Long hours, back-breaking work, and no real lunch break- the day-in-the-life of EMT’s, firefighters, and police officers. We should eat to have the energy both physically and mentally to do the job. That’s hard to do when you work a long shift without long enough breaks to eat, prepare food, or wait for a meal that takes longer to cook than to drive-thru Blake’s, In and Out, or even Chick-fil-a. Here are a few superfood choices the EMT and first responder can keep handy for those long shifts to keep your body, mind, and immune system fueled with clean energy. Tell us about any superfood you love that isn’t on this list!
Avocados provide protective properties for the brain and improve blood flow to help deliver essential oxygen and glucose and remove waste. A prime superfood for EMT’s and first responders for the fuel it packs in. Use ¼ to ½ of an avocado a day (9).
Beans help stabilize blood glucose and provides energy to the brain. Beans are a great source of protein, and since there are so many varieties, you don’t have to stick to pinto beans. Cheap and hold their shelf life, beans are also a good move for your budget. ½ cup a day of any bean you would like (9). Prepare the beans with as little fat as possible. Manteca shouldn’t be the go-to choice here anymore if you want it to be a superfood!
Blueberries provide protective properties for the brain with their rich antioxidant properties preventing neuron destruction. 1 cup per day any way you want them (9). Internet marketing guru and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk recently professed his love for them on the craft table during filming. He seriously gets the long hours and little time idea and knows his superfood!
Aside from being damn good (my wife doesn’t agree), dark chocolate will give you some caffeine and provide protective antioxidant functions. Perfect for a mood and energy boost when pushing to the limits and breaking some of the bland foods you may have to endure. 1/2 to 1 ounce per day (9). This superfood is easy to keep in your lunchbox or pack for emergencies.
Fresh Brewed Teas
When tea leaves are brewed fresh with hot water, they produce antioxidants that specifically enhance blood flow, increasing the delivery of glucose and oxygen. Iced tea works here too, so long as it was freshly brewed and chilled. Store-bought teas don’t retain this property. Most teas have caffeine, further boosting memory, thinking, and other brain-based tasks (9).
The National Institute on Aging featured research that found eating leafy greens was “positively and significantly” tied to a slower decline in cognitive function in older adults (2). The suspected beneficial compounds in leafy greens were vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), lutein, and folate. Interestingly, the research pointed out that those consuming 1.3 servings a day were 11 years younger, mentally, than those consuming 0.09 servings a day (2). Though not explicitly tied to learning, these compounds are protective of brain function and memory. It is likely not only a benefit realized in old age. Eat ½ cup cooked greens, or 1 cup of salad greens daily (9).
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E and source of protein. The function of Vitamin E in the brain is to protect the basic building blocks of neurons: cholesterol and polyunsaturated fats. Vitamin E deficiency has been found in Alzheimer’s Disease patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (3). One ounce per day. Avoid salted nuts if you have high blood pressure, a risk factor for COVID-19.
Pomegranate juice has been marketed for decades as a powerful anti-oxidant (polyphenols) that can help protect the body, including the brain, from oxygen free-radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that have an unpaired electron making it very reactive to structures like DNA, cell membranes, and more, causing significant damage. Anti-oxygen-free-radicals, aka anti-oxidants, stabilize free radicals or limit the amount of damage they can do on cell structures in the body (4). The brain is highly sensitive to these types of damage and, when damaged, can cause inflammation or worse to occur, changing how a neuron allows us to think. Pom juice is touted for heart health and anti-cancer properties, but the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center writes that research is limited and does show some benefit, but more studies are needed (5). 2 ounces a day in juice form. If you want to limit the sugar in juice drinks, dilute it with water (9).
Brown rice, oatmeal/ oats, and whole-grain bread have properties that affect the cardiovascular system and increase perfusion. The brain requires a lot of blood flow to provide the oxygen and glucose neurons need to do the work of thinking. They are also sources of fiber and carbohydrates, both useful for overall health. Fiber has been recently identified as a superfood, and its properties investigated in a recent article published by a team led by Andrew Reynolds (6) found support for a high fiber diet in preventing disease. The Reynolds team found correlation from reviewing “just under 135 million person-years” of previous studies and clinical trials show that choosing whole grains as the carbohydrates we eat, instead of processed or refined grains, is tied to a reduction of risk for diseases like type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, colorectal, and breast cancer (6). ½ cup of whole-grain cereal, 1 slice of whole-grain bread 2-3 times a day, or 2 tablespoons of wheat germ per day (9).
WebMD points out Wild Salmon specifically (9), but all deep-water fish are rich in Omega fatty acids, specifically Omega-3. Omega-3 is used in the brain. Studies had suggested that when pregnant women consumed two forms of Omega-3 found in these fish, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), their children do better on intelligence-based testing (7). EPA and DHA are essential for the development of the brain, memory function, and especially during fetal, newborn, and child brain development (8). Four ounces 2-3 times a week (9).
Bonus: Brain Food Hack
To get the most out of these foods and your diet in general for brain function, try to avoid junk food. The sugar, calories, fat, and chemical makeup of junk food may seem like it gives you a good brain-boost, but that is just the sugar talking. Peaks and valleys of high and crashes line the path of junk foods that can impact brain stamina. Choose your snacks wisely and to meet your body’s needs.
Quin-what? Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is an ancient grain and superfood that anyone, with any eating goal, can use to Hack their diet. Whether you’re an EMT student and rookie, or a veteran paramedic salty as hell, quinoa needs to be in your toolbox.
Quinoa is perfect for first responders and front line medical personnel. Loaded with protein and essential nutrients, and a low-carb option for your grain choice with any meal. Quinoa is a flowering plant from the Quechua people of Peru native to the Andes of South America and is related to spinach. It first became a crop for humans 4 thousand years ago near Lake Titicaca. Its seeds are edible and come in a variety of colors and tastes. One of the most beneficial properties of this superfood is the full spectrum of essential amino acids in one food. One cup includes a low glycemic index rating (<55), no saturated or trans fat, and 24 grams of protein.
What is your favorite super food?
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