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The brain is the body’s most vital organ. It commands everything from blinking to thinking, houses your memories and triggers emotions.
Experts have discovered a lot about how the brain works.
For example, we now know we can grow new brain cells throughout life.
Scientists have found nutrients in food can improve the structure of individual brain cells and improve the efficiency of their communication so that messages are transmitted more clearly and quickly.
The best news is that healthy lifestyle choices can enhance mental function as we age.
On the other hand, dietary deficiencies can aggravate short-term memory loss. These deficiencies can reduce cognition long before outward signs become apparent.
The brain is a nutritionally needy organ, so it’s no big surprise that skipping meals, not eating enough or not eating the right things will affect memory and brain function.
An all-around healthy diet is the most important factor in keeping our brain function optimal.
Susie’s previous three columns:
Just go to bed:Night snacking can lead to weight gain because of food choices
Frusctose:Is this controversial simple sugar good or bad?
Heavy drinks:Holiday cocktails have a lot more calories than you might realize
The most important nutrient for the brain is carbohydrate.
The brain and nervous system operate exclusively on glucose (derived from carbohydrates in the diet). A carbohydrate-depleted brain can’t work at full capacity.
The result of carbohydrate-depletion is a reduced ability to learn and retain information, and to focus and concentrate on tasks.
We need a minimum of 125 grams per day to keep the brain working effectively.
The best sources are whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, etc.), fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and yogurt.
B-vitamins are essential to maintain normal cognitive and nerve function. Symptoms of mental decline in the elderly are often related to B vitamin deficiency and can be reversed when the body is repleted with these important vitamins. B vitamin deficiency is linked to depression and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The B vitamins most critical for brain function are vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid. These are found in meat, fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
Antioxidants are plant chemicals that strengthen the cells of the body and make them more resistant to disease. Oxidation of brain cells leads to memory loss, compromised balance and coordination, impaired judgment, perception and reasoning.
Good sources of antioxidants are berries, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, broccoli, soy products and tea.
Fish has long been recognized as brain food.
Fish oils contain a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid that is vital for maintaining normal brain function throughout life.
To get the full benefits of the omega-3s in fish, it is recommended that we consume fish at least twice a week.
Studies have shown that those who eat fish regularly have 76% less risk of developing cognitive impairment.
Garlic is not only a great source of antioxidants, but it has been proven to help maintain flexibility of the blood vessels in the brain.
Soy reduces brain cell inflammation and damage, making brain communication more efficient.
It also balances hormones, which helps enhance memory function. Sources of soy include veggie burgers, edamame, tofu, and soy milk.
Foods to limit include those containing saturated fats. They interfere with communication circuits in the brain. High intake of saturated fats is linked to greater mental decline as we age.
Saturated fats are found in animal products, dairy products and in many processed and fast foods.
Always choose lean meats and low-fat or fat-free dairy products in order to reap the benefits of these nutritious foods without getting too much saturated fat.
So here’s your hit list of healthy brain foods to include on your weekly shopping list:
- Whole grain bread and cereals
- Fresh fruits, especially berries and citrus fruits
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and kale
- Legumes (black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, split peas, etc.)
- Lean meats
- Low-fat and non-fat dairy products
- Soy foods such as soy milk, soy cheese, tofu, veggie burgers)
- Fish and seafood, any kind, but especially fatty fish such as salmon and sardines
Don’t neglect nutrition. Start today making little changes. The benefits are worth it!
Susie Bond is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist in private practice. Contact her at [email protected]