The brain weighs roughly 3 pounds and uses about 20 percent of the energy consumed by the body each day. Maintaining a constant flow of glucose and nutrients can make an enormous difference in how well your brain is able to function on a day-to-day basis.
We live in unusual times, when people are living longer than ever. In fact, for the first time in human history we have more people living over the age of 60 than below 15. This makes maintaining arguably your most vital organ an even greater priority. Unfortunately, living longer can increase the risk of suffering from a chronic disease that will often appears later in life. However, there is good news! The study of epigenetics is proving that most of what happens to us can be attributed to environmental triggers, and we can control the largest “trigger”: our diet.
People mistakenly believe that certain changes—including losing brain function—are inevitable as they age. This does not have to be your fate; implementing a few strategic diet interventions can help preserve brain function, and, in some cases, even improve it.
So how do you stack the odds in your favor?
The following are list of some foods to include, limit, or try to avoid:
All carbohydrates are not created equal. In fact, different carbohydrates have unique abilities to control or raise your blood sugar, supply or strip your body of essential nutrients. Think about the effect of a soda versus consuming the same amount of calories from broccoli on your body and more importantly your brain!
vegetables, especially dark leafy greens that are high in vitamin C and magnesium. Aim to get 4-6 cups a day! In addition, try to “eat a rainbow” of vegetables in every color because each color is associated with and reflects unique phytonutrients that support total health.
Fruits, especially berries, have been shown to support brain function. Fruit is a great source of phytonutrients, but fruit contain the natural sugar fructose, so eat fruit in moderation.
Do include but limit portions:
low glycemic whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and amaranth, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes.
Try to avoid:
Fruit juice, jellies, and syrups because these are so concentrated in fructose that they will spike your blood sugar, leading to fat storage and inflammation.
White bread, pasta, white rice, crackers, white potatoes, etc.
Sugar gets its very own category because of its unique ability to destroy brain function. Imagine a blow torch on your brain cells; that’s what sugar does to your brain!
In addition to sugar, also avoid high fructose corn syrup and foods that quickly convert into glucose and spike your insulin, including more obvious sources like birthday cake, candy, and soda. Be careful to read labels. There are 61 different names for sugar, so look for hidden sources of sugar in commonplace items such as bread, cereal, salad dressings, ketchup, and tomato sauce.
Proteins are critical for producing enzymes and hormones that support efficient functioning of all cells. In addition, proper amounts of protein can support functioning of brain cells and normal blood pressure, while promoting higher energy levels.
High-quality sources of protein such as wild caught, cold water fish, organic poultry, organic eggs, and grass-fed meat. In addition, good sources of vegetable protein include non-GMO fermented soy products, nuts, seeds, and beans.
Fish high in mercury, such as tuna, swordfish or Chilean seabass, conventionally raised poultry, feed-lot-raised meat, and smoked meat or fish.
Try to avoid:
Most processed meats, including deli-meat, hot dogs, sausages, and bacon.
Sixty-five percent of your brain is made up of fat. In addition, fat is truly a unique macronutrient because when it comes to fat, you really are what you eat. Whatever form of fat you consume gets converted directly into the cell membrane, which can have significant consequences. The cell membrane is the gatekeeper of what goes into and out of the cells and plays an important role in communicating to surrounding cells. When it comes to fat, it’s all about the ratio Omega-6 to Omega-3. This ratio has drastically changed since the turn of the century due to the ubiquitous use of soy and corn, which supplies large amounts of Omega-6. So, it isn’t enough to increase Omega-3 intake, you need to decrease your Omega-6 intake as well.
Avocados, olives, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, pumpkin oil, and ghee.
Canola oil, grass-fed butter, and peanuts.
Try to avoid:
Hydrogenated oils or trans-fat, soybean oil, corn oil, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils. Imagine throwing gas on a fire, because this is what is happening to the inflammation in your brain when you consume these dangerous fats.
No discussion of the brain is complete without addressing the microbiome. The microbiome refers to the ecosystem living in our guts. Bacteria make up 90 percent of the cells in your body. After spending nearly a century killing them off, we now understand that most bacteria are beneficial, and contribute to our overall wellbeing and specifically to the health of our brain. In fact, the bacteria in your gut are responsible for producing 95 percent of the serotonin and 50 percent of the dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitters! Support your bugs!
A variety of fruits and vegetables. Obtaining fiber from different plants will support the diversity of the microorganisms living in your gut. Diversity is proving to be the key to health.
Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha tea, apple cider vinegar, and miso soup.
Prebiotics/ undigested fiber including raw onion, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and bananas.
Conventionally raised poultry, farmed raised fish, and CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) meat or pork. These animals are given sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics, fed corn or soy that is high in Omega-6 fatty acids and, in some cases, even arsenic. This combination produces a synergistic effect that destroys the bacterial balance in animals as well as in the humans that consume them, which is proving to contribute to human obesity and ill health.
Try to avoid:
Foods that have preservatives added to extend the products’ shelf life. These food additives’ function is to destroy bacteria, yeast, and mold. Unfortunately, we now understand that these preservatives also destroy helpful bacteria in our gut, negatively impacting our health.
In conclusion, taking care of your brain—your most precious asset—is not an impossible task. Focus on the things you consume most of the time. Strive to fill up your plate with those nutrients that support brain health and soon you won’t have room for the substances that damage it.