Brain food – REALLY

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My Herb professor at my chinese medical school used to say – look at the fruit, leaf, seed or think about what it does in nature to know what to use it for.  And this strategy holds true when discovering  foods that support brain function.  Another trick – think deep red, purple and deep blue – these colors support blood, and good blood flow supports brain function.

So here are my top ten:

Walnuts, look like little brains and it turns out they contain  ala- alpha-linolenic acid, and important anti-oxidants:  “Walnuts are a nutrient dense food that contain numerous potentially neuroprotective compounds including antioxidants, polyphenols and the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. These components may all work together to promote brain health,” says lead researcher Dr. Peter PribisPR Newswire (http://s.tt/1sbDU).  This study corroborates a previous study,  Willis L, Shukitt-Hale B,Cheng V, Joseph J. Dose-dependent effects of walnuts on motor and cognitive function in aged rats. Br J Nutr. 2009; 101:1140-1164, (British Journal of Nutrition, 2009) that indicates about an ounce of walnuts a day can have anti-aging effects, protect against oxidative stress, Pribis. PR Newswire (http://s.tt/1sbDU).

Pecans, also have a corrugated  brain look, and it turns out they are super food for your brain with high in omega-3 and also promote neurological protection through vitamin E and 19 other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and several B vitamins that are key in supporting brain health.  And they are super rich in antioxidants.  http://organicjar.com/2010/2567/

Cacao beans when opened have the same visual quality of the walnut and pecan.  It turns out that chocolate high in cacao has as much antioxidant effect as red wine and green tea, raw cacao.  Studies have shown that the naturally occurring flavonols in cacao can increase blood flow and help to promote brain health and have protective effects on cognitive function, medical news.

Coffee Beans, they look like little smooth brains.  Turns out coffee is great for brain function.  Unprocessed coffee beans have been found to have 1000 antioxidants, 100s more are developed though in the roasting process, onemedical.com.  And studies indicate it can defer cognitive decline and curb depression – both brain functions.  See also, Protective effects of coffee, Life extension 2012.

Eggs  because of  just the ‘right kind’ of cholesterol for brain cellular function- it incorporates into the myelin sheath, which is a protective covering for your nerve cells. As part of the myelin sheath, cholesterol plays a role in helping your brain cells communicate effectively.

  • Choline is another great reason to eat eggs. Choline is a fat critical to maintain brain cell structure and incorporates, like cholesterol, into the myelin sheath.  It’s also used to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter.
  • Acetylcholine plays a role in concentration, focus, learning, and memory.  As a matter of fact, age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s are often characterized by low levels of acetylcholine.

Kidney beans, dark red and lobe-like, the image will make you think of the kidney but a well-functioning brain requires lots of kidney power according to Chinese medicine so these guys are a go to food for brain health.  Turns out they have highly positive effects on the brain through choline, acetylcholine, and “good” fat and glucose to power the brain.

White Beans help brain-cell communication.  They’re a great source of phosphatidylserine, a brain-building nutrient.

  • Phosphatidylserine supports cell to cell communication, which is important for your brain cells. And, like acetylcholine, it’s also important for concentration, learning, and memory.
  • In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers gave 300 mg of phosphatidylserine daily to people experiencing cognitive decline. After a period of several months, the treatment group showed significant improvements in learning and memory.(Aging (Milano). 1993 Apr;5(2):123-33).

Here is one you may not have heard about Goji Berries – also known as wolfberries.  I learned about these in Chinese medical school – these dark red berries are perfect for brain health and are loaded with antioxidants.

  • Studies show that goji berries help support cognitive function in animals and protect brain cells against amyloid plaque,5 a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16139464)
  • Goji berries have also been shown to protect brain tissue from low oxygen states and strengthen the blood-brain barrier — a specialized membrane protecting the brain from dangerous toxins.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22438957)
  • Goji berries are also worthwhile in treating prenatal stress: ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20131093).

Of course beautiful blueberries have loads of antioxidants and are powerful brain food.

Here’s one that doesn’t fit the map:  avocados – they are dark green – but don’t let that fool you – Avocados are fantastic for brain health.  The monounsaturated fat in avocados contribute to healthy blood flow.  Healthy blood flow increases brain health.  Avocados also lower blood pressure.  Hypertension can be a risk factor for decline in cognitive abilities so lowering blood pressure can increase brain health.

The final brain food to consider is cauliflower.  Cauliflower looks like a brain and it is high in Choline like white beans and eggs.  Also high in potassium, which is essential for good nerve function and cognitive function, and phosphorous, and vitamin B 6 which is a building block for a range of neurotransmitterscauliflower brain food, livestrong.

So think about using your visual sense to discern what foods might be great for your brain by looking for the brain image in the food.

You can use this technique to support other organs in your body through the powerful medicine of food.

See you next time, dr beth gineris, www.bethgineris.com and dr ron romanik.

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