Eating for a Healthy Brain


Colorful Antioxidants!

Ok; I’m going to confess right off that I am not entirely confident writing this post.  My eating could use some upgrading, indeed.  However, because I can honestly say that I am trying, and because the subject of brain health wouldn’t be complete without addressing how what we eat affects our brain, I must write.

We all have heard, “you are what you eat.”  Garbage in, garbage out.  If our eating consists of fast food, junk food, lots of fat and sugar, we can pretty much count on “garbage” showing up in our bodies, eyes, skin and most importantly (because it is the control center for the whole body) in the brain. 

Unless you live in a vacuum, you’ve heard of “free radicals” and “antioxidants.”  If you’re like me, you know that free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good.  Until recently, that was the extent of my knowledge.  Let me share with you a few more details. This may help you upgrade your food choices.

Oxygen sparks the formation of free radicals.  Because the brain is uses so much oxygen, it is a prime target for these nasty little critters.  When they have done their mischief, the fat in the brain literally becomes rancid, like spoiled meat (that ought to provoke you to eating better!).  Not surprisingly, if this kind of oxidative damage continues, it will accelerate cognitive dysfunction and possibly Alzheimer’s.

That’s where the ‘good guy’ antioxidants come in.  They’re like little soldiers that zip around the brain, cleaning up the free radicals.  Antioxidants are like the brain’s defense system.  And where do these soldiers come from?  From specific foods, mostly fruits and vegetables–the very colorful ones.  Some of the the best antioxidants are prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries and kiwis.  One Harvard study found particular cognitive-function-preserving antioxidant power in green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts).

If you’re thinking, it’s too late, that you’ve eaten too poorly for most of your life and it wouldn’t do you any good to change now, then you should be excited to learn that tests at Tufts University noted that blood antioxidant capacity surged after test subjects ate 10 ounces of fresh spinach or 8 ounces of strawberries.  In other words, the effect was immediate.

In another study among a group of older people, eating three servings of vegetables a day slowed the rate of memory decline by 40%, compared to those who ate less than one serving of veggies a day.

The best diet is one high in nutrients, low in calories (calorie restriction is associated with longevity), high in omega-3 fatty acids (fish, fish oil, walnuts, avocados), and antioxidants (fruits and vegetables). If you follow these eating guidelines, you can lower your risk for Alzheimer’s by 50%!  And remember, Alzheimer’s is not just a concern of the old. It manifests in the old, but it actually starts changing the brain 30 years before the first symptoms are noted.  Thirty years!  Young adults in their 20s and 30s should take heed.

Eating for optimal health is not the easiest thing to do.  My friend, LynnDee, whose 30-day challenge is to not eat fast food, commented, “This30-day challenge is making me more aware of having self-control when it comes to eating. I do not just stop and grab something whenever I ‘feel’ hungry, but I am taking the time to evaluate if I am really, really hungry or if I need to drink more water or just wait until I get home. Now, I am not always making all of my meals at home, but I will actually stop at the grocery store instead of a drive-through, which allows me to make healthier choices and plan ahead more.  Also, with fast food, I have noticed that I tend to overeat, and that does not happen very often when I eat elsewhere.”

Another friend, Jessica, started preparing many of her meals—including chopping up lots of veggies—on Saturdays so she wouldn’t be tempted to take the easy route (aka, drive-through) after a long day at work.

For some reason, I used to think of healthy cooking as a lot of work.  Actually, the opposite is true.  Healthy cooking is simple.  I pan broil most of my meat, I steam or roast my veggies.  The most complicated part of healthy cooking is chopping and/or slicing the vegetables.  Other than that, a simple, healthy meal can be on the table in minutes.

I really would like to hear of any helpful hints you might have for eating healthy or cooking healthy.  Leave me a comment.  And by the way, how is your 30-day challenge coming along?

Photo compliments of computix via Compfight

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4 Responses to Eating for a Healthy Brain

  1. Cindy Lofton says:

    I hope you don’t mind me commenting so much, Diane! But I just really enjoy your blog and can’t help myself. One thing I’ve discovered recently is looking for the ‘almost-over-ripe-fruit’ section in our grocery store where they have big bags of bananas for less than $2. (today I even got a bag of 4-5 mangoes for .99! Mangoes make me really happy) Then I’ll peel them, cut them into thirds, flash freeze them, and then put them in freezer bags, so they’re ready to go for any smoothie at any time. Plus something about using frozen bananas makes the consistency of the smoothie 10x’s better, too. Our family are big smoothie drinkers, so being able to have a good stock of frozen fruit to use makes it easier & simpler to just throw it in the blender with whatever else you fancy and voila! Smoothies can easily be a meal or great snack if you put the right stuff in them. The only part I don’t like is having to clean my blender so often!

    • Diane says:

      I LOVE your comments, Cindy! So please keep it up!
      Funny that you mention smoothies. I am in Zambia right now, and as always when I travel, I brought along a lot of magazines to read while in flight. One of the Prevention issues had recipes for several smoothies. I marked them to save. One of the things that I read about the over-ripe fruit is that they are actually BETTER for smoothies. So your bargain bags are just the thing! This is a great tip.

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