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7 Nutrition Tips for Increasing Brain Power

Healthier, Longer Living and Your Food Choices

By Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Updated April 28, 2014

Here is the seven step plan to get your diet under control and to use food as brain medicine.

  1. Increase Water Intake - Given that your brain is about 80 percent water, the first rule of brain nutrition is adequate water to hydrate your brain. Even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones which can damage your brain over time. Drink at least 84 ounces of water a day. It is best to have your liquids unpolluted with artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol. You can use herbal, non-caffeinated tea bags, such as raspberry or strawberry flavored, and make unsweetened iced tea. Green tea is also good for brain function as it contains chemicals that enhance mental relaxation and alertness.
  2. Calorie Restriction - Substantial research in animals and now in humans indicates that a calorie-restricted diet is helpful for brain and life longevity. Eating less helps you live longer. It controls weight; decreases risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke from obesity - a major risk factor for all of these illnesses; and it triggers certain mechanisms in the body to increase the production of nerve growth factors, which are helpful to the brain. Researchers use the acronym CRON for "calorie restriction with optimal nutrition," so the other part of the story is to make these calories count.
  3. Fish, Fish Oil, Good Fats and Bad Fats - DHA, one form of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain. The fat in your brain forms cell membranes and plays a vital role in how our cells function. Neurons are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is also found in high quantities in the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye. Research in the last few years has revealed that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood in later years, possibly because DHA is a main component of the brain's synapses.
  4. Lots of Dietary Antioxidants - A number of studies have shown that dietary intake of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables significantly reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment. The research was done because it was theorized that free radical formation plays a major role in the deterioration of the brain with age. When a cell converts oxygen into energy, tiny molecules called free radicals are made. When produced in normal amounts, free radicals work to rid the body of harmful toxins, thereby keeping it healthy. When produced in toxic amounts, free radicals damage the body's cellular machinery, resulting in cell death and tissue damage. This process is called oxidative stress. Vitamin E and Vitamin C and beta carotene inhibit the production of free radicals.

    The Best Antioxidant Fruits and Vegetables - from the US Department of Agriculture: Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Strawberries, Spinach, Raspberries, Brussels sprouts, Plums, Broccoli, Beets, Avocados, Oranges, Red grapes, Red bell peppers, Cherries and Kiwis.

  5. Balance Protein, Good Fats and Carbohydrates Given the weight issues in my family, I have read many of the diet programs popular in America. Some I like a lot, others make me a little crazy. The idea of eating protein and fat only, avoiding most grains, fruits and vegetables may be a quick way to lose weight, but it is not a healthy long term way to eat for your body or your brain. The best thing in my mind about the Atkins Diet and its many clones is that they get rid of most of the simple sugars in our diets. Diets high in refined sugars, such as the low fat diets of the past, encourage diabetes, tiredness, and cognitive impairment. Yet, to imply that bacon is a health food and that oranges and carrots are as bad as cake seems silly. The more balanced diets, such as The Zone by Barry Sears, Sugarbusters by H. Leighton Steward and a group of Louisiana based physicians, the South Beach Diet by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, and Powerful Foods for Powerful Minds and Bodies by Rene Thomas make sense from a body and brain perspective. The main principles to take away from these programs is that balance is essential, especially balancing proteins, good fats, and good carbohydrates. Having protein at each meal helps to balance blood sugar levels; adding lean meat, eggs, cheese, soy, or nuts to a snack or meal limits the fast absorption of carbohydrates and prevents the brain fog that goes with eating simple carbohydrates, such as donuts. At each meal or snack, try to get a balance of protein, high fiber carbohydrates, and fat.
  6. Next: Pick Your Top 24 Healthy Foods…

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