Brain Food

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - June 30, 2006
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Carrie Cheong loads up with some healthy brain food: spinach, blueberries and strawberries
Carrie Cheong loads up with some healthy
brain food: spinach, blueberries and

Is your brain still asleep in the morning? Do you feel sluggish every time you finish a meal? Are you always forgetting things?

Maybe it’s time to check your diet for brain foods - foods believed to improve the cognitive function of your brain, preserve brain cells and enhance brain health memory.

“There are certain nutrients that are important for a healthy brain and there are certain foods that you need to avoid such as alcohol because they destroy brain cells,” advises Dr. John Westerdahl, director of Wellness and Lifestyle Medicine for Castle Medical Center. “There are different categories of brain foods, but one of the things that is important for brain health is to eat foods that are high in the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) scale or ORAC value which describes the antioxidant power. And foods that are real high on the ORAC scale are colorful fruits and vegetables.”

According to Westerdahl, some good brain foods include:

- blueberries - strawberries - spinach - goji berries - citrus fruits like oranges - papaya - broccoli - brown rice

- whole grains - cereals (whole grain cereals that don’t have a lot of sugars, such as oatmeal, Shredded Wheat, Cheerios and Grapenuts)

- soybeans - legumes - beans - peanuts - egg yolk (not recommended for people with high cholesterol)

- decaffeinated green tea Also healthy for the brain are foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as:

- fish (wild salmon, sardines, tuna)

- flaxseed and flaxseed oil - walnuts And some bad brain foods are:

- alcohol - refined foods, such as refined sugars, refined flour and refined rice (candies, cookies, pies, cake)

- sodas

- high-sugar “energy drinks” - foods that contain trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats

“A study from Tufts University and the USDA found that a diet rich in blueberry extract (comparable to one cup of blueberries a day) improved short-term memory loss and reversed some loss of balance and coordination,” notes Westerdahl. “And in another study also by Tufts University, they found that spinach may slow and even reverse age-related brain decline as well as short-term memory loss.”

Foods with Vitamin C can also play a key role in brain function as studies have shown it to be an antioxidant that protects brain cells from free radicals. Healthy protein may also help with the thinking process as well.

When it comes to how much to eat and how often, nutritionists say eating light meals more frequently throughout the day rather than heavy meals a few times a day can help boost your energy level.

And avoid eating too much red meat and foods that are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol.

“A lot of red meats and processed sandwich meats raises cholesterol and raises the risk of heart disease as well as stroke,” explains Westerdahl. “What happens when you get a stroke, it’s a brain attack. You want a diet that increases circulation to the brain.

“It’s also important to get enough water. Water makes up 83 percent of the blood and acts as a transport system delivering nutrients to the brain, and it also eliminates toxins from the brain, so your brain needs to be fully hydrated.”

There are also some herbs, such as ginkgo biloba, that herbalists say can help energize the brain.

And while many folks today are going on low-carb diets, that may not be the best thing for your brain.

“Low-carb diets are not healthy as far as optimal brain function,” says Westerdahl. “Your brain lives off of carbohydrates, however, you want to eat the healthy carbohydrates which are vegetables, fruits and unrefined carbohydrates like whole grain breads and brown rice.

“And by the way, eating healthy carbs in the evening can actually provide relaxation and better sleep at night.”

So what is the “intelligent” diet? Westerdahl suggests eating nine different fruits and vegetables a day, or at least five or more servings of vegetables a day and four or more servings of fruits a day. And the more colorful the better.

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