Dear Wellness Seeker,
When you fill-up your car’s gas tank, do you ever stop to think about what type of gas you are purchasing? Probably not. If you are a responsible car owner, you likely know which type of gasoline is appropriate for your car…and you do not deviate.
If gasoline is the essential fuel that drives the car, how is food any different when it comes to our bodies and health? We select our food, we pay for it, and we see for ourselves manifestly if the selection was a smart choice that left us with more energy or more tired and sluggish than before.
Much of the current commentary on nutrition has been geared towards reducing the overwhelming prevalence of diseases of the modern age. It makes sense as the greatest global mortality comes from these “preventable” conditions that can be significantly improved with lifestyle modifications like dietary change and physical activity. However, we should also pay attention to how our food choices affect the brain, the most remarkable “engine” ever created.
As we are bombarded by new dietary regulations and suggestions for various optimal diets, it is much easier to think of the proper nutritional food to optimize mental function and clarity in terms of three categories.
1. Vitamins: These are the building blocks required for the body to run each metabolic process and function at its optimal level. There are 13 vitamins that we require and must obtain from food and a deficiency in any vitamin can lead to a variety of health problems. Think of green, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli) to provide a healthy dose of vitamin K (which is important in forming the fatty barriers constructing brain cells), nuts like walnuts and almonds for providing vitamin E (the defence mechanism against free radical damage against cells), oranges, kiwis, strawberries, and tomatoes for vitamin C (protecting against mental decline), and eggs for vitamin B6 and B12 (vital nutrients to protect against mental decline, memory loss, and depression).
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Don’t be scared off by these fats! These are healthy unsaturated fats which compose brain and nerve cells (very different from the saturated fats lead to heart disease) that have been associated with a reduction of beta-amyloid (the tangles of protein in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease) as well as protecting against learning impairments and depression. If you like fish, the best types of fish with omega-3 fatty acids but are low in mercury include salmon, cod, tuna, anchovies, and sardines. If you prefer alternatives to having fish twice a week, try some flaxseeds, or avocadoes or use extra virgin olive oil in your cooking.
3. Antioxidants. These are the compounds that fight against free radical damage caused by a chemical reaction called oxidation. Free radicals damage the cell membranes (the protective barrier of the cell), thereby inhibiting the function of the cells and promoting disease and infection. There are many types of antioxidants and various ways to include them in your diet. Grab a handful of berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries) or a square of dark chocolate for their flavonoids to prevent memory decline. Add some turmeric or curry powder into your recipes to boost memory, help new brain cells grow, and ease depression.
By eating appropriate portions of a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods, you can be sure that you will receive the right vitamins, fatty acids, and antioxidants for optimal brain health. You do not need to stress about exact quantities or chemical names…. Just try to implement a few of these suggestions into your diet and see if you feel the difference in mental clarity, concentration, and memory. With a little bit of education on healthy food choices, you can be sure to always pick the right fuel for your engine and get ready to perform!
To Your Best Health,
Shirin Karimi Hund, M.D. – internal medicine