However, many people do not necessarily make the connection between brain health/function and the foods we eat. How many of you sometimes experience the following, and perhaps chalk it up to "just getting old," "being forgetful," etc....
- Minor memory loss, for example, walking into a room and having no idea what you came for
- "Brain fog," feeling like sentences and thoughts just aren't coming together smoothly, feeling in a sort of daze/fog. Maybe it makes you want to drink coffee or soda to get a boost of energy and clarity.
- Depression, anxiety, mood/behavior issues/disorders
- Anger, irritability, focus on negative thoughts/behavior
- Inability to concentrate and/or very shortened attention span
- Low libido
The good news is, many (if not all) of these things can be improved, relieved, or prevented by eating a nutrient dense diet!!! Quickly, lets take a look at why certain foods affect our brain function and which are the culprits.
Brain Anatomy 101:
This is going to be a very short summary of basic brain function, but a great resource to learn more is Dr. Daniel Amen's book, Making a Good Brain Great. The brain is a soft organ weighing about 3 lbs, protected by the skull and tissue membranes called meninges. Our brain is involved in everything we do each day, and functions by providing communication between neurons in the brain with cells in other parts of the body via neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that relay various commands and messages to different parts of the body. The protective myelin sheath of our cells is responsible for making sure these messages are efficiently related, and bodily function can occur. Aside from diet (which we'll get to momentarily), this process can be disturbed by trauma (major or minor, bumping your head, following off your bike, concussions from sports, etc), and also exposure to chemicals such as household cleaning products, aspartame and MSG (excitotoxins that overstimulate parts of our brain).
Why Foods Can Hurt Our Brain and Which to AVOID:
When we have weak cell membranes and mitochondria (the make-up of our cells which converts food to energy, without them our cells cannot function), poor nutrient and anti-oxidant levels through lack of good food, thick blood, poor vascular integrity, unregulated blood sugar, hormone imbalances, high stress and poor adrenal function, our brain pathways and functions are compromised (Dixie Raile, Protecting Brain Function).
Here are a list of foods to avoid for brain health:
- Trans-fats (anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated like fake butter products)
- Vegetable oils like canola, safflower, corn, sunflower, soy
- Refined sugar and flour (commercial baked goods, breads, pasta)
- Soda and diet soda
- Aspartame and MSG
- Commercially raised meats
- Non organic fruits and veggies (pesticides/herbicides)
- Avoid as many chemicals in your daily life as possible, including household and cosmetic products
Here are a list of foods to include for brain health:
- Lots of healthy fats! Our brain is largely comprised of fat (approximately 60%) and needs good sources of dietary fat to function. This includes abundant Omega 3 fatty acids from wild caught fish such as salmon, halibut, and sardines. Other important fats are those found in coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter and ghee, avocados and raw nuts/seeds.
- B Vitamins found in nutritional yeast, grass fed meats, organ meats, raw nuts/seeds, avocados, organic eggs.
- Magnesium rich foods (essential for stress and relaxation) such as dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds.
- Include a large variety of fresh, organic fruits (especially berries) and vegetables (strive for a minimum of 5 cups/day), think "all colors of the rainbow," particularly dark, bright colors which are rich in anti-oxidants.
- Make sure you are getting enough quality protein (ideally from grass fed meats, organic poultry, organic eggs, raw nuts and seeds). Think of 20-30% of your daily calories coming from these sources.
Between eating a diet rich in these foods and staying as active as possible, we can help to make sure our brain is functioning at its' best, and therefore live our lives to the fullest! Don't let bad food slow you down!