10 Tasty Brain Foods to Enjoy Now

Delicious brain foods to give you energy, help you learn, think and move.

By Philippa Norman MD, MPH

1. Quick! Think Avocado!


avocado.jpgAvocados are smooth and creamy because of their fat content. They are rich in a fatty acid called oleic acid, which helps to build the coating of insulation, known as myelin (found in white matter of the brain.) Myelin helps information travel at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Neurons without myelin (gray matter) process information at slower speeds.

We can make some oleic acid on our own if we have other good fats in our diet, but avocados are a tasty way to include it in our diet.


Oleic acid makes up over a third of the fat in myelin. Thus, avocados (and other sources like olives, almonds and pecans) are helpful for speedy messaging within your brain.  


2. You Don’t Have to Wine So Much! Just Eat Purple Grapes





grapes_purple.jpgPurple grapes contain the phytonutrient resveratol, known for its helpful effects on cirulation. While resveratol is concentrated in red wine, you can still get plenty by munching purple grapes. Grapes help prevent circulatory problems that contribute to dementia by decreasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients.  The benefits? Grapes help keep blood vessels healthy by preventing blockages - they raise good cholesterol (HDL)and lower bad cholesterol (LDL).


3. Eat the Whole Thing: Brown Rice


brown_rice.jpgB-vitamins in B-rown rice! That's the secret to this high-energy grain. B-vitamins like riboflavin help produce energy for brain cells by revving up mitochondria. Brown rice contains other important B-vitamins too - like niacin, thiamin, and inositol for optimal brain health.

White rice lacks the complete array of B-vitamins because the nutritious hull has been polished off and replaced with just a few of the B-vitamins replaced during processing. To get energizing B-vitamins, include brown rice and other whole grains in your diet.



4. Learning With Lentils


lentils.jpgThese tiny flying-saucer shaped beans provide iron, a mineral important for learning. Iron helps form myelin - necessary for quick information processing in the wrinkled outer layer of the brain called the cortex. Iron also helps form healthy red blood cells that deliver oxygen to the brain. Lastly, iron is used to form dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is a key player in learning, mood and behavior.


5. Eggs: Don't Skip Over Easy Source of Good Fat


eggs.jpgCholesterol - is it a bad fat or a good fat? Without a doubt, cholesterol is "good" for brain health. Cholesterol supports the membranes of neurons, helping them to keep their shape. cholesterol also is a building block for hormones that influence brain function. Eggs also contain DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that helps to form connections between neurons.

Problems with cholesterol often arise because of an unhealthy diet too high in saturated fat and too low in plant foods. An excess of bad cholesterol is formed, and oxidation of this cholesterol leads to plaque and blockage of arteries.

What if you don't eat eggs? You do not need to eat eggs to get cholesterol, since your body makes it. You can get DHA from dark leafy greens and blue-green algae.

Otherwise, you can enjoy a few eggs a week for an easy source of good fat.


6. Flax to the Max


Flax.jpgFlax seeds are rich in brain-healthy fats. Fatty acids are known by their "families" in which different forms of fatty acids may be changed or converted. Flax seeds contain ALA of the omega 3 family. It is used to form EPA and DHA, 2 other omega-3 fatty acids that are directly used by the brain to build and protect neurons.

Flax seeds also contain GLA, a fatty acid from the omega-6 family. It can help form another omega-6 fatty acid called AA. Omega-6 fats are used to build healthy neurons and also to regulate the environment of the brain.

You can sprinkle ground flax seed on cereal or mix in a smoothie. You can soak the seeds and add them to salad dressings.

To boost your brain to the max, have a tablespoon or two of flax seeds every day.


7. Open Sesame!


sesame_seeds.jpgOpen a jar of raw sesame butter (tahini) for a healthy brain treat. Sesame seeds contain zinc, a mineral important in learning, memory and brain development. Zinc is also part of the brain's defense system, because it promotes immune health and drives enzymes that keep a healthy balance of trace metals in the brain.

For a tasty source of zinc, enjoy hummus or other dishes containing tahini or sesame seeds.


 8. Simply D-Lightful


OK, its sunshine I'm talking about, not an actual food! But our brain needs vitamin D, and our body makes it from sunshine. Currently there is a widespread deficiency of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system and within the brain, helps to produce neurotransmitters that affect our mood.

Whenever possible, let your skin soak up some sunshine. If you live in an area with long winters, consider a full-spectrum lamp to get more light.


9. Got a Sweet Tooth? Have a Sweet Potato.

sweet potatoSweet potatoes are loaded with carotenoids, giving them a rich orange color. Carotenoids are important for the brain because they act as antioxidants, protecting cells from damage. Carotenoids also help form vitamin A, which is important in helping to sprout new neurons and to help neurons find each other to form new connections.

You can roast sweet potatoes in their skins and sprinkle with a little cinnamon. Despite their sweet taste, sweet potatoes are less sugary than white potatoes. The rate at which a food is converted to sugar is called the glycemic index. For optimal brain and body health, eat more foods with a lower glycemic index, like sweet potatoes.


10. Had Any Spinach Folately?


spinachA handful of spinach can do wonders for your brain. Spinach is a great source of folate, a B-vitamin that helps the brain in many ways. Folate helps maintain healthy brain circulation by preventing the buildup of plaque. Folate, also called methyl, helps to form neurotransmitters needed for all thinking and learning.  In addition, folate helps protect DNA in neurons from damage. Lastly, folate helps the liver to detoxify substances in the body to keep the brain healthy.

Try spinach raw or lightly sauteed with olive oil and fresh garlic, or freshly juiced.


Enjoy brainfood today!

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