Your brain is only about 3 pounds, or about 2 percent of your body’s weight. Yet, it uses 20 to 30% of the calories you consume, 20% of the oxygen you breathe and 25% of the blood flow in your body. Given that it is the bedrock of your personality, some think even your soul, the brain is 85% water! It is estimated that the brain has 100 billion nerve cells and more connections in it than there are stars in the universe, which is about the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Following are a few simple brain-promoting nutritional tips to get your diet under control and to use food as brain medicine:
Increase water intake
Given that your brain is about 80% water, the first rule of brain nutrition is adequate water to hydrate your brain. Even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones which can damage your brain over time. Drink at least 84 ounces of water a day. It is best to have your liquids unpolluted with artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol. You can use herbal, non-caffeinated tea bags, such as raspberry or strawberry flavored, and make unsweetened iced tea. Green tea is also good for brain function as it contains chemicals that enhance mental relaxation and alertness.
Substantial research in animals and now in humans indicates that a calorie-restricted diet is helpful for brain and life longevity. Eating less helps you live longer. It controls weight; decreases risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke from obesity (a major risk factor for all of these illnesses); and it triggers certain mechanisms in the body to increase the production of nerve growth factors, which are helpful to the brain. Researchers use the acronym CRON for “calorie restriction with optimal nutrition,” so the other part of the story is to make these calories count.
Fish, Fish Oil, Good Fats and Bad Fats
DHA, one form of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain. The fat in your brain forms cell membranes and plays a vital role in how our cells function. Neurons are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is also found in high quantities in the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye. Research in the last few years has revealed that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood in later years, possibly because DHA is a main component of the brain’s synapses.
Lots of Dietary Antioxidants
A number of studies have shown that dietary intake of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables significantly reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment. The research was done because it was theorized that free radical formation plays a major role in the deterioration of the brain with age. When a cell converts oxygen into energy, tiny molecules called free radicals are made. When produced in normal amounts, free radicals work to rid the body of harmful toxins, thereby keeping it healthy. When produced in toxic amounts, free radicals damage the body’s cellular machinery, resulting in cell death and tissue damage. This process is called oxidative stress.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C and beta carotene inhibit the production of free radicals. The Best Antioxidant Fruits and Vegetables (from the US Department of Agriculture): Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Strawberries, Spinach, Raspberries, Brussels sprouts, Plums, Broccoli, Beets, Avocados, Oranges, Red grapes, Red bell peppers, Cherries and Kiwis.
Clearly, the better we feed our brain the more we will improve our lives.