Monday, August 30, 2010

Food for Your Brain

Your brain is the central processing unit for your body, and like the other tissues in your body, your brain depends on the foods you eat in order to get the nutrients it needs for optimal functioning. Yet, you probably never give a second thought to how the foods you eat affect your brain.

Studies show that mental function declines as people age. This decline often leads to diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Low levels of certain nutrients are found in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In other cases, studies show that performance on memory tests and other functions requiring mental acuity may be diminished in people who have low levels of certain nutrients.

You can get the nutrients you need by making a special effort to eat brain foods everyday.

Omega-3 fats are unsaturated fatty acids that act as powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants protect your brain by binding with free radicals to prevent them from causing damage to your brain cells. Omega-3 fats are also used to build the myelin sheath that covers the nerve fibers in your brain.
You can get an abundance of omega-3 fats in your diet by eating oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as nuts, including walnuts and almonds, and vegetable oils such as flaxseed oil and canola oil.

Eggs contain choline, a B vitamin that your brain uses to produce a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter helps brain cells to transmit or pass information on, from one neuron to another.

Sugar is the main source of energy for your brain. The best way to get sugar into your brain is to eat complex carbohydrates, in the form of starches. These starches broken down to sugar molecules, but since it takes longer for starches to be digested and absorbed that sugar, you are less likely to experience a sugar ‘high’ followed by a ‘crash’ caused by rapid highs and lows in your blood sugar. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates.

Green Tea
Green tea contains polyphenols, which are antioxidant compounds that capture free radicals and prevent them from causing damage to healthy brain cells.

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard greens and turnip greens supply the brain with folic acid (folate), a B vitamin that is essential for the development of healthy brain tissue.

Fruits, such as blueberries, grapes and apples are loaded with flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants that bind free radicals in your brain to protect your brain cells from being damaged by free radicals.

Other Brain Foods
A few other foods that are rich in antioxidants and offer protection for your brain are chocolate, whole grains, turmeric, onion, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
Meat, seafood, eggs, dairy and soy also promote brain health by supplying two essential amino acids, tryptophan and tyrosine. These amino acids are used to make neurotransmitters, which allow your brain cells to communicate with each other.

Antioxidant Vitamins
Beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E are antioxidant vitamins that help to protect your brain from free radicals. by binding free, rendering them incapable causing damage to brain the brain cells. Additionally, vitamin C is used to make neurotransmitters, which allow your brain cells to send messages back and forth. Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 are other vitamins that play a vital role in protecting nerve tissue and enhancing brain function.
A healthy brain requires a healthy diet that provides the nutrients your brain needs to prevent oxidative damage and promote proper functioning of the neurons. Lack of these vital nutrients can lead to poor brain function, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other manifestations of brain dysfunction. On the other hand, a diet rich in these foods will help to improve brain function

About the Author
Dr. Dorene E. Carter is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant with over 25 years of experience in teaching, counseling, training, project development and writing. Dr. Carter earned her PhD in nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley and is currently President & CEO of CHANA Project, the Child Health and Nutrition Access Project.