Showing posts with label brain food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brain food. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brain Food vs. “Stupid Food”

In our article on Brain Foods, you learned about foods that can positively affect your brain and nervous system, benefiting mood, memory, alertness, and neuromuscular response time.  But did you know that you could be quashing your best efforts to be smart by eating dumb?  Brain Awareness Week may be over, but National Nutrition Month is going strong. So now is the time to make a few key dietary adjustments to what you do or don’t ingest – it’s not too late to get smart about brain food vs. "stupid food" habits.  To avoid browbeating your brain with what you consume, make sure you avoid the following nine damaging dietary practices.

1.  Don't eat an imbalanced diet

According to Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, author of the book The Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription: The Science-Proven Plan to Start at Any Age, how you eat is as important as what you eat – getting your diet out of balance can increase your chances of Alzheimer's disease.  If your goal is to push any Alzheimer’s risk to the most distant future, Fortanasce recommends getting the right balance of foods in your diet: specifically one-third carbohydrates, one-third protein, and one-third fat.  As well, his research indicates that the order in which you eat them matters. 

2.  Say phooey to tofu

Tofu in a bowlTofu is often considered a healthy food.  In moderate quantities, maybe so.  But research from Loughborough and Oxford Universities shows potential tofu risks – that excess tofu eating can increase your risk of memory loss in old age.  The 700-participant study (ages 52-98) revealed that those who ate tofu daily were at an increased risk for developing dementia or memory loss.  The risk increased more for those over 65.  The researchers suspect the phytoestrogens found in soy for this increased risk.

3.  Don't fry that fish

Research published in the science journal Neurology supports the many studies showing that eating fish can prevent stroke and memory loss, but this new study found that there was no benefit for those who ate fried fish.  Broiled or baked tuna consumed at least three times weekly indeed showed almost a 26 percent lower risk of brain lesions that could lead to dementia and stroke – but not from fried fish.

4.  Go easy on the sugar, sweetie

Incredibly, the average American chows down on roughly 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the USDA.  And yes, that's bad. Here's why: as this recent study reports, fructose can negatively affect both your memory and learning ability. 

In the study, researchers spent five days training rats to complete a maze, and then gave half of them a water-fructose solution along with their regular diet. After retesting the rats six weeks later, the sugared-up group of rats had elevated levels of triglycerides, insulin, and glucose – and, no surprise: performed poorly in the maze compared to the other group of rats. The researchers concluded that eating too much fructose appears to interfere with insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for energy – necessary for processing thoughts and emotions. 

5.  Skip the white bread

Go easy on the white bread. Turns out that it's bad for the brain. White bread spikes insulin levels, which Dr. Fortanasce states, causes insulin-degrading brain enzymes to become overtaxed from the work of removing insulin.  The problem – the sudden overload of carbohydrates distracts the enzymes from doing their other job: eliminating the toxic beta-amyloid proteins that engender Alzheimer's disease. 

Sliced white bread

The trick is to keep your overall glycemic index level good and low. So if you really want that white bread or muffin, don’t eat it by itself but rather with a protein source, which can keep your glucose level from spiking.  To help you plan out meals without spiking sugar levels, follow the The Franklin Institute’s chart on the glucose levels in many common foods.

7.  Low carb, maybe, but don’t do a no-carb diet

Some who go on a low-carb diet go overboard (whole hog, if you will), cutting carbohydrates completely from their diet.  Bad idea.  A new Tufts University study published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Appetite supports already known facts, that carbs are an important fuel for the brain.  When you eat carbohydrates, the body turns it into glucose, and glucose then fuels brain activity.  The study shows that a no-carb diet makes you mentally confused and forgetful.  Study participants developed slow reaction times and poorer scores on visual-spatial memories compared to the control group.

The good news is that the condition is reversible;  after a few weeks back on carbohydrates, study participants’ memory-test performance improved.

8.  Saturated fats with sugar can double your trouble

Not only do we know that sugar is bad for the brain, but according to this recent study, a diet that is high in both fat and sugar appears to cause damage to the hypothalamus – the area of the brain that regulates both energy and appetite. The damage to the hypothalamus from too much fat and sugar can make it harder to lose weight, according to the scientists. 

9. Avoid dehydration

You may not consider water a food item, but we must also include water in things you can ingest for improved thinking.  And, by the same token, not hydrating sufficiently can malnourish your brain.  When you become dehydrated, your brain tissue literally shrinks and, apparently, so does your cognition.  Many studies indicate that dehydration reduces cognitive function, impairing your short-term memory, your ability to focus, and your ability to make decisions.

So drink up (nonalcoholic) and eat smart and you will literally be smarter.

Woman drinking water

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 15, 2013

Food for Thought - Is Brain Food for Real?

We have all heard the expression "brain food" – edibles that are supposed to increase brain power.  Is it just an old wives tale, or is there any scientific or medical evidence to support the existence of food that, when consumed, will improve your cognitive skills?

Boosting brain power – no drugs required 

You'll be happy to know that, if you wish to boost your brain power, you don't need pills, drugs, magic potions, or a hammer (to knock some sense into your head).  The fact is, an increasing number of food studies indicate a direct correlation between certain foods and your ability to think or remember.  And what better time to learn how to improve cognition, boost alertness, and enhance memory than during Brain Awareness Week, the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

Avocado, pomegranates, eggs and nuts

Yes, brain foods are for real

In one extensive recent study from UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, scientists analyzed more than 160 studies about food's effect on the brain. The scientists discovered, among other things, that the Omega-3 fatty acids that you commonly get from eating salmon, walnuts, or kiwi fruit improve learning, enhance memory, and combat mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and dementia.

And that’s just one study.  Many others, revealed below, support the long-held assumption that, when it comes to your mind, you are what you eat.

Brainpower from nuts

Ironically, one food that definitely won’t make you nuts is, you guessed, nuts.  Several types of nuts can enhance your brain, including almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.  But walnuts are the way to be nice to your neurons, according to the latest research. Walnuts are a rich source of two brain boosters: omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The 2009 study shows that walnuts can increase your mental health by improving learning, increasing comprehension, and enhancing the brain-to-muscle connections that often suffer from aging.

Fruits and vegetables that boost brainpower

It’s likely no surprise to you that some fruits and vegetables are a good, natural source for improving your brain's ability to think.  Certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants  that help you improve cognition and memory.  Many contain B-vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, choline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan – all known to support neurotransmitter synthesizing.  They supercharge brain activity on a cellular level and prevent or minimize mental health disorders.

According to the Center for Longevity of the Brain, your best bet to boost your brain with veggies is to zero in on collard greens, broccoli, beets, kale, red bell peppers, soybeans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, and definitely the darker green lettuces. A Harvard study revealed that women who eat a high amount of leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a significantly reduced rate of cognitive decline when compared to women who ate very few of these greens.  Spinach in particular is considered a super-food for the brain since it is jam-packed with magnesium and the carotenoid lutein, which, studies show, protects against cognitive decline. 

Big on fruits?  Good!  Because many of them fall into the brainfood category, such as raisins, oranges, cherries, red grapes, plums, and definitely berries: blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all brain-enhancing foods. 


Blueberries in particular have long been identified in studies as improving brain health, largely because they have the highest amounts of disease-fighting antioxidants compared to nearly all other fruits and vegetables.
  • A recent study touts a diet high in blueberries and strawberries as an effective way to slow mental decline, including focus and memory. 
  • A 2008 study reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry supports this, stating that compounds in blueberries may decrease the progression of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by (a.) minimizing the common oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain that comes with aging and (b.) by improving brain cell intercommunication. 
Consuming these berries protects brains cells from damage and boosts the brain’s ability to adapt to changes.

More evidence mounts that blueberries can not only prevent but can even reverse age-related memory decline.  Researchers at the University of Reading in Pennsylvania found that animals treated with blueberries showed an 83 percent improvement on memory tests within just three weeks, and maintained that improvement throughout the 12-week study.

In another study, elderly rats given blueberry extracts showed improved balance and coordination, as well as general brain function and memory, likely because of the flavonoids in blueberries, which successfully cross the blood-brain barrier, exerting powerful anti-inflammatory action in the brain that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases.

Avocados and beetsAs a result of the growing body of evidence, many experts speculate that the flavonoids in berries may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.  Other fruits that boost brain power include:
  • Avocados, which contain the highest omega-3 content of all fruits and are packed of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow,
  • Beets, known to improve blood flow to the brain because of their naturally-occurring nitrates.
While you’re likely not surprised about fruits and vegetables for brain health, check out these other amazing ways to nutritionally boost brainpower…

Meats and fish can feed the brain

Yes, even some meats can help your cognitive skills.  Amino acids found in protein-rich foods help connect the neurotransmitters in your brain that keep your brain humming, synaptically speaking.  The amino acids enhance the following neurotransmitters:
  • Dopamine (nervous system function)
  • Norepinephrine (alertness and concentration)
  • Serotonin (sleep, mood, memory, and learning enhancer)
  • Acetylcholine (storing memories and memory recall)
  • Tyrosine (energy)
The amino acids that help the brain function can be found in fish, meat, cheese, and yogurt.  Seek out the fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon since they are rich in brain boosting the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, shown in studies to reduce dementia risks and improve both focus and memory.
Fish is also capable of slowing cognitive decline.  One study showed older people who eat fish once a week slowed cognitive decline by nearly 10 percent.

Eggs too: nutritionists often describe the whole egg as a perfect food due to its amino acid profile, especially when sourced from free-range chickens eating a natural diet.

Fish and vegetables

Celebrate Brain Awareness Week with food!

If you are ready to noticeably improve brain function, protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline, and find new levels of focus and clarity, start with what you put on your plate – and start it now, during Brain Awareness Week.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer