Feed Your Brain
Case in point: At 92, my dad continues to ask me about people I may have introduced him to 20 years ago—he remembers every detail of their lives, where they come from, what they do for a living and the nationality of their parents. His long- and short-term memories are both in excellent shape. Perhaps it's good genes and fresh country air...or maybe it's that his brain is the most exercised part of his body these days. The brain, like the muscles in our body, must be kept active, and if it's not exercised regularly and given the nutrients necessary to keep it active and healthy, it's going to deteriorate.
Our diet has a huge impact on the brain chemicals that influence our thought processes, moods, behaviors, learning abilities, reactions and interactions. As well as nourishing the brain through proper diet and exercise, it's also important to consider factors that contribute to premature aging and brain deterioration. If properly cared for and given the fuel it needs to keep running smoothly, your brain should serve you well into old age.
Factors Influencing Brain Health:
- Exercise: As stated above, the brain needs to be kept active in order to be healthy. Read, do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, play Scrabble, learn a language—anything that stimulates the brain to think will help maintain it in optimum shape. Also, physical exercise and keeping the body fit and toned increases the flow of oxygen throughout the body and to the brain, and can promote the growth of healthy brain tissue.
- Diet and nutrition: Fast foods, refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, excess animal products and processed and refined foods all contribute to premature aging and brain deterioration. Sugar and simple carbohydrates that quickly convert to sugar in the body also deplete the body of minerals and nutrients vital to brain health.
- Coffee: Coffee depletes the body of minerals needed for brain health, interferes with sound sleep and causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which affects moods and contributes to brain fog.
- Poor sleep: Sleep is needed to regenerate the body, especially the brain, so it can function optimally. After periods of reduced sleep, neurons (nerve cells) may begin to malfunction, visibly affecting a person's behavior.
- Alcohol: I'm sure we've all experienced the effects of alcohol on our ability to think clearly at one time or another!
- Environmental toxins: Studies have shown that toxins such as lead, trihalomethanes (formed when chlorine or other disinfectants are used in drinking water), ionizing radiation and tobacco smoke can cause damage to the brain, even at very low levels.
- Hormonal disturbances: A part of the brain known as the hypothalamus connects the endocrine system (the system that releases hormones) with the nervous system. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating basic needs such as sleep, hunger, thirst and sex, in addition to emotional and stress responses—another good reason to keep the brain healthy!
- Food sensitivities: The most common food allergens are wheat, soy, sugar and dairy products. Food intolerances can affect brain function, moods, learning abilities and many other body functions.
- Skipping meals: Eating smaller and more regular meals helps keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, which is important for proper brain health.
Get a list of the top 8 foods vital for brain health.
These slow-burning complex carbohydrates provide excellent fuel for the brain. They are good sources of B vitamins, which help combat stress, thus promoting healthy blood flow throughout the body and to the brain. Their high fiber content also helps move toxins out of the body and has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels, which supports healthy brain function.
Leafy Green Vegetables
These mineral-rich foods are like fresh air for the brain. In addition to keeping the system alkaline, they oxygenate the body, keeping the brain sharp and promoting mental focus and clear thinking. They're also high in folic acid, which studies have shown can improve memory and brain function.
Salmon and Other Oily Fish
Oily fish is one of the best dietary sources of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for brain health. About two servings of oily fish per week should provide adequate essential fatty acids to keep the brain healthy.
Nuts and Seeds
Many studies have concluded that essential fatty acids found in nuts and seeds are vital for brain health. The most important is mono-unsaturated oleic acid, found in olives and nuts—particularly almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans and walnuts. Seeds such as flax and chia seeds are also excellent dietary sources of essential fatty acids.
Walnuts deserve a special mention. They are high in essential fatty acids that nourish the brain and they are said to help develop neurotransmitters for brain function.
Sprouts such as alfalfa and sunflower sprouts are loaded with antioxidants, chlorophyll, protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids necessary for brain health. They are also high in digestive enzymes, which are key to longevity, and they promote the digestion and assimilation of nutrients necessary for the brain.
Lightly Caffeinated Teas
I find that a little caffeine first thing in the morning can help stimulate mental activity and clear thinking. White and green teas—particularly matcha, which is a powdered green tea—are high in polyphenols, which studies have shown can boost brain power and antioxidants that counteract the effects of oxidative damage to the brain.
Berries, particularly blueberries, blackberries and mulberries, are packed with antioxidants that promote brain health. Is there a more delicious way to feed your brain?
Just like our bodies, our brain needs an occasional cleanse and detox—not just from physical and environmental factors, but also from excessive thoughts and too much information. So it's important to find ways you can switch off and tune in to your inner calm place, such as meditating, listening to calming music, walking in nature, gardening or lying on a beach and listening to the sounds of the ocean. I have found that when my brain is calm, I can access my intuition and inner wisdom and let my creativity find its wings.
There's no better way to relax, unwind and clear your mind than putting your feet up with a lovely cup of green tea and one of my Orange Walnut Biscotti, created especially for your enjoyment.