Fun February Facts: Feb 22nd is Founders’ Day (Scouts’ Day) and National Margarita Day, the day Frank Woolworth opened the first of many of 5 and dime Woolworth stores in 1879, when Grover Cleveland signed a bill admitting North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington as U.S. states in 1889, when President Calvin Coolidge became the first President to deliver a radio broadcast from the White House, the day the Miracle on Ice happened in 1980 and the birthday of George Washington in 1732.
Ok, back to the brain…
Brain Health 1 covered the 3 main brain antioxidants (melatonin, DHEA and oxytocin) and Brain Health 2 covered how to keep the brain stimulated and make new connections. Part 3 looks at what to feed your brain for optimal function.
Part 3: Brain Food
As discussed before, the brain is an incredibly complicated organ and system that relies upon many things for optimal function. Aside from needing good housecleaning and constant stimulation, it needs the nutrition and building blocks to repair, regenerate and stay healthy.
There are no real standard recommendations for feeding the brain but if you browse around you’ll find a couple favorites: salmon, avocados, almonds, chocolate and blueberries are often showcased in brain food guides but literally anything you might be able to think of is probably on somebody’s “Brain Food” list. I searched around a bit for a decent visual guide and found a few but thought this was a nice one to shares an example:
These are all likely pretty good foods for our mental health but that’s because they’re just good foods in general. I look at feeding the brain the same I do with other things. Start simple and then work your way into the details later. The body needs to be fed well first and then focus can go to the specific nutrients the brain seems to really thrive on.
Bare 5 Brain Nutrition Guide
Eat a balanced, whole food diet as a starting place. What’s good for your body is good for your brain. Focusing on brain specific foods before you have your basic nutrition down doesn’t do you that much good. The more nutrients you can provide your brain the better it will function. Think about eating all kinds of animals and plants and eating as much of the whole food of each that you can. The guide above is a nice example of getting whole food variety, particularly in the plant department. Add a little more animal variety and you’d have a pretty well balanced diet.
Note: The further you move away from balanced and into restriction the more powerful the impact may be but the less likely it will work. High carbohydrate diets are lauded by some but heavily criticized by many and are, unless really well thought out, particularly suspect for causing brain problems and often blamed for brain deterioration and many mental conditions and disorders (Alzheimers). Extremely low carbohydrate and Ketogenic diets can be extremely helpful for some but, once again, unless well formulated tend to work best only for a small percentage of people.
SUBTRACT things that cause problems in the brain:
Industrial Vegetable/Seed Oils
These categories of “food” tend to be the most inflammatory to the body and many people think the negative impact they have on brain is one of the reasons why. Not surprising, these things are loaded into processed food/food products/food-like substances. Limiting your processed food is the best way to limit these in your diet.
ADD more foods that contain the nutrients the brain has a high affinity for:
– DHA (fatty fish and shellfish, cod liver oil and small amounts in algae, flax, chia, hemp)
– B12 (meat, eggs, organs, oysters and shellfish)
– Folate (dark leafy greens, lentils, chicken liver)
– B6 (sunflower seeds, avocado, fish, fowl, beef, garbanzo beans)
– Choline (egg yolks and liver)
– Iron (organs, red meat, oysters, clams for heme iron, spinach, kale, lentils and soybeans for reduced iron)
– Vit D (sunshine, lesser amounts in fatty fish, eggs, dairy)
– Vit E (seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables)
– Alpha lipoic acid (kidney, heart, liver, spinach, broccoli, potatoes)
– Flavonols (dark fruits/blueberries, cocoa, beans and Ginkgo biloba)
If you were to look into each of these individual nutrients you could find several other foods that are good sources but since I like to look for foods that provide a big nutrient bang for the buck, the big thing that stands out to me is how much seafood pops up, particularly the fatty and shell fish, as well as meat/organ meats and dark leafy greens like spinach. Lentils and seeds pop up a couple times as do eggs. For me, those are the ones to focus on adding if you want to get a little more specific brain nutrition. If not, a nice, balanced, whole food diet will get all your bases covered which is probably the most important thing when it comes to diet and the brain.
Consider some supplements:
– Curcumin (in turmeric)
– Acetyl L Carnitine
– Phosphotityl serine
Aside from adding a bunch of turmeric to your eggs and sauces, look into these in good detail before deciding to add them into your regimen. I don’t take anything but these are popular (and pretty safe) for people looking for a little extra mental boost. My thought with supplements is that if you’re doing a good job from a diet and lifestyle perspective, then this is only for the fringe population or people with a health challenge.
– A generally balanced (plant and animal) whole food diet is the starting place for everyone.
– Limit intake of sugar, chemicals and industrial oils.
– Increase intake of things like seafood, organ meats, eggs, green leafy vegetables, dark fruits and, of course, chocolate.
– Supplement only if necessary and well thought out.
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
P.S. Next up, in Brain Health 4, we look at sense.
P.S.S. Here’s an example of a research paper on the topic Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function