Brain Food

Got Decisions to make – job, finances, family, American Idol?

If you want to make the right decisions in chaotic times—your grocery list can help with your to-do list. The brain, which accounts for 2 percent of our body weight, sucks down roughly 20 percent of our daily calories. A picky eater, it demands a constant supply of glucose — primarily obtained from recently eaten carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, grains etc.). Only in extreme instances of deprivation will the brain use other substances for fuel.

I’ve rounded up some of the best foods to munch on when you need a mental boost—and found studies that show that you can be up to 200 percent more productive if you make the right eating choices. Stock up on these items to halt mental decline, jog your memory, sharpen your senses, improve your performance, activate your feel-good hormones, and protect your quick-witted sharpness, whether you’re 15, 40—or not admitting to any age whatsoever!

The Short Term Memory Boost - Coffee

Fresh-brewed organic coffee is the ultimate brain fuel. Caffeine has been shown to retard the aging process and enhance short-term memory performance. In one study, British researchers found that just one cup of coffee helps improve attention and problem-solving skills. However we tend to overdo it with coffee - “too much of a good thing” too many jolts of caffeine from the late afternoon onward, a Red Bull cocktail will disrupt your sleep. Sleep is reboot time for your mental computer, and you don’t want to mess with it.

For Long Term Memory - Blueberries

Antioxidants in blueberries help protect the brain from free-radical damage and cut your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. They can also improve cognitive processing (translation: thinking). Wild blueberries, if you can find them, have even more brain-boosting antioxidants than the cultivated variety. The best wild blueberries are found in Maine and ripen in early July. So book your vacation now!
If you can’t make it to Maine in July – buy them frozen. The freezer locks in peak flavor and nutrients, so the berries’ antioxidant capacity is maxed out. Those pale, tough, and expensive off-season berries usually ripen on a truck, rather than on the bush, so they’re nutritional imposters compared to the real thing.

To Think Faster - Salmon or Mackerel

If you have an interview and want to be on your toes, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fishes are a primary building block of brain tissue, so they’ll amp up your thinking power. Salmon is also rich in niacin, which can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and slow the rate of cognitive decline. To maximize the benefits, be sure you are purchasing wild caught Salmon and not the farm raised stuff. Wild salmon is not only an incredible food for brain health, it qualifies as incredible across virtually every other health standard as well and is clearly one of the healthiest foods that one can eat. Wild salmon (not farm-raised) in particular is a true brain food: one of the best sources of Essential Fatty Acids (such as the all-important Omega-3), a rich source of high-quality non-land animal protein, low saturated fat, generally among the lowest amounts of contaminants (such as mercury) among seafood, and other health properties -- wild salmon can help do everything from improve your brain matter, your mood, your synaptic connections, your arteries, reduce your risk of stroke and Dementia and Alzheimer's and much more.

It's also important to know that only WILD salmon has been shown to contain the highest levels of the good stuff that your brain & body wild-caught fish grow and evolve their muscles, tissues and fat levels the hard way, fighting for survival of the fittest in the oceans and rivers. By contrast, many or most farm-raised salmon exist in a locked-up, artificial and sometimes contaminated environment and thus have to be fed food (or worse, color added later just before going to market!) to make them LOOK orange and healthy instead of white and sickly.

While there ARE some good sustainable, eco-friendly, health-focused farmed salmon operations out there, I'll take my salmon fresh and wild and naturally orange in color, thank long as wild salmon remains a mostly non-endangered fish species (particularly in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska). Even if it costs more. Your brain and body are worth it.

To Energize - High Protein Salad with Vinaigrette

The Olive Oil in your dressing will help slow down digestion of protein and carbs in the salad, stabilizing blood-sugar levels and keeping energy levels high. Leafy greens—arugula, chard, spinach—are rich sources of B vitamins, which are key components on the assembly line that manufactures feel-good hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, a lack of B6 can cause nervousness, irritability, and even depression. So energize yourself at lunch by building your salad on a bed of romaine and spinach for an added boost in riboflavin, add some tomato, cucumber and carrots an then add chicken and a hard-boiled egg for more energizing protein.

To Calm Down - Low Fat Yogurt or Mixed Nuts

Scientists in Slovakia gave people 3 grams each of two amino acids—lysine and arginine—or a placebo, and asked them to deliver a speech. Blood measurements of stress hormones revealed that the amino acid-fortified guys were half as anxious during and after the speech as those who took the placebo. Yogurt is one of the best food sources of lysine. You might consider walnuts during times of stress-especially if you're in "fight-or-flight" mode: walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that is converted into nitric oxide, a chemical which allows blood vessels to relax. This helps overall circulation, including delivery of nutrients to skin cells. Walnuts are the only nut that contain a significant amount of omega-3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fat necessary for smooth, supple skin.nuts pack loads of arginine.

A study from the American Journal of Public Health found that people who drink 2½ cans of soda or drinks with high fruitose corn syrup including Arizona Green Tea daily are three times more likely to be depressed and anxious, compared with those who drink fewer. Check the labels on those so called “good drinks”!

To Concentrate - Peppermint Tea

The scent of peppermint helps you focus and boosts performance, according to researchers. Need to reach Chicago before nightfall, and you’re stuck in traffic around Cleveland? One study found that peppermint makes drivers more alert and less anxious.
Peppermint candy, mints or gum don’t count! Sugary foods incite sudden surges of glucose that, in the long term, cause sugar highs and lows, leading to a fuzzy state of mind.
And of course my favorite – Chocolate - Grab the real thing, the darker the better. More cacao means more happy chemicals and less sugar, which will eventually pull you down. White chocolate isn’t chocolate at all, since it contains no cocoa solids. So it won’t stimulate the euphoria-inducing mood boosters like serotonin, as real chocolate does.

For Sharper Senses - 1 Tbsp of Ground Flaxseed Daily

Flax is the best source of alphalinoleic, or ALA—a healthy fat that improves the workings of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain that processes sensory information, including that of pleasure. Flax seed also stabilizer your hormones and can reduce the symptoms of "hot flashes". A coffee grinder works great to grind the flax seed before sprinkling it on your oatmeal, salad or mix it into a smoothie or shake.

This list of brain food was pulled together from several of my favorite resources Delicious Living and Eat This Not That and Organic Spa Magazine.