By Mark Underwood
Can the foods you eat affect your mind and memory? Absolutely. Certain foods can have a significant impact on health and behavior and affect your mood and concentration skills.
Junk food, for example, including fatty, sugary snacks, triggers pleasure centers in the brain. That’s why when bowls of candy or chips are in front of you, it can be hard to stay away.
Think of your brain this way—it only weighs about 3 pounds—that’s a small portion of an adult’s body weight, but it consumes about 20 percent of your daily calories. That’s a good motivator for having a brain-healthy diet.
Follow these tips to stay on course and boost your brain’s fitness.
Memory boosting food
In order to memorize and retain new information our brain cells have to make new connections. One way they do this is when we get excited about something or have deep feelings and emotions.
Acetylcholine is the “messenger” that keeps our brain cells on high alert for new information. You’ll find acetylcholine in eggs, liver and soybeans. Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower also seem to help improve memory.
On memory tests, researchers have found that people who eat these foods do better than people who do not have these foods on a regular basis.
Concentrate on these foods
Good concentration skills depend on a steady flow of messages between brain cells. The first step in improving concentration and focus is by eating healthy food at regular intervals throughout the day.
The brain also needs myelin, a fatty substance that insulates the nerve fibers so signals can be more easily sent from one brain cell to another. These nerve fibers are like electrical wires in a well-oiled machine.
You can do your part by eating healthier and keeping the “machinery” of your brain in top shape.
A diet that includes myelin includes oily fish, walnuts, pumpkin and flax seeds. So don’t skip meals, pack snacks with seeds and nuts and you’re on your way to improving your concentration.
Lift your spirits with these foods
Our moods, good, bad and everything in between, involve an exchange of electrical “messages” carried by neurotransmitters between the brain cells. One of those transmitters carrying messages to the brain is dopamine. Foods that are sugary and fatty have dopamine which is why we may feel good when we eat these foods. But soon, there is a sharp drop off of feeling good.
A healthier way to feed your brain is with precursor, the molecules that form dopamine. One of those precursors called phenylalanine can be found in food like soybeans, edamame, beets, almonds, eggs, meat and grains.
Chocolate can help boost your spirits because it drives up dopamine, but use it as a pleasurable snack not as a large part of your diet.
More healthy eating tips
Keep an eye on your blood pressure. Even in healthy older adults, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the brain and reduce the brain’s oxygen supply. This can result in nerve cells that are damaged, a factor that can impact decision-making and memory.
Instead of eating salty foods, cut back on sodium and eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains.
A healthy diet will help you maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can have a negative impact on your brain’s health regardless of whether you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Lower your intake of sugars and white flour and eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, and use olive and canola oils.
For years we’ve been told that veggies are good for our health, but some research now suggests that green leafy vegetables in particular, may help slow mental decline. So don’t forget to stock up on leafy greens like kale, and lettuces like romaine and spinach.
A healthy diet may lower your risk of many conditions, but eating three meals a day packed with brain-healthy food, can improve your brain power.
Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin focused on the discovery and development of medicines to treat age related memory loss and the diseases of aging. Mr. Underwood is a published author, with his latest article, “Effect of apoaequorin on cognitive function” published in the peer-reviewed Alzheimer’s and Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Mark has been taped as an expert in the field of neuroscience for The Wall Street Journal Morning Radio, CBS and CNN Radio among others. Mark is also a contributor to the “Brain Health Guide” which highlights the research at Quincy Bioscience and offers practical tips to help keep health brain function in aging. More articles and tips for healthy aging can be found at: www.TheGoodNewsAboutAging.com.
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