Those of us who have brains that run a bit differently than most will greatly benefit from this research. For anyone who has a mind that always seems to be running all the time, those of us who were labeled “gifted” as kids, or those labeled as ADHD or something similar, our brains are beautiful and need to be treated as such.
The Story of a Stallion Without Proper Care
You can think of minds that are wired differently, or neurodiverse, as being akin to a show horse. A beautiful, magnificent creature that just needs a little more love and care than most. But, when you do love and care for your beautiful brain, you will reap the rewards, and that stallion will be bring home trophies for you for years to come.
The 5 Main Tenants of Proper Care for a Brain
To keep your brain happy and healthy, you need these 5 things: water, carbohydrates, healthy fats, salt, and sleep.
1- Water: Our brains are roughly 70 percent water. Water helps all functions of the brain, which is why we need a lot, and often. People with brains like ours, neurodiverse brains, get dehydrated because we use up water at a faster rate than our neurotypical counterparts. This means that our brains are like cars that simply take more gas to run than other people’s cars…I mean brains. Don’t hate me, but iced coffee, sodas, teas, and sports drinks take water to process, so they do not count as hydration. You can still enjoy them, but make sure you add an additional glass of water for every glass of one of these fun beverages you enjoy. The 6-8 glasses (16 oz each) of water a day rule can be applied, but of course people with varying needs will need more or less. I recommend this calculator.
2- Carbohydrates: The brain’s main fuel source is carbohydrates, also known as glucose. Glucose is a tiny chain of sugar that you get from ingesting carbohydrates. It powers every process of your body, such as muscle movement and brain function. Our neurodivergent brains use more energy to think, therefore we need more glucose. If you do not have enough carbohydrates, it will be very difficult to focus. The catch with carbohydrates is that you need to eat them in moderation because eating too many at once can cause your blood sugar to spike and then rapidly crash, causing a long period of low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can make you have bad moods, therefore carbohydrates are best enjoyed with a balanced meal. You can learn more about how to balance your plate for a healthy brain and body here.
The best advice I have is to eat a meal with lots of carbs before bed. That way, your brain has nourishment overnight from eating right before sleeping and you will wake up happier with less anxiety, guaranteed.
3- Healthy Fats: If our brains are roughly 70 percent water, the other 30 percent is made of (drum roll) …fat! Our brains are technically big blobs of fat with electricity running through them. The best way to nourish these organs is to eat what fuels them and to give them the materials to rebuild themselves. There are different types of fats, but the one I recommended eating the most of is “unsaturated fat,” or fat from plants. The best examples of this include are nuts, seeds, avocados, and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. Note: if you cook with the oils such as olive oil, it does not count because the heat destroys the benefits of the fat by changing the chemical structure. The best thing to do is cook with it if you want, but then add uncooked extra virgin olive oil straight from the container right on top of your protein or veggies. Saturated fats such as fat from butter, milk, coconut oil, or cheese, is also beneficial in small quantities. A good rule of thumb is to eat 80% of your fats as unsaturated fats, and 20% of your daily fat as saturated fats.
4- Salt: Remember when I said, “Our brains are technically big blobs of fat with electricity running through them?” Well, just like how you need wires to conduct an electrical signal in a house, you need a conductor for signals in your brain. That is where salt comes in. Salt helps electrical signals pass in your brain. It is like the wiring in your house that sends power to the appliances. Our current diet culture encourages people to stay away from too much salt, and while I agree that too much will cause damage, most of us tend to avoid it at all costs because of that. It is just as dangerous to eat too much salt as it is to eat too little. So it is important to make sure we are adding some salt back into our diets. One of my best tricks when I cannot focus is to eat a healthy meal and add some extra olive oil and salt onto it. A good example would be grilled chicken, roasted spinach, topped with salt and olive oil, and a bowl of fruit on the side for carbohydrates and extra vitamins. Medical News Today recommends people ages 14+ to eat 2.3g of sodium a day or 1/2 teaspoon, but I’d recommend checking with a professional for a more personalized approach.
5- Sleep: Did you know your brain removes toxic waste as you sleep? It cleans out waste products from chemical reactions in your head from your thoughts of the day. Sleep is important, but the old “8 hours of sleep” trope isn’t cutting it. Everyone has different sleep needs. Some of us get our best work done at night, while others get their energy from rising early in the morning. The amount of sleep you need is up to you and your needs. However, here is a hack I LOVE. A sleep cycle is 90 minutes, so if you wake up at the end of a cycle, you don’t wake up as groggy. For example, the increments are: 90 minutes, 3 hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, 9 hours. You add as many cycles as you need to feel rested. See how I added 90 minutes each time? If you plan accordingly, you will wake up at the end of the 90 minute cycle and feel rested, even if you can’t get a full night’s sleep every night. There are a lot of apps available to help you time your sleep. Just look up “sleep timer app, 90 minutes” or something similar on the App store.
Start applying one tip at a time, and you will see a big difference! Your brain and body will thank you for taking the extra steps to take care of yourself. You got this!