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Food for Thought(s)

What you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and your mood. 

As we add more years to our lives we should add good health to those years—especially in the areas of our brain involved with memory and intelligence, which deteriorate with age. Although we haven’t discovered a food that magically makes us smarter, eating a nutritious diet can definitely set you up for success with your cognitive goals. Your brain is always “on.” It works 24/7, even while you’re asleep and it requires a constant supply of fuel/food. Healthy brain functions require good overall nutrition; nutrient deficiency can undeniably impair your cognitive abilities. The B-Complex vitamins and vitamins C and K are critical for the cellular energy metabolism in your brain. Some tips for optimal mental function include:

Don’t think on an empty stomach. On a long day that requires mental effort you might want to avoid going more than four hours without eating. The best time to challenge yourself with a tough issue might be right after a small to moderate-sized meal.

Avoid large meals and foods high in sugar. After the initial sugar buzz, big doses of sugar tend to have a sedating or dulling effect on mental function. Very large meals can have the same effect. Instead, fuel your peak performance with a moderately sized meal emphasizing protein and slow-burning carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes.

Protect the brain from degeneration and stress. Blueberries, while tasting like an all-natural candy, have a low glycemic index (low effect on blood sugar). They are also very rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and K, fiber and Gallic acid; it is recommended to eat them regularly.

Drink caffeinated coffee and tea—always in moderation, of course. Don’t overdo it (less than 2 cups of coffee or 100mg. of caffeine/day). Although caffeine can increase your alertness and mental function for several hours, it should be avoided late in the day so it doesn’t affect your sleep. Regular sleep and exercise work hand in hand with good nutrition to support healthy brain function.

Control your moodiness. Tryptophan is an amino acid that produces Niacin and the brain’s mood-regulating hormones: Melatonin and Serotonin. It is found in poultry, shrimp, bananas, soy sauce, pumpkin seeds, nuts, milk, cheese and kale. Complex carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, corn, whole wheat bread and oats), when eaten in combination with the before mentioned foods, help the body get the most benefits from this amino acid. It acts as a calmative by increasing mood-elevating Serotonin in your brain and helping to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Chocolate helps. Dark Chocolate and cocoa is packed with brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine and antioxidants. The flavonoids in chocolate gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Researchers say these compounds may enhance memory, help slow down age-related mental decline, boost your mood, and increase positive feelings.

Get some green. Avocados contain vitamin K and folate that help prevent blood clots in the brain. Additionally, they aid in improving cognitive function, especially memory and concentration. Avocados are rich in vitamins B and C, contain more potassium than bananas, are loaded with powerful antioxidants, and are high in monounsaturated heart healthy oils. Other greens like kale, broccoli and spinach are low-carb vegetables rich in vitamins C, K, and A, folate, lutein, potassium and iron. They are high in compounds that support detoxification and reduction of inflammation, and rich in brain-protective antioxidants that help control damaging free radicals.

As the years keep passing us by, we must take good care of our health and brain functions. A healthy diet full of whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, and good sources of proteins like meat, poultry, fish and milk products can assist us greatly with our cognitive abilities.

By Dr. Iris I Mercado, EdD, CDN