Nourish Your Brain

Practice of the Week
Nourish Your Brain
"There's no denying that as we age chronologically, our body ages right along with us. But research is showing that you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain well into your old age if you add these "smart" foods to your daily eating regimen." (Carol Sorgen, WebMD)

"The busier and bigger my life gets, the more I need to be on the ball. Food is an essential part of my success strategy. Put another way: if I didn't know how to eat right for my brain, I'd be a mess." (Susan Biali, Psychology Today)

Your brain contains about a hundred billion neurons plus another trillion support cells. Most neurons fire five to fifty times a second -- even when you're asleep. Consequently, even though your brain weighs only three pounds, about 2 to 3 percent of bodyweight, it needs about 25 percent of the glucose in your blood. No wonder it's hungry!

And it needs other nutrients besides glucose. For example, about 60 percent of the dry weight of the brain consists of healthy fats. Or consider the neurotransmitters that carry information from one neuron to another. Your body builds these complex molecules from smaller parts, assisted by other biochemicals. For instance, serotonin -- which supports your mood, digestion, and sleep -- is made from tryptophan with the aid of iron and vitamin B6.

Significant shortages in any one of the dozens of nutrients your brain needs will harm your body and mind. For example:
  • Shortage of vitamins B12, B6, folate causes depressed mood (Skarupski, et al, 2010)
  • Shortage of vitamin D causes weaker immune system; dementia; depressed mood (Nimitphong and Holick 2011)
  • Shortage of DHA causes depressed mood (Rondanell et al. 2010)
On the other hand, filling up your neural cupboard with good supplies will bring you more energy, resilience, and well-being.


At every meal, especially breakfast, have three to four ounces -- about the size of a deck of cards -- of a high-protein food. This will give you vital amino acids plus help regulate blood sugar and insulin.

Speaking of blood sugar, eating lots of sweets and white-flour carbohydrates raises insulin levels -- which then crash, leading to the weary/cranky/foggy state of hypoglycemia. Routinely high insulin also puts you on the slippery slope to type 2 diabetes. So keep these foods to a minimum, aiming for no more than twenty-five grams a day of refined sugar, and avoiding refined flours as much as possible.

Eat lots of dark-colored fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, kale, beets, carrots, and broccoli. These foods contain important nutrients that support memory (Krikorian, et al. 2010), protect your brain against oxidation (Guerrero-Beltran, et al. 2010), and may reduce the risk of dementia (Gu, et al. 2010).

Take a broad-spectrum, high-potency, multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. It would be great if you could get all the nutrients for optimal health from three meals a day, but most people don't have time to get and prepare all the fresh vegetables and other complex foods this would take. Plus we need more of these nutrients to help metabolize the hundreds of human-made molecules we're exposed to each day. In addition to eating as healthily as you can, it's simple to toss a few supplement capsules a day down the hatch, which takes less time than brushing your teeth. To identify a high-quality supplement -- whose dose probably involves two to three capsules -- look for one that has about five to ten times the "daily values" (DVs) of B vitamins and 100 percent of the DVs of minerals.

Also take two to three capsules a day of high-quality fish oil, enough to get at least 500 milligrams of both DHA (decosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid); check the label. If you don't want fish oil, an alternative is a combination of flax oil and DHA from algae, but fish oil is the most effective way to get omega-3 oils into your body and brain.

Meanwhile, as you take these actions, enjoy knowing that as you "feed your head," you're in fact feeding your life.

For more, see "Best Foods for a Healthy Brain"

For Journaling

For the next three days, include in your journal a list of what you ate in the previous 24 hours. What's your assessment of that day's diet?

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