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Published on: September 22, 2014
by Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., for Lake News:
Put your two fists together, wrists touching. That is about the size and shape of your brain. Your brain is a powerful, organic machine that controls your thoughts, movements and sensations at lightening speeds. It can store an immense amount of data in the form of images, texts and concepts, and it is responsible for thousands of complex functions while working 24/7. The human brain accounts for just 2 percent to 3 percent of our total body weight, yet it uses about 20 percent of the calories we eat.
When you feel sluggish, foggy, unable to concentrate, or just plain tired, there is a good chance that what you have or haven’t eaten may be to blame. Nutrient deficiencies in our diet can affect us mentally, as well as physically, and can lead to cognitive decline, memory problems, or even anxiety and depression. What you feed your brain now can have a huge impact on how it will function for you in the years and decades to come.
As we age, our brains shrink a little and become a little slower. It requires more to get the brain’s attention: stronger light to read, louder volume to hear, more pressure to feel a touch, stronger tastes and odors to enjoy food. Women’s brains tend to age slower than men’s, but there is no set age for when our brain’s functions start to decline. There are some specific diet recommendations to help keep your brain in top notch condition for as long as possible.
Glucose: The brain needs a steady supply of glucose because neurons are unable to store glucose for later like other cells in the body can. But don’t load up on sodas and candy. What your brain needs is complex carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables and grains.
Fat: The brain itself is composed of about 60 percent fat. We need to replenish this fat to help protect the brain from damage. Choosing healthy fats is key. Omega 3 fats can help keep inflammation at bay. The body can’t produce omega 3 fats, so we must get them from the food we eat. Deficiencies in omega 3 fats have been linked to depression and schizophrenia. Eating fish just twice a week can meet the brain’s requirement for omega 3 fat. Too much saturated or trans fats can encourage plaque formation in the brain, just as they do in your heart.
B Vitamins: Without adequate B12, communications between parts of the brain become less efficient, kind of like a sluggish Internet connection. B vitamins help protect against age-related atrophy of brain cells. Deficiencies in B6 and folate can lead to problems with cognition and increases the risk of depression. Symptoms of B vitamin deficiency include fatigue and difficulty concentrating. The best food sources for B vitamins include animal products, like beef, seafood, eggs and milk; vegetables, like beans, spinach and broccoli; and fortified cereals and grains.
Phytochemicals: And vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and flavonoids. All of these things help repair brain cell damage, boosts the ability to make new neurons, helps prevent neurons from dying, and enhances the ability of neurons to form and reform connections, which is the basis for learning and memory. Where do you find these magical nutrients? Just look for plants. Blueberries, apples, citrus fruits, teas and cocoa are all exceptional sources of some mega nutrients in this category. Spices, like curry, turmeric and cinnamon, also have brain-boosting qualities.
Vitamin D: Not only is adequate vitamin D important for bone health, it also protects the brain against cognitive changes that come with age. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression.
Water: Staying hydrated helps keep the memory sharp and the mood stable, and it actually makes it easier to think. Adequate fluid helps maintain the membranes for normal neurotransmission, enhances circulation, aids in waste removal and keeps the brain from overheating.
Adequate Sleep: Worsening quality of sleep as we age correlates to poor cognitive abilities while awake. Although the brain is constantly at work, it needs the rest we give it while we sleep.
In addition to the foods we eat and enough sleep, it’s important to keep your brain active. Mental exercise can help sharpen your brain and keep cognitive decline at bay. Physical exercise also keeps the blood and energy flowing to allow the brain to function at its very best.
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