Nutrition and Brain Health Part 1
by Amy Bondar, Nutritional Therapist
When it comes to mental health what we eat and how we eat matters. Mood swings, fatigue, apathy, poor memory, lack of concentration, difficulty sleeping, depression, postpartum blues, irritability, overeating, addictions, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, epilepsy, Autism, OCD, Schizophrenia, dementia, MS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, can all have powerful improvement when the brain receives proper nourishment. There is so much we can do with the power of food to create balanced brain chemistry and improve the way in which we feel, think, function and behave.
“How you think and feel is directly affected by what you eat. Eating the right food has been proven to boost your IQ, improve your mood and emotional stability, sharpen your memory and keep your mind young.”
– Patrick Holford, Author of Optimum Nutrition for the Mind
The following are powerful and effective nutritional tips to help you nourish your brain
1. Eat quality protein at every meal
Protein contains amino acids. Amino acids produce the neurotransmitters in the brain – the feel good hormones. The production of serotonin, melatonin, adrenalin, noradrenalin, dopamine, GABA, and others are dependent on the protein you eat, digest and assimilate.
For example if you eat tryptophan rich protein like wild game meat, walnuts, chicken, turkey, or cottage cheese, you lay the foundation for serotonin production. Serotonin makes you feel happy, boosts your mood and keeps depression at bay. Serotonin also helps make melatonin which is your key to good sleep.
The amino acid Tyrosine which is highest in wild game meat, pork, cottage cheese and turkey, helps to produce dopamine, adrenalin and noradrenalin. These neurotransmitters help you feel good, keep you feeling motivated and help you handle stress.
GABA helps keep you calm and pacifies anxiety. The production of GABA is made possible by the taurine rich proteins like halibut, liver, walnuts, almonds and lentils.
Just by increasing the protein in our diet, we may be able to experience improvement in depression, anxiety, insomnia, restless legs and our ability to feel good and handle stress optimally.
2. Eat Good Fats
Simply put, essential fats make you smart. Fats feed and fuel the brain and are imperative for intelligence, memory, focus and concentration. As Patrick Holford states in Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, “some fats are not only vitally important for you, they are vitally important for mental health.” Many mental imbalances like ADD, Schizophrenia and depression and diseases like Alzheimer’s have been linked to a deficiency in essential fatty acids.
Increasing omega 3 rich foods like wild-caught fish (mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines), fish oil, flaxseed and flax oil, hemp seed and hemp oil and walnuts can be game changers for how your mind thinks and functions.
Healthy Omega 6 fats for the brain include hemp seed and oil, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, evening primrose and borage oil.
Simply eating low mercury, wild caught fish 2-3 times a week, taking a daily fish oil supplement and enjoying 1-2 Tbsp of seeds and a handful of walnuts every day can change your brain function in an incredible way.
3. Get the right kind of glucose
Your brain relies and utilizes glucose more than any other organ in the body. Glucose is considered the most important nutrient of all for the brain. Glucose comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates but the key is to make sure you are consuming complex carbohydrates vs refined. Fruit, vegetables, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa and millet are the best forms of carbohydrates. They are whole foods that contain fiber and important nutrients and they offer the body and brain energy.
Complex Carbohydrates also keep blood sugars and insulin stable which is imperative for the prevention of inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to brain diseases and imbalances like MS, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and depression. Keeping inflammation at bay with a whole food diet, eating regularly and consuming the right amount of protein, essential fats and carbohydrates every day are important nutritional practices for achieving healthy brain function.
Stay tuned for our Part 2 of Nutrition and Brain Health which will speak to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well as the use of supplements.
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