I have an insatiable appetite for learning about how to maximise the potential of my brain. The more I have learnt the more I realise how dependent this incredibly powerful and unique supercomputer is on me, the owner, to feed it. Not only with information and stimulation, but with the general care and attention that it warrants.
While the brain accounts for only about 2% of the average body weight it demands a disproportionate amount of energy to facilitate the volume of high-speed “transactions” it delivers, 24/7. What you consume will directly impact on this precious resource, so it is really worth being selective. High quality fuel will deliver sustained performance, while quick fixes, like sugar and carbs, might give your grey matter a temporary boost but won’t go the distance.
One of the most practical guides on “brain nutrition” that I have read in recent times is “Genius Foods” by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal, MD. (Harper Collins). As a taster here is a summation of 10 of the top recommended brain foods. As you will see, these are certainly easy to incorporate into your diet.
1. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. The compound oleocanthal is a type of phenol, a plant compound that stimulates our bodies’ repair mechanisms. It also possesses powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation can seriously negate neuroplasticity. One tablespoon also contains 10% of your RDI of vitamin E, another protective antioxidant.
2. Avocados. These can be regarded as the all-in-one genius food. High in vitamin E, an abundant source of healthy fats (which your brain will gobble up) and fiber. Another nutrient your brain uses is potassium which, in conjunction with sodium, is essential to vascular health. Interestingly while bananas have always been cited as a potassium source, avocados contain on average double the amount of potassium but without the sugar. I enjoy at least a half to whole small avo daily.
3. Blueberries. Of all consumed fruits and vegetables, blueberries are among the highest in antioxidant capacity thanks to the level of flavonoids they contain. There are numerous research studies striving to confirm the effects blueberries, specifically, on memory function in humans. In fact any of the very dark berries are good – the deep purple colour being a good indicator of the beneficial nutrients.
4. Dark chocolate. Don’t get over excited yet. Chocolate is in fact a naturally fermented food and some of the most important benefits come from its abundance of flavanols, a type of polyphenol. Scientific studies are focusing on the reversal of cognitive aging and improving insulin sensitivity, vascular function and blood flow to the brain. What you want to do is avoid high levels of sugar and look for dark chocolate which contains at least 75% or higher levels of cocoa. Not everyone’s ideal treat.
5. Eggs. Yes, eggs! Concerns about the “dangerous” cholesterol content in egg yolks have been soundly debunked. Studies support that eggs support cognitive function and markers for cardiovascular health. Eggs also contain small amounts of nearly every vitamin required by the body and support bone health. The more in-depth analysis supports areas of cognition and neural processing. But should you forget all of this, just remember that it’s ok to have your two eggs for breakfast, daily.
6. Grass-fed beef. Vegetarians can skip this. For the rest, protein is at the heart of this genius food. The point of selecting the humanely reared, grass fed beef, is that beyond the protein benefits, this becomes an excellent source of nutrients other than protein. This includes omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin E. Muscle mass and depression are two of the beneficiaries linked to scientific studies several of which have followed long-term, randomized sampling. This is just a bite of what is out there. The primary point is choose the source of your meat with care.
7. Dark Leafy Greens. Ok the vegetarians can read again. There is no question that vegetables are your brain’s best friend. In particular spinach, romaine lettuce, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, arugula and bok choy. These dark leafy greens are low in sugar and packed with vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that the brain desperately needs to function properly.
8. Broccoli. Remaining in the green colour range for now – broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables such as brussel sprouts, cabbage, radishes, arugula, bok choy and kale are sources of a compound called sulforaphane. This powerful chemical is most effective when it combines with two other compounds released from different cells of the plant when you bite into it! Amongst the numerous benefits, the one we are most interested in are the anti-inflammatory effects. This group is most likely least appealing to your brain, based on your youthful memories of your mom forcing you to eat many of these even though the supportive research was not yet available to her. Can you just imagine if she had been trying to get you to eat them raw!
9. Wild Salmon. Going back to our genes for a moment, the presence of the ApoE4 gene is acknowledge as a key indicator of Alzheimer’s. The protective association of seafood is one of the most common dietary recommendations related to this. The king of these fishes is wild salmon which is low in mercury and a rich source of both EPA and DHA omega-3 fats and a powerful carotenoid called astaxanthin which is beneficial to your entire body. Benefits include cognitive function, reducing inflammation and general heart health. You’ll be in the pink!
10. Almonds. Sad news is that you only need a small handful of this convenient snack. The good news is that raw (yes, sadly) almonds are potent brain food, delivered in three formats. The skins have been shown to have a pre-biotic affect, which is great for your gut health. Good start for the brain. Secondly they are a great source of polyphenols, plant defense compounds that provide an antioxidant effect for both you and your gut bacteria. And thirdly they are a powerful source of fat soluble vitamin E. This protects synaptic membranes from oxidation which in turn supports neuroplasticity.
If this has got your juices flowing then I would recommend that you read the whole book to gain insight to why it is worth creating new dietary habits to keep your brain beautiful.