In Chapter Five of ‘Memory Improvement,’ we delve into the essential topic of ‘Brain Nutrition,’ uncovering the keys to enhancing memory and cognitive function through dietary choices. You may not see the direct link between diet and brain health since what we put in our mouths goes downstream and not upstream. But what we eat significantly influences our brain’s health. While food doesn’t directly reach the brain and its nerve cells, our blood transports nutrients and oxygen. If we contaminate that blood, it cannot efficiently deliver essential vitamins and minerals.
Chapter Five of “Memory Improvement” takes a deep dive into the crucial aspect of brain health, and it’s appropriately titled “Chapter Five: Brain Nutrition.” In this pivotal chapter, Chapter Five offers a comprehensive exploration of how our dietary choices impact our memory and cognitive abilities. Through Chapter Five, readers will discover the importance of nourishing their brains with the right nutrients, a message that Chapter Five emphasizes throughout the entire chapter. By the end of Chapter Five, readers will have acquired the knowledge and strategies presented in the chapter, enabling them to make informed dietary decisions for optimizing their brain’s performance. With Chapter Five as their guide, individuals can embark on a journey to unlock their full cognitive potential, and Chapter Five will be there every step of the way, reminding them of the significance of brain nutrition in their memory improvement journey.
We can summarize the link between diet and brain health on this continuum. Poor food choices lead to unhealthy and sluggish bodies. These, in turn, can result in disorders and diseases affecting brain function. Dr. John Ratey emphasizes, ‘What we ingest is also fundamental to how we think and feel.’ “The brain is an incredibly active furnace, consuming 25% of the glucose and oxygen we take in. It burns glucose as its sole fuel, and yet it has no storage site for it… The brain also requires various other nutrients, and even minor nutritional deficiencies can lead to changes in mood.
Memory loss, confusion, and depression in the elderly were once thought to be simply signs of aging. However, these issues can also result from a poor diet. The next question is, what foods can make our brains healthier and enhance memory and learning? We’ll focus on fundamental food groups like fats, carbohydrates, micronutrients, and other sources of essential vitamins and minerals. The Franklin Institute worked with nutritional counselor Debra Burke to come up with general dietary guidelines to optimize brain power.
You may have heard someone say once upon a time that nuts will improve your memory. There’s some truth to that statement. Our bodies need essential fatty acids (EFA). Seeds, raw or dry roasted nuts are a source of EFA. Your eating routine must include walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and other types of nuts. If you can get cold pressed oils from these nuts, this would be an added benefit.
You can source omega-3 essential fatty acids from salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, herring, and mackerel. Many people do not like fish, but changing our eating habits to include fish at least once or twice a week to start makes for a healthier brain. Wild fish, rather than farmed, are better. Needless to say, we must avoid trans fats. You can also get EFA from avocados, fresh coconut and extra virgin olive oil. Meat is an excellent source of EFA. Try to choose products from naturally raised animals. In the industry, these animals are termed “free-range.” They roam freely in open fields and consume a diet rich in EFA, which becomes part of our consumption.
We require carbohydrates to replenish brain fuel glucose. Hence, it’s beneficial to eat frequent small meals rather than three square meals daily. Inability to concentrate and weakness may result from hunger or long intervals between meals.
Com, potatoes, winter squash and cooked or juiced carrots and beets are nutritious and high-glycemic foods; so are whole grains, cereals and crackers. The problem with carbohydrate-rich foods is their potential to raise sugar levels unexpectedly. Combining them with protein can correct this issue. Examples include eggs with toast, soy burger with corn, and salmon with potato. Jean Carper provides this carbohydrate advice: Food carbohydrate content varies significantly. For instance, half a cup of carrots contains just 3 grams of carbohydrates. In contrast, a cup of cooked macaroni has 52 grams, two cups of popcorn provide 12 grams, and a plum contains 7 grams.
The general idea is that dark-colored leafy foods provide sufficient vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables have high levels of micronutrients. They are rich in antioxidants that help our bodies fight free radicals- culprits of most of today’s diseases and disorders. Nutritionists recommend five daily servings of fruits and vegetables but cancer specialists recommend increasing that portion to nine to ten servings. Use a small fruit or half a cup of cubed fruit as your serving guide. Go for vegetables that are in season and are grown in organic farms.
The idea of nutrition playing a vital role in brain health is clearer when the brain exhibits signs of a mental disorder. Depression is a good example to cite. Accepted medication and treatment protocols exist for this disease. We should also emphasize the role of food and nutrition. This is particularly important since it is known that people who are depressed generally have little interest in eating or have erratic appetites.
When a person is suffering from depression, nutritionists recommend that they immediately eliminate all kinds of artificial and fast foods, including alcohol, simple carbohydrates, white flour products, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine, to maintain a brain-healthy diet. Eliminating these substances will improve the chemical balance of the brain. Fried hamburgers and French fries are major culprits. They block arteries and small blood vessels, hindering blood flow. People with nutrition-deficient diets take supplements to bridge the gap that occurs when they don’t consume sufficient fruits, vegetables, and grains. Before going on a supplement program, you must speak to your physician and nutritionist so that a thorough assessment can be made of your health,
Specific Vitamins/Minerals For Brain Health
We have read sections from the separate works of Dr. Null and Dr. Khalsa and from their writings have compiled those vitamins and minerals that help brain health and contribute to its peak performance. We’ll begin with the vitamins:
Dr. Khalsa believes that the four most important B vitamins are: B12, B6, B1 and folic acid. B12 deficiency is most noticeable among people aged sixty to sixty nine (25%) and people over eighty (40%). The reason is that hydrochloric acid the substance that breaks down B12 in the digestive system – declines with age. Cognitive decline may occur: poor memory, decrease in reasoning abilities and mood fluctuations.
B6 helps to convert stored blood sugar into glucose, and we have already explained earlier that glucose is the brain’s only fuel. B6 protects blood vessels and some tests have revealed that it also helps prevent heart attacks. As you get to your middle age, you will need about 20% more of B6 than younger people for efficient cognitive functions. Since B6 also promotes blood circulation, it can improve memory.
B1 or thiamine influences metabolic processes in the brain and central nervous system. Dr. Khalsa says it is a powerful antioxidant. It may get depleted when a person consumes too much alcohol. Folic acid plays a role in depression. Lower levels of this substance can lead to more serious depression. Dr. Null estimates that about one third of adults are deficient in folic acid. For those who take folic acid supplements, it is recommended that they combine it with 1,000 mcg of Vitamin B12.
The antioxidant properties of Vitamin C are almost legendary and are known to improve longevity. It helps in creating neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, dopamine and norepinephrine and enhances cognitive abilities. A good daily dose for optimal physical and mental function is about 3,000 mg, although Linus Pauling, the strongest advocate of Vitamin C thinks 7,000 10,000 mg daily is the ideal. Many doctors tend to disagree unless a person is recovering from certain injuries.
This vitamin is supposed to stall the aging process, and hence the brain aging phenomenon. Like its cousin, Vitamin C, it is also an antioxidant and when taken with selenium, can improve the brain’s cognitive abilities. Going now to minerals…
Dr. Null states that people experiencing depression often exhibit a significant deficiency in this mineral. It is advisable to encourage patients to take magnesium supplements along with calcium supplements to prevent overreactions to stress and panic attacks.
Potassium is one of the most abundant minerals found in the body, making potassium supplementation often unnecessary. According to Dr. Null, you can obtain potassium from foods like bananas, orange juice, and potatoes. Before taking any potassium supplements, however, check with your doctor especially if you are on medication for a condition.
People credit zinc for its anti-aging properties, but people 50 years old and older often have a deficiency in this mineral. It plays a key role in the brain’s metabolic processes and destroys free radical molecules in the brain, protecting cell membranes and sparing neurons from damage. For brain longevity, a daily dose of 30 to 50 mg is recommended. There are other “brain foods” like amino acids – what nutritionists call partial proteins. Examples are glutamine (improves clarity of thought and alertness), tryptophan (the “feel good” neurotransmitter), arginine (converted by the body into a chemical called spermine which aids in processing memories) and other amino acids.
Mental Health: Risk Factors
We now know how to keep our brains healthy; but what can we do wrong to cause them to be unhealthy? Based on literature, the following appear to be the more common causes: