Feed Your Brain

brain foodBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Is there such a thing as brain food?  Glucose is the fuel used by brain cells to fuel the mitochondria that are responsible for your brain power.  The brain is constantly hungry for energy and uses more than 20 percent of our daily energy intakeAll foods that we consume greatly impact brain function including learning, memory, mobility, senses and emotions.  The energy produced from our diets is systematically delivered to brain cells, called neurons, through the blood stream.  Because neurons cannot store glucose, a constant supply of fuel must be delivered to the brain to fuel cellular activities. 

Neurons have a high demand for energy as they are constantly in a state of metabolic activity.  Even while we sleep, neurons are hard at work repairing and rebuilding structural components and manufacturing enzymes and neurotransmitters.  Nerve transmissions or communication signals consume half of the brain’s energy usage or nearly 10 percent of the entire body’s energy.  Without efficient energy, our brains cannot function normally.  In fact, without fuel, our bodies don’t function well on any level.  Poor eating habits and eating the wrong foods over a life time can affect the structure and function of the brain.

Glucose, or blood sugar, is obtained from the carbohydrates we consume such as starches, sugars, grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables and to a smaller degree dairy products.  Too many refined carbs or sugar in the bloodstream can actually deprive your brain of glucose, depleting its energy supply and compromising concentration and mental activity.  Complex carbs, found mostly in natural, whole foods, have long chains of sugar molecules that take time to break down into the shorter glucose molecules that the brain uses for food.  Simple carbs, such as those found in processed and refined foods, already have short chain sugar molecules so they enter the blood stream quickly. 

Sugary foods, such as soda, candy and foods containing corn syrup, contain glucose that is absorbed directly through the stomach wall and immediately released into bloodstream.  This rapidly raises glucose levels and gives you a short-lived boost.  However, this triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin, which pulls the excess glucose from the bloodstream to store for later use, making it unavailable for the brain to utilize.  Within a few hours, your ability to focus and think suffers and you may feel weak, tired or nervous as the brain signals the need for another boost.  Repeatedly overloading the bloodstream with sugar diminishes the body’s ability to respond to insulin, leading to insulin resistance and increasing the chances of  developing type 2 diabetes. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the best brain-healthy diet is one that reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes and encourages good blood flow to the brain.  A brain-healthy, heart-healthy diet is most effective when combined with exercise, mental activity and social interaction.  Managing your body weight is also important for overall health of the brain and body, as long-term studies show that obese middle-agers are twice as likely to develop dementia later in life.  Add in high cholesterol and high blood pressure and that risk increases six-fold.  Increasing the intake of protective foods such as healthy fats, antioxidant containing fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and add brain cell protection.  To optimize brain power, consider more frequent but smaller meals to keep blood sugar stable.  The brain appears to function well with about 25 grams of circulating glucose, about the amount found in a banana. 

If you really want to preserve your brain’s health, consider ditching soda, foods with high fructose corn syrup, and high sugar content foods in favor of healthier choices.  The following foods are just a few examples of brain-healthy foods: 

Spinach and leafy greens are loaded with vitamins C and E, which have been shown to improve cognitive abilities.

Fatty fish, high in omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to help slow cognitive decline that comes with aging. 

Berries, which are chock full of vitamins and antioxidants, can help combat oxidative stress associated with aging and appear to support the brain’s signaling capabilities.

Carrots have high levels of luteolin, which could reduce age-related memory deficits and inflammation in the brain. 

Walnuts contain high levels of antioxidants that may combat the damage to brain cells’ DNA caused by free radicals.

Apples are a great source of quercetin, an antioxidant that helps keep you mentally sharp by protecting brain cells from free radicals, which can damage neurons and lead to cognitive decline. 

On those occasions when we can’t always eat “right”, here are some supplements to support brain health:

Deeper Greens by Ortho Molecular provides a proprietary blend of fruits, greens and antioxidant vegetables with high ORAC value, a value given to foods that increase beneficial blood plasma antioxidant levels.  Organic ingredients used whenever possible. 

OmegaGenics EPA-DHA 720 by Metagenics provides a healthy balance of highly concentrated omega-3 essential fatty acids from cold water fish.  Produced in Norway, these lemon flavored softgels are stabilized with natural antioxidants to ensure freshness.  Purity guaranteed. 

Brain Energy (98723) by Douglas Laboratories is specially formulated to support dopamine production for a more energetic brain.  Vegetarian formula. 

Brain Support, Q. by Quantum Nutrition Labs provides a comprehensive, live-source formula to promote brain performance, clarity, focus, attention and memory as well as advanced lipid support for the brain. 

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