Food on the Brain
Brain Boosters to Add and Brain Drainers to Drop From Your Shopping List
The foods you have in your pantry and fridge may be helping or hindering your brain.
Dr. Christopher Calapai DO, a New York City Osteopathic Physician board certified in family and anti-aging medicine explains that the foods we choose have a lot to do with how sharp, attentive, alert, focused and happy we feel after we consume them. Certain foods may taste great but contain additives that cloud our brains and leave us feeling sluggish and dull. The opposite is also true. We may eat certain foods and feel a surge of mental energy and focus. We spoke to Dr. Calapai about the effects of food on the brain, and he provided two quick lists of foods: ones that boost brain function and ones that drain our mental energy. Which ones will you add and remove from your shopping list?
Brain Boosting Foods to Add
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of vitamin E. Higher levels of vitamin E correspond with reduced cognitive decline as you age. Add an ounce per day of walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and their un-hydrogenated nut butter versions (peanut butter, tahini, etc.). Raw or roasted doesn’t matter in regards to brain health; however, if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet purchase unsalted nuts. “Adding nuts to your diet can aid in decreasing levels of enzymes that lead to protein plaque formation in the brain and dementia. Nuts can also reduce brain inflammation and keep blood pressure low, key for preventing stroke,” explains Dr. Calapai.
“I eat these daily and encourage patients to add blueberries to as many things as possible. They’re great on their own, added to a shake, to oatmeal, or even to a salad,” says Dr. Calapai. Blueberries are tasty and sweet and loaded with antioxidants. They’re packed with vitamin C, K and fiber and pack high levels of gallic acid, making them especially good at protecting our brains from degeneration and stress. “Studies show that eating blueberries can boost focus and memory for up to 5 hours,” adds Dr. Calapai.
Broccoli is one of the best brain foods out there, thanks in large part to its high levels of vitamin K and choline, a B vitamin known for aiding brain development, keeping memory sharp and protecting the brain from age-related decline. It’s also loaded with vitamin C: just one cup provides you with 150 percent of your recommended daily intake. And its high-fiber content makes you feel full quickly. “People hear broccoli and roll their eyes thinking it’s bland and boring. Think of broccoli as a canvas ready to be painted with spices and flavors,” offers Dr. Calapai. Try stir frying with a bit of olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Add in a spoonful of orange or lemon juice for a sweet pop of flavor.
Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and other fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is very important for the normal functioning of neurons in the brain. Eating more fish often means eating less red meat and other forms of protein that are high in artery-clogging saturated fats. “People who are lacking in Omega 3s can experience mood swings and feelings of edginess or negativity. Omega 3s have been known to be mood boosters, in addition to enhancing focus and memory,” says Dr. Calapai.
This creamy treat is also a rich source of the antioxidant vitamin E. Research suggests that foods rich in vitamin E, including avocado (which is also high in the antioxidant powerhouse vitamin C), can reduce one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Brain Drainers to Drop
Partially Hydrogenated Oils
There is zero reason to ever eat foods that list “partially hydrogenated oils” in their ingredients list. This term is code for trans fats, which in addition to upping your risk for obesity and damaging your heart health, can cause serious brain drain. “Diets high in trans fats increase beta-amyloid, peptide ‘plaque’ deposits in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. One study published in Neurology found that people who consumed high levels of trans fats had lower cognitive abilities and smaller brains later in life,” says Dr. Calapai. Common culprits include fried foods, baked goods, and processed foods. So bake or grill chicken instead of frying it, go for sweet potatoes instead of French fries, and avoid anything wrapped in plastic that sits on a shelf for months at a time.
The average American eats 79 pounds of added sugars per year, which can trigger insulin spikes and inflammation. Chronic blood sugar and insulin spikes result in both vascular and neuronal damage. One study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that large amounts of sugar cause the hippocampus, the brain’s memory control center, to become inflamed. This inflammation can then lead to chronic compromised function. Meanwhile, one cross-cultural analysis found that high sugar intake is linked to depression. “Sugar is a big trap because when you eat something sweet there’s an initial high. It feels good at first but once it’s digested there can be a heaviness that follows”, says Dr. Calapai.
A diet high in saturated fat can decrease the brain’s ability to fight the formation of Alzheimer’s-linked brain plaque. An onslaught of saturated fat also damages the brain in the short-term. Saturated fat impairs your brain’s ability to learn and form new memories within as little as 10 minutes after chowing down. Processed meats such as bacon, pepperoni, pork sausage, or chorizo are examples of very tasty foods that are high in saturated fat. “Look, we all like to indulge from time to time, and that is fine. But when saturated fats are staples in your diet, then that’s going to take a toll,” advises Dr. Calapai.
About the Doctor:
Dr. Christopher Calapai, D.O. is an Osteopathic Physician board certified in family medicine, and anti-aging medicine. Proclaimed the “The Stem Cell Guru” by the New York Daily News, Dr. Calapai is a leader in the field of stem cell therapy in the U.S. His stem cell treatments have achieved remarkable results in clinical trials on patients with conditions as varied as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, frailty syndrome, heart, kidney and liver failure, lupus, MS and Parkinson’s. He has worked with Mike Tyson, Mickey Rourke, Steven Seagal, and Gotham’s, Donal Logue; and as a medical consultant for the New York Rangers. Connect with him via twitter @drcalapai or at www.drcal.net