Brain Foods Part 1

Whether you’re 10 or 100, there are some simple steps you can take to keep thinking clearly. This is Part 1 in a couple articles that will provide the details for eating and drinking smartly in order to keep thinking smartly: brain foods.


[pullquote]Given that your brain is about 80% water, the first rule of brain nutrition is adequate water to hydrate your brain.[/pullquote]

When we think of ways to keep our brains healthy, we most often think of things to eat. But proper hydration is really the first key. According to Daniel Amen, MD, clinical neuroscientist and author of Use Your Brain to Change Your Age (and more than 25 other great books!), “Given that your brain is about 80% water, the first rule of brain nutrition is adequate water to hydrate your brain.”

Dr. Amen points out that “Even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones which can damage your brain over time.” And just as importantly, “It is best to have your liquids unpolluted with artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol.” He says that “Green tea is good for brain function as it contains chemicals that enhance mental relaxation and alertness.”

Keep in mind that drinking only when you are thirsty may not be the best guide. That’s because by the time you actually “feel thirsty,” your body is already slightly dehydrated. Therefore, the best way to keep hydrated is to make it a habit. Don’t worry about drinking “too much.” Assuming that you have normal kidneys, you will simply eliminate the excess liquid as urine.

Here is a great article on how to replace those sugary drinks with water, by Jane Schwartz Harrison, Registered Dietitian.

For children (and adults), the solution is to keep water with you. But do NOT drink plastic-bottled water! Instead, carry your filtered tap-water in an oh-so-cool stainless bottle. I carry a leak-proof bottle by Contigo that can be operated with one hand (affiliate link).

Dump the Junk Food

By “junk food,” I mean any processed food.

The Problem With Processed Foods?

Processed foods contain a huge amount of added simple sugars. The results are all bad: elevated insulin levels inhibit the immune system. This increases our susceptibility to various chronic infections and diseases. Elevated insulin levels cause deposition of body fat, contributing to our epidemic of obesity.


[pullquote]If your don’t recognize it … don’t eat it![/pullquote]

Sugars in our diet should be consumed as complex carbohydrates. Get these from berries, citrus fruits, cherries, peaches and plums, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, whole grains (oats, wheat), peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and beans.

Brain Foods

eating Georgia peach

Good general rule: if you don’t recognize it (doesn’t look like a vegetable, or fruit, or nuts, or fish, etc.) don’t eat it. Our modern diets contain way too many processed items that are unrecognizable.

Another general rule: mix your colors. Eat as many different colors as possible during your day.

Again, per Dr. Amen: “Strive to eat red things (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, red peppers, tomatoes), yellow things (squash, yellow peppers, small portions of bananas and peaches), blue things (blueberries), purple things (plums), orang things (oranges, tangerines, yams), green things (peas, spinach, broccoli), etc.” This habit will provide the best balance of nutrients possible.

Another problem with processed foods is their high level of unhealthy fats. Yes, our brains need healthy fats to function, bad fats have been linked to a variety of mood disorders. Bad fats can interfere with the metabolism of fatty acids in brain-cell membranes. This can interfere with normal neurotransmitter function. The result? Alterations in mood, concentration, and memory.

The solution is to get your fats from healthy sources: fish, nuts, avocados, coconut, and olive oil. Here is a great article on healthy fats from Registered Dietitian, Amy Braglia.

When thinking about a healthy diet, think along the lines of the Mediterranean diet, with complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of olive oil and fish. Our kids love a snack of a rustic Tuscan ciabatta bread, dipped in olive oil spiced with some fresh basil or thyme. Take a look at Dr. Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Body Cookbook on boogordoctor’s Amazon Store.

Also consider buying organic foods. Yes, they are more expensive. The solution? Buy as organics just those foods that would otherwise have the highest levels of pesticides and other toxins. Here is the list of foods to buy organic.


image credit: Wikicommons, eating Georgia peach, used under Creative Commons License:

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Hi, I’m Russell Faust, author of this medical education blog.

Russell Faust, PhD, MD boogordoctor

Dr. Faust and friend

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