Published on: November 5, 2013
by Sharon Peterson for The Southern:
Quick! Can you name one food that is beneficial for brain health? Most people cannot because optimizing brain health is a relatively new topic in the nutrition and health world. However, as baby boomers are reaching retirement and trying to optimize their quality of life, brain health is becoming a hot topic.
Let’s first discuss how nutrition is related to brain health and then highlight which foods would be the best — and worst — for supporting a healthy brain.
As a registered dietitian for 25 years, I have been exposed to a variety of nutrition-related mental health issues including depression, food addictions and all types of eating disorders in adults and children. Recent research on the relationship between nutrition and mental health is finally confirming what you and I have known for years. For example, people who eat more processed foods are at a higher risk for depression, while those who eat whole foods are at a lower risk and generally have more energy.
Results of the Food and Mood Project indicate that 88 percent of adults surveyed said that changing their diet improved their mental health. In addition, UCLA’s brain expert Fernando Gomez-Pinilla recently analyzed over 160 research articles about food’s affect on the brain and found that certain dietary factors can influence neuron function and therefore overall brain function.
What foods are important for optimizing brain health? The short answer for brain health is the same as the answer for reducing risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, obesity and high blood pressure: healthy foods. More specifically, for brain health most of us need to increase our intake of Omega-3 fats, which are found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna) and also in walnuts and olive oil. Other healthy food choices are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, lower-fat dairy products and higher-fiber whole grain breads, cereals and rice.
We also need to review what foods to avoid for optimum brain health. When dealing with depression and/or sugar addictions, it is especially important to avoid high-sugar, high-fat “junk” foods such as regular soda, energy drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, cookies, candy, snack cakes, potato chips, French fries, white bread/rolls and alcohol. Reliance on caffeine and sugar for quick energy is particularly troublesome because it can create a blood sugar roller coaster ride that is hard to stop once it starts.
If you are ready to optimize brain health, the first step would be to complete a food and mood journal for a few days to track which foods boost your mood and energy levels and which foods cause negative symptoms. Eliminating high-sugar, high-fat foods is obviously important. Use the money that was being spent on these foods to buy salmon, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Within a short period of time, the body will reward you with better mood and energy and the brain fog will subside.
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