You Are What You Eat: Adding Brain-Boosting Foods into Your Diet
Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
During the winter months, it’s easy to start feeling a “fuzzy” sensation come over you, especially late in the day when the sun starts to go down at much too early an hour. Despite the winter blues and the afternoon blahs, though, brain function is an important factor in a healthy lifestyle that should be consciously preserved.
As we age, our brain function begins to wane as synapses collapse and free radicals cause damage to neurons. Therefore, making a conscious effort to boost brain function throughout our lives is an important component to overall wellness. And, as with many wellness functions, you are with you eat. Increased brain function starts in the kitchen. When planning your meals this week, keep in mind these five important brain boosting nutrients.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids & DHA
Most commonly found in fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna, Omega-3 fatty acids and their component DHA are used in the brain to transmit signals between brain cells. These supplements are important throughout life, but especially during pregnancy and throughout the first few months of life as important neural connections are built. This means that pregnant and nursing mothers need to consume DHA at an even higher rate. The recommendation is three servings a week.
Though fiber itself doesn’t impact brain function, its metabolism does. Since fibrous foods have lower glycemic indices, they are metabolized slower and less likely to cause sharp spikes in blood sugar. As anyone on a “sugar high” can attest, though blood sugar spikes can be initially beneficial, the inevitable bottoming out that follows can lead to fatigue and brain fog that was worse than when you began. That is why consuming whole grains, such as bran and oatmeal, and veggies are a great alternative to their refined and sugared cousins.
Iron is another supplement that is touted for its benefits early in life – iron-fortified cereals are a must for babies just beginning solids. However, as we age, iron is also essential, as even mild deficiency has been linked to attention, memory and learning issues. Stunningly, 10% of all women are anemic, which makes the proper consumption of iron even more important for them. Though most people associate iron-rich foods with red meat, leafy greens, beans and soy are all great sources of iron.
The power of antioxidants has been touted for a few years now, and it’s no wonder. Antioxidants play an important role in neutralizing the free radicals that are created when oxygen interacts with certain molecules in our bodies. These atoms and groups of atoms are harbingers of cellular and molecular damage that is not limited to brain function and neuron damage. The good news is that consumption of antioxidants is easy to integrate into any whole foods diet. In general, all brightly colored foods such as berries and leafy greens are a great source of antioxidants, as is the spice turmeric.
Subsets of antioxidants, flavonoids have been specifically linked to brain health. They are found in some of the more “decadent” brain boosting foods including dark chocolate which contains more than 70% cacao and red wine. However, you can also get flavonoids from more tame choices such as apples, onions, and red and purple grapes.
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