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Food to Boost Brain Power
by Chelsy Leslie, from the February 2003 newsletter

Do you often find yourself forgetting phone numbers, names of people you have known for years and where you put your keys? We often blame age and genetics for memory lapses, but the problem may be related to something as simple as how we eat. Long before we notice any physical symptoms of poor nutrition, our thinking, memory, personality and intelligence can be affected. So feeling well doesn't necessarily mean your brain is working at its best. To keep your brain healthy, follow these brain-boosting tips:

  1. Eat breakfast. Breakfast eaters remember more, react quicker, are more creative throughout the day, make fewer mistakes and are more alert than breakfast skippers. The brain is a very active tissue and uses 20 to 30 percent of the calories consumed each day. Breakfast is essential for providing the fuel the brain needs after fasting all night. A high carbohydrate breakfast is the best way to supply energy to the brain because it uses only glucose (a simple carbohydrate) for energy. A high fat breakfast can leave you feeling fatigued and less imaginative. Include fiber and a small amount of protein to help you stay full for longer.
  2. Keep lunch light. A high-fat or high-calorie lunch (more than 1,000 calories) can leave you less alert. Although carbohydrates can help jump start your day at breakfast, a lunch high in carbohydrates may make you sleepy and less able to focus, especially if you choose foods high in sugar. Eat whole grain carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat bread, along with a little protein, a piece of fruit, and vegetables to keep you going.
  3. Avoid low calorie diets. Low calorie diets may affect memory, attention, and reaction time. The best way to lose weight is to do it gradually (no more than two pounds per week).
  4. Include fish in your diet. Fish is low in saturated fat and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. One kind of omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is important for the membranes of nerve cells and helps transport nutrients into the cell. DHA also regulates compounds that affect brain function.
  5. Eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables help neutralize or inactivate free radicals, molecules that can damage brain cells. Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E are a few of the antioxidants that keep the brain healthy. Good sources of vitamin C include green pepper, oranges, strawberries, and broccoli. Beta-carotene can be found in dark green leafy and orange vegetables and fruits such as carrots, spinach, apricots, collard greens, and cantaloupe. The best sources of vitamin E are wheat germ, almonds, and safflower oil.
  6. Choose plenty of iron-rich foods. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States. Iron deficiency can contribute to shortened attention spans, lowered intelligence, poor coordination, and inability to concentrate. Iron helps transport oxygen to brain cells. A lack of oxygen can cause cell functions to slow down and stop. If you are tired, irritable, and cannot think clearly, you may want to have a blood test done to check your iron. Good iron sources include lean meats, beans, and iron-fortified cereals. To boost iron absorption, eat a high-vitamin C food along with your meal.

In addition to eating well, be sure to get plenty of rest, limit stress and be physically active everyday to boost your brainpower!

Source: "Food and Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best," Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD

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