweet things make you tired and tired

Grape and table sugar from sweets, cakes or sweetened soft drinks such as iced tea, lemonade and cola quickly go into the blood. The rapid rise in blood sugar levels explains, among other things, the feeling of happiness after consuming foods rich in carbohydrates. A blood sugar level that is too low leads to cravings, tiredness and a lack of concentration. Anyone who takes long breaks of 5 hours or more between meals is familiar with this: one becomes nervous, unfocused and irritable (see the article on Diabetes).

Protein - building material for the messenger substances

Protein consists of amino acids that serve as building material for the messenger substances. Of the total of 20 amino acids, the body cannot produce eight itself; they have to be taken in with food. Amino acids are found in animal and vegetable foods. Good sources of protein include fish, lean meat, eggs, milk and dairy products, legumes, soy products, whole grains, nuts and vegetables. The best supply of amino acids is achieved with a combination of animal and vegetable protein such as bread with cheese, muesli with milk, potatoes with egg or quark.

No brain performance without messenger substances

The brain needs the messenger substances adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin, acetylcholine, melatonin and dopamine in order to activate the nerve cells. Without them, the function of the gray cells is impossible, because they perform a variety of tasks in the body. Some messenger substances can be built up by the body itself, some are available from the metabolism. Certain vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids, minerals, oxygen and carbohydrates are also essential for the formation of most messenger substances. A balanced diet is therefore the best basis for the messenger substances.

Table 1: Important messenger substances for the brain

Messenger substanceTask in the brainnecessary building materialOccurrence of the amino acids
AcetylcholineAbility to learn, memory, alertness, perceptionAmino acid choline as a component of lecithinCholine: egg yolks, soy, cheese, nuts, oatmeal
SerotoninMental balance, hunger and appetite regulation, sleep-wake rhythm
  • Amino acid tryptophan
  • Vitamins B6 and B12
  • small amounts of glucose
Tryptophan: Meat, fish, eggs, beetroot, cheese, wheat, legumes, fennel, tomatoes, spinach, bananas
NorepinephrineAttention, ability to learn
  • Messenger substance dopamine
  • Amino acids phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, tyrosine
  • Vitamins C and B
  • magnesium
Phenylalanine, lysine, methionine: meat, fish, cheese, bananas, red vegetables, fennel, whole grain bread, trail mix

Can you eat messenger substances?

Some messenger substances, such as serotonin, are also naturally found in foods. Bananas, nuts and tomatoes are rich in serotonin, but this cannot be used by the brain. In contrast to the amino acid tryptophan (the building material for serotonin), serotonin from foods is not able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The feeling of happiness that some people feel after eating bananas is therefore not based on the intake of serotonin. There must be other reasons for this that are not yet sufficiently understood.

Nerves need fat

Brain and nerve cells are padded with fatty tissue for protection. Unsaturated fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are of great importance for the functioning of the brain. Two thirds of the fatty acids in the brain are unsaturated fatty acids. Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, halibut and sardines contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. The brain gets other important unsaturated fatty acids from the consumption of vegetable oils and nuts. Walnut oil and rapeseed oil are particularly valuable for mental performance.

Brain food for the unborn child

The mother's diet during pregnancy has an impact on the development of the unborn baby's brain. Above all, the polyunsaturated fatty acids and the trace elements iodine and iron play an important role. Therefore, pregnant women should consume sea fish at least once a week and make sure they get enough iodine from fish, iodized salt, bread, eggs and milk and keep their iron levels under control.

Vitamins and minerals

The brain needs vitamins to produce the messenger substances and to protect the cells from free radicals. Minerals and trace elements also take on a variety of tasks, especially when transmitting information in the brain. The following tables provide an overview of the most important vitamins, minerals and trace elements, their function for the brain and their occurrence in food.

Table 2: Vitamins for the brain (to the VIS article Vitamins)

vitaminFunction in the brainOccurrence
Vitamin A and Beta Carotene
  • Visual process
  • Protection of cells from free radicals
Liver, butter, cheese
Beta-carotene: all green and yellow-red vegetables and fruits
Vitamin E.
  • Protection of cells from free radicals
Cereals, wheat germ, vegetable oils, eggs
B vitamins (B1, B6, folic acid, B12)
  • Messenger metabolism
  • Attention, concentration, mood
Whole grains, lean meat, fish, milk, cheese, nuts, cabbage, vegetables
vitamin C
  • Structure of the messenger substance serotonin
  • Protection of cells from free radicals
Citrus fruits, kiwi, berries, peppers, cabbage, potatoes, sea buckthorn

Table 3: Minerals and trace elements for the brain

nutrientFunction in the brainOccurrence
  • Information transfer in the synapses
  • Ability to learn
Milk and milk products, green vegetables, sesame seeds, nuts and mineral water
  • Energy balance
  • Stress relief
Whole grains, dairy products, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Blood formation
  • Oxygen transport to the brain
  • Production of hormones and messenger substances
Meat, fish, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, wheat germ, currants

Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron in the intestines!

Water promotes thinking

Water plays a major role in the flow of information in the brain. It improves blood circulation and cardiovascular activity. The brain and nerve cells consist largely of water and must be constantly supplied with fluids to maintain them. A fluid intake of two liters per day in the form of water, tea or juice spritzer is ideal. Coffee only increases concentration for a short time. The stimulating effect of coffee is achieved after one cup and can hardly be increased by further consumption. Alcohol in small amounts, i.e. a small glass of wine per day, protects the vessels. Excessive alcohol consumption destroys the brain cells.

Does chocolate make you happy?

Chocolate has long been on everyone's lips as a "happy maker". The extent to which the sweet treat can actually trigger feelings of happiness in the brain has not been scientifically proven. Most importantly, it is still unknown how much chocolate needs to be eaten for a better mood. At best, sweet treats bring pleasant and enjoyable moments based on experience and learning processes. In the long term, the increased calorie intake could soon turn the joy into grief fat.

Fit for the brain

The supply of the brain with important nutrients can be ensured with a varied mixed diet. The decline in performance over the course of the day can be prevented by taking several small meals. Lavish menus burden the body with laborious digestive work and thus worsen concentration and mental performance. The brain stays fit and active for life if the right diet is combined with exercise, fresh air, memory training and relaxation.

224650187 © bit24 Healthy food for brain and memory


Books and magazines

  • Hamm, M .; Freemann, A .; Rauhe, H .; Hoffmann, A. (2007): Brainfood: 100 culinary highlights for body, mind and soul. Schlütersche publishing company
  • Kiefer, I .; Zifko, U. (2005): Brainfood. Fit in the head through proper nutrition. Kneipp publishing house
  • Association for Independent Health Advice Europe (UGB): UGB-Forum. "Bringing your brain into top form" 04/2006, 23rd year

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