A Diet to Boost Your Brain's Performance
Our culture obsesses over self-image and appearance, and people are always trying to find the next miracle diet to make them thin, buff, and beautiful. However, tailoring a diet to ensure the fitness and optimal function of the most important organ, the brain, is just as important. The search for the perfect brain diet has yielded many different results, and now the Nerve Blog will give you the aggregated, ultimate, and effective diet for your brain.
Before providing specific foods that fit with the diet, I’ll overview what your brain needs. The first step to take is calorie reduction. While this is present in most other diets, it is particularly important in optimizing brain function. Establishing the foundation of health that is achieved through caloric reduction is necessary to prevent degenerative disorders in the brain and to generally remain healthy longer. In a 20 year study on the effects of caloric reduction in rhesus monkeys at the Wisconsin National Primate Center that compared a group following a normal diet with a group on a diet of restricted calories, a 30% higher survival rate was achieved by the latter group, and that same group experienced much lower rate of occurrence of many diseases, including brain atrophy. In his book “Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance,” Dr. Richard Restak advises avoiding foods high in calories and especially those containing processed fats. This ties into one of his main pieces of advice for people dieting for mental well being, that “what’s good for the brain is good for the heart.” This is because circulatory system health is crucial in maintaining efficient brain function, because clogged arteries and reduced blood flow to the brain can lead quickly to cognitive impairment. Also, the importance of the benefits of both omega-3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants is emphasized in both Restak’s book as well as several studies published in Nature in 2008. The studies, conducted by both Norman Salem Jr. and Jean Marie Bourre, found that omega-3 fatty acids normally facilitate healthy brain function as components of cell membranes, as well as demonstrating that a deficiency of them in human diets caused an “increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.” The synaptic plasticity, or the ability of neurons to form new connections with other neurons, of brains on diets rich in omega-3’s was also higher. The same article also revealed findings from a study that showed higher verbal test scores in groups with diets richer in omega-3 fatty acids when compared to a control group with a normal diet. Now that we have examined the basis of healthy brain function, we can identify specific dietary sources of these nutrients and explain how to incorporate them into our diet in the following guidelines:
1. Avoid high-calorie foods and foods with “empty calories” (especially foods high in processed fats). Try to incorporate leafy and green vegetables. Eat chicken rather than red meat whenever possible (although fish is the best protein).
2. Get plenty of antioxidants: Free radicals in the body seek to gain electrons from oxidizing agents in the body, which often come from cell components. This can cause damage to the cells and increase the speed of aging. This can have detrimental effects on the brain, but the consumption of antioxidants does a lot to slow this process. Foods high in antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables, should be eaten at about every meal. Good sources of antioxidants (and some often recommended brain foods) are blueberries and acai berries, as well as all fruits and vegetables.
3. Regularly incorporate omega-3 fatty acids: Do this by eating fish at least three times a week. Wild salmon is considered one of the best brain foods because it is high in essential fatty acids and low in calories and saturated fat. Also, acai berries are rich in omega-3’s and low in calories (and, as we have seen, are rich in antioxidants), making them great food for your brain.
4. Balance this out with regular exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle: your brain’s health will benefit greatly from the rest of your body’s fitness, and vice-versa.
Yes, I have been on this diet for about two months. I sometimes have lapses and enjoy a burger, but I have pretty consistently followed these guidelines. While I don’t know if my IQ score is any higher and I didn’t magically start learning things faster (it has only been two months…), I already feel healthier overall and hopefully the benefits continue to show.
Caloric Restriction in Monkeys-Science Magazine