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The Best Brain Foods: Can a ‘Breakfast Pill’ Boost your Energy and your IQ?

The Best Brain Foods: Can a 'Breakfast Pill' Boost your Energy and your IQ?

Would you pop a mystery pill if it claimed to boost your brain power and your energy?

Even if you didn’t know exactly what the capsule contained? When guests at the 2014 TEDx Sydney conference arrived at the Opera House last Saturday that’s exactly what they were encouraged to do (and like I lemming I did it too). As we entered the venue, we were greeted by huge trestle tables, with 2,600 plastic cups in perfect lines, each containing a ‘breakfast pill’ that promised to get ‘neurotransmitters firing of all cylinder’.

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If you don’t know about the concept TEDx concept, it’s a global series of seminars, where speakers have a maximum of eighteen minutes to present on their chosen subject (usually ground breaking research or a unique life experience). The tagline for TEDx is ‘ideas worth spread’ and it aims to get people talking, and encourage them to step outside their knowledge box. As TEDx attendees we were about to embark on an eight-hour day of speeches, so would need all the concentration we could get. And so down the hatch the pill went. Luckily for us, we weren’t being tricked into taking narcotics. In fact, as I learnt when I interviewed the pill’s creator, ARIA catering chef Simon Sandall, the vegetable-base pill capsules only contained one all-natural ingredient – Spirulina.

“The concept of the breakfast pill started as joke,” says Sandall, “The ARIA’s catering team were brainstorming the menu for TEDx and wanted to create something different which would really get people talking. Originally we mixed the spirulina with sherbert to make it taste better, but we then decided to keep it pure so that we could promote it as a health pill.” Although the pills were a tongue-in-cheek concept, they do tick the boxes, when it comes to boosting your energy, your mood and your concentration. Spirulina, which is a type of blue-green algae and classes as a super-food, usually comes in powdered form and is often added to smoothies. It is high  in protein and rich in amino acids. It’s also a good source of iron, vitamin B, C and D. It also has less than four calories per gram.

A 2013 Senegal study found that, in schoolchildren a daily dose of spirulina could boost academic achievement, whilst a separate study found that it could increase endurance in athletes. However, it wasn’t really the pill’s ingredients which mattered at the TEDx conference – it was the concept behind the stunt.

“We wanted to see if people would really down a mystery pill on arrival,” says Sandall, “As an event TEDx is a platform for promoting conversation and getting people talking. These pills certainly did that! It was a real ice-breaker, before the speeches even began.”

So, aside from a breakfast pill, what foods can boost your IQ and concentration? “When we planned the menu for the day it was a challenge,” admits Sandall, “We had to think about foods that would keep people full, but not make them sleepy or sluggish. At morning tea we served green juices made with apples, avocado, kale and lemon juice. We served them in little glass, milk jugs with paper drinking straws, which are more environmentally friendly.”

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At lunchtime we were treated to a huge vegetarian feast, or chickpeas and cashew nut curries, vegetable broths, grated carrots chutneys and eggplants with olives. “It’s all good honest clean food,” says Sandall, “It’s high protein, but relatively low carb to keep every light and bright.”

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As a snack, they served up 3000 muesli bars. The ARIA catering team, headed by celebrity chef Matt Moran, already had their own signature muesli bar recipe, but for TEDx they gave it a reboot. “We worked with Sydney University’s nutritional department to make sure our muesli bar ticked all the health food boxes,” says Sandall, “Our original recipe had white chocolate buttons in, and were quite high in sugar. For the TEDx recipe we removed the chocolate, added olive oil and made the core ingredients oats and dried fruit.”

The sourdough bread that was served on the day was baked by Marrickville’s The Bread & Butter Project, a social enterprise that trains refugees and asylum seekers as bakers. The amaranth (a quinoa like grain) for the flatbreads was grown by a former refugee called Hyeronime Tshilengi Bukasa.

Food curator Jill Dupleix, coordinated the grub for the guests, who were encouraged to sit on communal tables and start a conversation with a stranger. “The TEDx Sydney tables will be a place to join  up, break break and share ideas in one big communal celebration,” says Dupleix, “Food had the power to bring people together, and good things always come from that.”

I can testify that I walked out of the Opera House at 7pm with an overflowing mind and a very satisfied belly. The most popular speeches on the day, which included ‘the story of compassion’ and how a year eleven student is transforming texting, will be uploaded to the TEDs Sydney website over the coming week.

For ideas worth spreading, check out www.tedxsydney.com. Or to sample the talents of the ARIA catering team, visit their Sydney or Brisbane restaurant www.ariarestaurant.com.au

Written by Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy, formerly editor of Grazia Australia, is a columnist and author, with a particular interest in health and wellbeing.

Amy is an editor at large for The Renegade Collective and, along with TheCarousel.com, has contributed for a host of Australian publications including the Sydney Morning Herald and Harper’s BAZAAR. She also regularly writes for UK publications including The Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, Grazia magazine, Cosmopolitan and Women's Fitness.
She previously published a memoir called Wife Interrupted in 2007.

Amy also runs sell-out yoga & creative writing retreats in Sydney, and offers one-on-one workshops on how to use journalling to improve mental wellbeing.

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