Brain Foods Part 2

Last week I wrote a bit about keeping your brain “thinking smartly,”by eating the right brain foods. To briefly review here, because your brain is mostly water, keeping it well-hydrated is the first step to keeping it healthy. Next, eliminate processed “foods” from your diet. That led to the rule: if you can’t recognize it … don’t eat it! Finally, we talked about the notion of eating many “colors” during your day in order to take in all the necessary nutrients, and about “good fats” vs “bad fats.”

Today, I wanted to continue on that journey, and get more specific about some of our goals. Specifically, we’ll consider “free radicals,” and how to get rid of them (they’re bad). We will also briefly talk about a couple vitamins, and some good fats that you are probably deficient in. Especially if you or your little ones have respiratory ailments like asthma, rhinitis, or sinusitis. So, don’t reach for another “stupid-bar” for a snack. Reach for one of these brain foods instead. So this article is about the brain, and nutrition, and how to keep your brain healthy and smart.

Ever hear the term “free radicals”? Although for us baby-boomers, this may bring back images of campus demonstrations from the 60’s, free radicals is a term from chemistry. Without going into the chemical details, think of free radicals as unstable molecules that are produced in our bodies as the by-product of natural processes. Unfortunately, they can be dangerous as they circulate through our bodies (and brains). Unless free radicals are “scavenged” by another molecule, they can damage normal cells. We now believe that free radicals cause the damage that we see as aging, including decline in cognition and memory.

Brain Foods

Image: Brain Foods

Free Radical Scavengers

So: what “scavenges” the free radicals?

Answer: “free radical scavengers,” also known as antioxidants. Various vitamins are potent antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E.

Nutrients that are present in fruits and vegetables are also great antioxidants. These include:

  • Blueberries, raspberries, backberries, strawberries
  • Red grapes (also a good source of quercetin)
  • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale
  • Garlic
  • Spices and herbs, too: cumin, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, oregano, basil, thyme
  • Green, White, and Black tea also

Is this stuff real? Or are these just claims to sell me more vitamins?

Well, plenty of recent clinical trials have demonstrated that higher antioxidant levels help to:

  • speed recovery from, and reduce the injury from strokes
  • improve memory in the elderly
  • improve overall cognitive function

In other words, crank up your antioxidants for a healthier, smarter brain – now and well into old age!


Healthier Fats

Not all fats are bad. For example, it has been suggested that breast-fed infants have higher IQ. Further investigation suggested that the main difference between infant formula and breast milk is the presence of various long chain fatty acids in breast milk. There have been several studies trying to answer this question over the past twenty years or so. Unfortunately, some results support this theory; some, not so much. Regardless, infant formulas are now available that are supplemented with long-chain fatty acids. My recommendation? Nurse your infant if at all possible! There are many well-proven benefits from breast-feeding (such as reduced allergies, asthma, and ear infections).

The facts: Omega-3 fats are known to be the basis for making various parts of our brains – the sheath that surrounds our neurons, for example. Omega-3 fats – such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) – help keep our brains healthy. Where to get them? The least expensive place is fish oil. It is important to take only high-quality, mercury-free fish oil supplements, however. Additional studies suggest that DHA, ARA, and other omega-3 fats help stabilize mood, promote alertness, and prevent depression. All good goals, yes?

Here are some great links regarding Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Shelley Meyer, DO, MS, RD; from “Ask the Expert” series on blog

Omega 3 For Toddlers: Victorial Shanta Retelney, RF, LDN; from “Ask the Expert” series on blog

Vitamin Sunshine

Studies on Vitamin D have shown that it can protect against dementia, various autoimmune disorders, some cancers, and asthma, among other illnesses. But: I can virtually guarantee that you and your little ones are not getting enough vitamin D. That is, you are most likely vitamin d Deficient!

Where do we get Vitamin D?

When we were all working on farms, starting at a very young age, we all produced our own vitamin D from our skin being exposed to sunlight. Sadly, now that we are a sedentary species, hooked on TV, computer video games, and the majority of us work indoors, this is no longer true. Even my buddy who practices in San Diego, California – and who goes surfing nearly every day – discovered that he is vitamin D deficient! Chances are, you need more vitamin D, too!

Just don’t get your vitamin D from farmed salmon:

So, next time you or your child grabs for a stupid-bar or stupid-chip for a snack, use your brain and think about reaching for one of these brain foods instead!

Image credit: in public domain, from wikimedia:


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

Russell Faust, PhD, MD boogordoctor

Dr. Faust and friend

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The relation between antioxidants and memory performance in the old and very old. Perrig et al. 1997. J American Geriatrics Society. 45: 718-724.

Association of antioxidants with memory in multiethnic elderly sample using the third national health and nutrition examination survey. Perkins et al. 1999. Amer J Epidemiology 150: 37-44. (Full-text pdf here)

Antioxidants and cognitive function. Meydani. 2009. Nutrition Rev 59: S75-S82.

Neuroprotective effect of antioxidants on ischaemia and reperfusion-induced cerebral injury. Gupta et al. 2003. Pharmacol Res 48: 209-215.

The role of essential fatty acids in development. Heird, Lapillonne. 2005. Ann Ren Nutrition 25: 549-571.

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