Brain Food: The Whole Stuff That Heals
Just as there are foods that we can eat to strengthen our brain’s functioning, there are just as many that have been linked to exacerbating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss. In this post, we will address the causes behind why the good stuff is good and why the other is just not so good.
It is never too late nor too early to establish good eating habits for ourselves and those we love. If we are able to make the transition into a more conscious relationship with our food, the likelihood that our brains will continue graceful cognitive functioning increases dramatically. This involves ourselves in the now but also, for our future selves. Let’s explore ways in which we can treat the multi-dimensional and timeless beings that we are!
And don’t worry, no one is telling you to abandon all the not-so-good food items from your food experience forever and for eternity, just that it is important to incorporate more of the good stuff into your daily eating practice. Being conscious of lessening the frequency of the not as good stuff is a really good start. Because truthfully, sometimes a slice (or four) of greasy pizza and a half (okay, maybe a whole) bar of chocolate can be the best healers.
Let’s start with the good stuff.
So, superfoods. A lot of us have the idea that superfoods are those really unnecessarily expensive foods wrapped in clever packaging that we find at the whole foods store that maybe are a bit gimmicky and trendy right now and not worth their weight in gold like everyone is saying. Not to say that this is not the case–marketing is a tricky world in its ability to manipulate the masses into believing their product is literally the only and the only best, and the health food market is no exception. Let’s not fall victim to these notions. Just because you find it at a health food store and it is unreasonably priced does not mean it is a healthy and wholesome food.
I think the best superfoods are the products that market themselves with their beauty and vibrancy and freshness and color. Like produce! Or freshly cut meat! Or whole grains or nuts or dried fruits in bulk! Even better, the stuff we find at the farmer’s market! A bushel of leafy dark greens is clearly only one ingredient. It is safe to assume that an apple has no fillers. A filet of salmon, usually, is only salmon. Shopping this way is likely a cheaper way than buying whole food counterparts like kale chips or canned salmon chowder. The fresher the ingredient and the closer to the source of wholeness, the more nutritional. With time and processing, the nutritional value in food is drastically compromised as the product must be “enhanced” with fillers and preservatives.
Both of the above mentioned ingredient, dark leafy greens and salmon (or other cold-water fish) are some superfoods that are recommended to enhance cognitive functioning and most specifically, memory. Dark leafy greens contain a fat-soluble kind of carotenoid called lutein. Science is finding that these nutrients are absorbed by the brain and accumulate throughout one’s lifetime. They are finding that lutein offers a “neuroprotective” layer that aids cognitive functioning, especially when the food is paired with a natural fat like avocado or oil like extra virgin olive oil. Science is leading us to some very helpful conclusions!
Other memory-boosting foods include:
- Colorful berries and dark-skinned fruit: contain high amounts of antioxidants which are thought to protect one against oxidative damage, which Alzheimer’s is thought to be associated with
- Coffee and chocolate: flavonoids which improve blood circulation throughout the brain; also contain antioxidants
- Extra virgin olive oil: contains oleic acid, which also fights against oxidative damage; contains other types of healthy monounsaturated fats
- Cold pressed coconut oil: improves the body’s use of insulin (insulin resistance is thought to be a contributor of dementia); increases the good kind of cholesterol
- Nuts and seeds: heart healthy foods which translate to brain healthy foods because blood flow is improved and inflammation is reduced; especially walnuts due to their DHA levels (a sought after omega-3)
And how about those not-so-good foods.
We all know what I am referring to, here. Those hyper processed and diluted and transformed foods with ingredients that we can’t even pronounce, let alone know a dang thing about. Ingredients that have a list of a multitude of ingredients themselves which have a list of ingredients within each of those ingredients and it continues to spiral exponentially in a tornado of hard-to-pronounce ingredient chaos. Like I said before, we can’t dub these foods as evil or bad and associate them with the time that we’ve officially given up on ourselves or anything dramatic like that. I think dubbing them as “not-so-good” is more appropriate. Because there’s still some kind of goodness in there, like, for the soul and for the senses.
Let’s see what foods specifically will drain our brain’s capacity to operate fully and effectively:
- Processed deli meats and cold cut meats: most of these foods contain nitrates which cause degradation of fats in the liver that in high doses are toxic to the brain; nitrates have also been linked to Alzheimer’s.
- Beer: another common nitrate and nitrite containing food item
- Processed cheeses: processed cheeses like American cheese, Laughing Cow, and Velveeta cause buildup of proteins in the brain that interfere with cognitive functioning.
- Sugars, syrups and simple carbs: We’re looking at you high-fructose corn syrup and cane sugar… excessive doses of these will lead to an impairment of brain cell triggering; an increased likelihood for insulin resistance and consequently a less effective cognitive and memory function.
Can’t get enough of this topic? Here are some extra readings to explore if you’d like.
“Diet May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s” Rush University Medical Center
“Top 3 Foods That May Harm Your Memory” Institute for Vibrant Living
“New Research: Nitrates and Nitrites May Cause Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease” American Parkinson Disease Association
“Boost Memory by Eating Right” Harvard Health
“Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s” Alzheimer’s Association