Comprising just two percent of the body’s weight and gobbling up more than twenty percent of our daily energy intake, our brain, along with the peripheral nerves and spinal cord, forms a complex integrated control and information processing system that controls all bodily functions, managing everything from balance, movement and co-ordination, to breathing, digestion and the circulation of blood. It transfers information between short-term and long-term memory, produces and release hormones into the body and controls our body’s temperature (about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheitor 37 degrees Celsius).
Two thirds of the brain’s energy budget is used to help neurons or nerve cells ‘fire’ or send signals at incredible speeds along a complicated highway system of nerves that connect the brain to the rest of the body (the remaining third is used for cell-health maintenance) these cells communicate with each other via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters including serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine and acetylcholine regulate mood, cravings, addictions, energy, libido and sleep and are produced by the various nutrients in our food.
Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, obtained from protein, the only food source of amino acids. The brain relies on protein to make all of its mood-enhancing chemicals. If you’re not getting enough protein, you won’t be able to manufacture those crucial neurotransmitters. You almost certainly won’t be getting enough protein if you’ve been dieting or avoiding fatty foods, many of which are high in protein. Junk food, fast food and sugars do not provide the brain with the needed ingredients to make proper amounts of neurotransmitters and in fact, sugar can lead to depletion of certain neurotransmitters. If the diet is protein deficient, neurotransmitter deficiency develops affecting brain functioning and mental health.
The human body can manufacture some of the amino acids, but there are eight essential amino acids that must be supplied in the diet. A complete or high-quality protein contains all eight of the essential amino acids in the amounts needed by the body. Foods rich in high-quality protein include meats, milk and other dairy products, and eggs. Dried beans and peas, grains, and nuts and seeds also contain protein, although the protein in these plant foods may be low in one or more essential amino acid.
I do eat plenty of eggs, nuts and seeds and a little meat and yogurt – what’s your go to protein fix?