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Brain Foods Made Easy

Feeding our brains what they need.

Without a doubt, what we eat affects our mental capabilities. "Brain foods" aren't anything special, but are simply foods that supply the particular nutrients the brain is known to need to function properly.

brain powerA fully nourished brain is going to work better than a starved brain. And nourishment is an ongoing process, providing a steady supply of the nutrients necessary to cell function, building, and repair -- not something you do just once in a while. That's why it's so important to incorporate "brain foods" into your regular daily diet.

One of the most important things to understand about brain health is how vital fats are to brain function. The brain is a highly fatty organ by nature, and fats support its growth and repair. It's a well-known fact that low-fat diets have negative mental health side effects. Letting go of the "fear of fats" perpetuated by cultural progamming is a big first step toward better mental health. (Here is how I learned that personally.)

The following information comes from a newsletter published by Lipogen, a company based in Israel, entitled Best Foods -- Worst Foods for Your Brain, and details the newest findings about food and the brain. The list of sources for the information in this newsletter numbers 56. Lipogen has used the most current research results to create a memory supplement product.

I latched onto their newsletter through my 80 year old mother who was purchasing their supplements. I can't say she had stellar results with the supplements alone, but she was on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs at the time, which suppress normal fat metabolism. Now, OFF those drugs, ON the supplements, and ON healthy brain foods, her memory issues have improved greatly.

What surprised me most about the information in this newsletter was how much it jived with my own discoveries and experiences in trying to make healthy food choices. That natural fats are good for us, refined vegetable oils are not. That the much-maligned egg, is still incredibly good for us. And that animal products in general have a bevy of necessary nutrients not easily attained through the vegetable kingdom.

Brain foods spelled out....

This is the chart I prepared for my mother using the information in Lipogen's newsletter. She's posted it on her fridge as a constant reminder of the best "brain foods".

EAT

Why
In general, a Mediterranean-style diet is recommended:
   fish
   olive oil
   red wine
   fruits and vegetables
   whole grains
   nuts
   legumes
   dairy
   garlic
  1. Provides a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 oils
  2. Provides high levels of anti-oxidants, vitamins E, C, and B vitamins
  3. Includes foods that reduce inflammation and increase insulin sensitivity
  4. Reduces intake of unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils
Specific recommendations:
   2 whole eggs per day
   fish twice per week

      Best are:
        tuna
        mackerel
        salmon
        herring
Egg yolks are by far the superior source for choline, a B vitamin absolutely necessary to neurotransmission and brain function.

Fish is recommended both for the balanced omega-3 to -6 fatty acid ratio, and for the fatty compound phosphatidylserine (PS), important for proper brain cell function.
Produce:
   apples
   avocadoes
   bananas
   blueberries
   grapes, dark
   onions
   romaine
   spinach
   strawberries
The listed produce are especially high in antioxidants and/or B vitamins and/or have anti-inflammatory properties (we don't want an inflamed brain)(seriously). 
Seeds and nuts and legumes:
   lentils
   raw sunflower seeds
   walnuts
Lentils and raw sunflower seeds are good sources for B vitamins.
Walnuts have healthy fatty acids. 
Beverages:
   coffee, 1 cup/day
   tea
   red wine
One cup of coffee per day has been shown to protect the blood-brain barrier.
Tea and red wine contain antioxidants.
Seasonings:
   garlic
   rosemary
   turmeric
Garlic is known to have memory-protective effects.
Rosemary has been called the memory herb because it has a number of protective effects for the brain.
Turmeric, an ingredient in curry, has strong anti-inflammatory effects and inhibits the build up of amyloid plaques in the brain, which are associated with Alzheimer's.
Other:
   calf's liver
   chicken breast
   cocoa
   snapper
Liver, chicken, and snapper are recommended for their high B vitamin content and cocoa for its antioxidants. 

AVOID

Why
In general, avoid all:
   processed, packaged foods
   restaurant food
Because the following four listed items are unavoidable in pre-prepared and restaurant foods.
And you can't trust food labels on trans fats, as manufacturers are allowed to display zero for trans fat as long as the actual amount isn't greater than .50 grams per serving.
ALL trans fatThere is no "safe" level of trans fats. Used by the body in cell walls, they create rigid membranes and the cells can't function properly.
vegetable oilsThe ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is way off, hindering the body's ability to metabolize fats. 
sugar, especially High Fructose Corn SyrupSugar spikes are bad for the brain, which prefers a slow, steady supply of glucose for fuel.
Mice fed HFCS showed impaired learning and memory retention.
MSG, aspartame, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and other excitotoxinsExcitotoxins are believed to react with brain cells in such a way that the cells are either damaged or destroyed.

Getting the highest quality food for the brain.

Lipogen's newsletter doesn't stress that these recommended foods be of the HIGHEST QUALITY, and in my opinion, that's a huge oversight. I would add the following:

Fish - because of issues with mercury, don't rely on tuna too much. Try to get a diversity of the different fish, and without preservatives added. According to Lipogen, canned fish is ok. But because of the ongoing concerns about the quality of imported fish, try to eat fish local to your area whenever possible.

Eggs - mass-produced eggs from sickly chickens who never see daylight do not compare nutritionally (or in flavor) to the eggs from healthy free-range chickens. If you're eating eggs for your health, eat eggs of high nutritional value.

Grains - soaking whole grains before cooking greatly adds to their nutritional value and digestibility.

Nuts and Seeds - also benefit from soaking first for the same reason as with grains.

Olive Oil - go for the least refined olive oil you can find, here's some criteria to help. The diet of the Mediterranean did not include the cheap overly-refined olive oils available en masse now.

Dairy - commercial production techniques rob milk of it's nutrients, here's an overview. Look for raw milk or naturally cultured milk products, like cheese, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and crème fraîche.

Produce - upping your intake of fresh produce can up your intake of herbacides and pesticides, so go for organically grown when it matters.

Cocoa - eating cocoa while avoiding sugar, is a tough proposition. Look for cocoa products with natural sweeteners or make your own Healthy Chocolate.

Calf's Liver - Why Lipogen makes the distinction of "calf's" liver, they don't say, but calf's liver is very expensive, IF you can find it, and creates an ethical dilemma. Perhaps they suggest it because it's supposed to taste milder than adult cow liver. Or perhaps because there's controversy over the quality of a liver from an unhealthy adult animal having lived in an over-crowded filthy feedlot and been fed an unnatural diet, perhaps damaging their liver. And I agree. I don't eat sickly animals. Liver from healthy adult cows suffices for me and this is easily available wherever organically-raised, pasture-fed meats are sold.


If you start feeding your brain with "brain foods", your overall health will improve as cells throughout your body are given a chance to purge toxins, eliminate inferior materials and rebuild with proper materials. When you've eliminated the processed and restaurant foods, you'll be amazed how good you feel!

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