Are there really foods that can boost brainpower or is that just an urban legend? A bit of sleuthing revealed that yes indeed, diet is linked to our mental powers – for good or for ill.
First off, let’s get one thing straight: there is no single food source that can provide a superbrain. But there are ways to feed the “little grey cells,” as Agatha Christie’s fictional detective Hercule Poirot called them. As you can imagine, well-nourished cerebral tissues keep the synapses snapping.
A synapse or neuronal junction is where electric nerve impulses are relayed between two nerve cells (neurons) or between a neuron and a gland or muscle cell (effector). When a nerve signal travels to the end of a neuron, it reaches a dead end. This action stimulates the neuron to release a chemical transmitter.
The neurotransmitter bridges the gap and links the two neurons. The nerve impulse passes to the next neuron and fits into a receptor on the target neuron’s surface. The receptor is designed to fit like a key in a lock. Once docked, the receiving neuron changes the chemical transmitter back into an electrical signal.
Imagine how many times this process goes on in a single day! Actually, we don’t have to imagine, thanks to the internet. On average, a synapse fires 200 times per second. Figuring 60 seconds/minute, 60 minutes/hour, and 24 hours/day, that comes out to 17 MILLION firings in 24 hours!
Professor of molecular and cellular physiology Stephen Smith, Ph.D. confirmed that “One neuron may make as many as tens of thousands of synaptic contacts with other neurons.”
If you’re tired just thinking about all that brain activity going on all the time, don’t worry. Following are five top tasty ways to add zip and vim to your mental machinery. Simply eat these brain foods:
The wrinkly hemispheres of a walnut really look like a miniature human brain. Oddly enough, eating walnuts is especially good for the brain. They are high in healing vitamin E. All nuts are loaded with vitamin E which can slow cognitive decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (dementia). Vitamin E may trap free radicals that can damage brain cells
You might be surprised to know that an avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable. Although high in calories and full of fat, the fat is monounsaturated, the kind that keeps blood circulating with vital oxygen to all parts of the body – including the brain. Hypertension is associated with declining cognitive abilities, so the thinking is that lowering the blood pressure would have the opposite effect. Consuming avocados lowers blood pressure to improve brain health. Limit your consumption to 1/4 to 1/2 an avocado daily to avoid weight gain.
Steven Pratt, MD wrote in his book Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life that “brain berries” – his name for blueberries – “help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.” Eating blueberries improved the ability to learn and motor skills in rats. These oldster rodents had minds much younger than is typical for their actual ages.
- WILD SALMON
Salmon and other fish caught in deep waters contain high levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s are critical for good brain function and fight inflammation. Oily fish such as herring and sardines (as opposed to flaky fish like trout or tilapia) are all high in omega-3s. Include a 4-ounce serving, two to three times a week.
- DARK CHOCOLATE
Saving the best for last here. Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) ranges from 50-90% cocoa solids and cocoa butter. This bittersweet treat is high in flavanols which increase blood flow to the brain, boosting its cognitive powers. The more cocoa solids in the dark chocolate, the more of the stimulants theobromine and caffeine it has. Two ounces of 70% dark chocolate contains about 50-60 mg caffeine. Compare that to an 8-ounce cup of coffee with 100-200 milligrams of caffeine. For a quicker-picker upper, nibble some 70% or higher cocoa solids dark chocolate.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Other foods linked to brain health include:
- Whole grains
- Red cabbage
- Dry beans
- Green tea
Many people believe that living with diminished mental capabilities leads to an undesirable state of mere existence. A patient in a vegetative state has minimal mental function. Feed your brain the foods it needs to stay fit and in its prime.
Put another way by prolific inventor Thomas Edison, here’s why it is important to nourish the body’s neural control center:
“The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.”