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Senior Health: Healthy Aging: Good Nutrition: What You Eat Affects Your Brain  Previous Next

Good Nutrition: What You Eat Affects Your Brain

by: Dr. Lorne S. Label, Brain Longevity Center

Making healthy food choices is important at any age. New medical evidence shows that what you feed your body directly affects your brain.

A “brain healthy” diet means low-fat, low cholesterol choices combined with an abundance of antioxidant foods that are beneficial to the brain. Better nutrition will be good for your heart and your mind.

Many people start out the day with supplements. While it is probably a good idea to take a daily multivitamin to give our bodies a little extra boost, popping a pill is no substitute for a well-rounded, healthy diet.

Studies have shown that most of us do not get enough protein rich foods, and when we do consume protein it is usually later in the day. Scientists know that adequate proteins are vital to having an optimum thinking process, and a protein-based meal in the middle of the day will optimize your mental performance.

But doesn’t protein usually include fat, which is bad for you? Yes, but not all fats are created equal. While it is true that we want to limit the saturated fats that are found in red meats and animal products, you can replace these “bad fats” with Omega-3 fatty acids – also called “essential fats” – which help keep the brain operating at its peak.

In fact, Omega-3 fats are so important to a good diet that a severe lack of these good fats can lead to depression, poor memory, low IQ, learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD and many more mental disorders.

To ensure that your diet is rich in Omega-3 fats, eat plenty of oily, cold-water fish like wild salmon, sardines, whitefish, trout, tuna, herring, sable fish, mackerel and anchovies. Ask your doctor if you should also take an Omega-3 supplement on a daily basis.

While the goal is to increase the Omega-3s in your diet, you also want to decrease the intake of trans-fats – sometimes called trans fatty acids or hydrogenated vegetable oils. Found in many processed foods, trans-fats will pack on the pounds and provide absolutely no nutrition for your body. They are empty calories, so whenever possible, choose fresh foods over processed.

Carbohydrates that have been refined and processed are also considered a brain drain.

Your body will benefit if you limit the “bad” carbohydrates, such as refined white sugar and high-sugar sweetened drinks.

Foods with high sugar content also have a high glycemic index, which means they adversely affect the body by causing a spike and then a sudden drop in the blood glucose and insulin levels. So the next time you are tempted to substitute a muffin, donut or pastry for a healthy meal, remember that your body and your brain both need high quality foods that provide fuel for the body and brain.

But the body does need “brain booster” carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

In fact, your mother was right when she extolled the virtues of eating your vegetables. Even better advice is to consume both fruits and vegetables – with
an emphasis on brightly colored fresh foods.

Focus on a diet rich in fresh fruits and dark leafy vegetables and strive for at least 4-5 servings daily. Vegetables and fruits are packed with antioxidants and many essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, they are low in fat and calories. Choose foods such as kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, collard greens, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn, soybeans, eggplant and dark green lettuces. Your brain will benefit from eating fruits with high antioxidant levels including prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries.

What other advice would Mom recommend? Eat in moderation. Your body has to work in overdrive to digest a huge meal, so smaller meals eaten more often is a better choice.

Nuts, also in moderation, can be a useful part of your diet. A handful of almonds, pecans and walnuts will all provide a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant.

Drink plenty of fluids (six 8 oz. glasses a day) and make sure that a good portion is water. Limit caffeine and alcohol, although a glass of red wine daily (check with your doctor) can actually be helpful, due to the resveratrol found in dark red wines. Green tea is an excellent substitute for coffee.

The goal with good nutrition is to have a healthier body and mind. Your brain will benefit from a well-balanced diet and improved food choices. When in doubt, choose fresh options, read the labels and consult with your physician or a nutritionist.

Lorne S. Label, MD, MBA, FAAN, is the founder and director of the Brain Longevity Center in Thousand Oaks, California. A board-certified neurologist, Dr. Label is trained in both traditional Western and Eastern medicines and he incorporates integrative techniques into his practice. Dr. Label writes and speaks on the subject of brain health and how to keep the mind active, sharp and agile as one grows older. For more information, visit www.brainlc.com or call 805-497-7274 or toll free at 888-3BRAIN3.

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