Brain Food

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The human brain is a complex mixture packed with tiny, fragile cells easily damaged by free radicals, too much alcohol, raging blood sugar and cloying cholesterol. These very same things make your cardiovascular system run poorly. Unlike the body, however, the brain does not recover as rapidly from slights, injuries, abuse or neglect as other body parts such as your heart. When a nerve cell dies, it remains dead.

You can save your brain before it is too late. You do so by "feeding your head". Sounds rather funny, but it is fascinating how food affects your brain.

Your brain and your heart have a lot in common. If your arteries clog-up with cholesterol, and oxygen cannot get to your brain, your thinking process suffers which in turn increases your chances of memory loss.

Dash Diet Pyramid If heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes become out of control, you could damage blood vessels in your brain. This will set you up for dementia, which goes hand in hand with Alzheimer's disease. To sum this up, what hurts your heart hurts your brain as well.

People with a clustering of risk factors at middle age are encouraged to modify them by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Evidence now shows that doing so will help control both cardiovascular disease and diabetes, preserving the power of your brain as a bonus.

The DASH Diet

A good way to achieve disease control and lose weight is The DASH Diet. "DASH" stands for, "Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension". Combined with regular exercise, you will not only be heart smart, you will be "head smart" as well!

The DASH diet is a daily low fat combination of the following:

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  • 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • 2 or 3 low fat dairy products
  • About 6 ounces of less of protein from meat or fish
  • A small portion of nuts
  • 7 or 8 servings of whole grain foods

This diet has proven successful in lowering blood pressure as effectively as medication. Results show is as little as two weeks in people with moderately high blood pressure. Geared to people eating a diet of 2,000 calories a day, you can modify the diet if you wish to lose weight. Simply reduce the calorie content by two or three hundred calories a day. (Note that to lower your disease risks, you need to lose just ten-percent of your body weight).

In addition, this diet contains a variety of heart and brain-protective nutrients, including antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins C and D.

While resting, your brain is using up approximately 20-percent of your total body supply of oxygen. Processing that oxygen comes with a high price tag: One of its by-products is those free radicals that can damage and prematurely age delicate cells, including your neurons. Neurons are the specialized cells that carry messages to your brain. A few antioxidant rich foods are blueberries, strawberries and cooked spinach. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant as well. Vitamin E may protect against dementia. The recommended daily dose of vitamin E is 400 IU. Even doctors who are not fond of supplements as nutrients state vitamin E to be beneficial as a daily supplement to your diet.

Other vitamins play an important role in the health of our brains. A daily recommendation of Vitamin C, about 100 to 500mg is beneficial to the brain as well. In addition, B12 appears to protect your neurons. B12, in its natural form, is in animal products.

Over 50? Those past the age of 50 benefit from a B12 supplement. Once past this age, the body loses its ability to absorb natural B12. An excellent source of B12 is fortified cereal. Also recommended: B-12 Microlozenges. Folate aids in short-term memory loss, dementia and acts as an anti-depressant. Fruits and vegetables are rich in this nutrient.

Fish: Truly a Brain Food

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish might protect you from depression, which could keep the memory center of your brain from shrinking -- literally. About half of those with major depression release large amounts of glucocorticoids into their blood stream. These are the same steroids released by prolonged stress. The longer the depression, the more severe the shrinkage. The rate of depression in the U.S. has increased 100-fold in the past century. This increase coincides with Americans deserting omega-3 fatty acids in favor of omega 6 fatty acids, the kind found in soybean and corn oil. This is the major oil in processed and junk foods.

Boost your omega-3 intake. Eat fish two or three times a week and switch to olive oil in your cooking and baking. If you enjoy cooking, visit the Healthy Fish Recipe Collection.

Vegetables: Another Brain Food

Vegetables A recent study (Chicago Health and Aging Project) tracked more than 3,700 men and women to assess what they ate, then tested their mental acuity 3-1/2 years later. The researchers found that people who ate about three servings of vegetables a day, particularly the green leafy type, hung onto their mental abilities 40% longer than those who ate less than one daily. Experts suggest that unique benefits from vitamin E and folate - both more prevalent in vegetables - may explain vegetable's edge.

Quick Tips:

  • Strawberries may actually reverse memory loss.
  • Low-fat cheese fights a brain robber; high blood pressure.
  • Although the research on diet and the brain is very new, vitamin E is emerging as a hot prospect for brain health.
  • Have a high carbohydrate breakfast. Tired heads need a glucose wake-up call. Suggested: cereal, pancakes and syrup, waffles, milk.
  • The omega-3 fats in fish may protect you from depression, which could shrink your memory center.

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