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Brained by Food

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

In the fall, our kids go back to school to bone-up on juicy new knowledge. And we tend to take it for granted that your brain silently makes all that happen, like a huge mental muscle locked away in your skull.

And that's not a bad analogy because, like actual muscles, if you don't feed them, they don't work well.

That said, if you don't feed muscles well, they scream at you with cramps and fatigue. That's where your brain is different. If you don't feed your brain well, it quietly keeps plunking along at its job, even if it can't do it quite as well. What a good worker!

For us and our kids, though, that means we may not even realize that our brain cells are just sputtering away like some 1973 Pinto (I owned one of these, so I KNOW what I'm talking about), rather than racing along like a sleek, smokin' hot Lamborghini (never owned one of these, so this is a total fantasy on my part). 

So that's the problem. Your brain may need a tune up, but you can't feel it directly like a cramp. So you have to have regular preventative maintenance to make sure it's firing at peak potential.

How do you do that? Make sure your brain has foods on board that can improve its performance. Below are some of the best, according to the latest research.


A potent antioxidant, vitamin E may help protect neurons or nerve cells. In Alzheimer's disease, neurons in certain parts of the brain start to die, which jump-starts the cascade of events leading to cognitive deterioration, forgetting where your socks are, and losing your keys (again!).

"The data support eating foods that are high in vitamin E and this includes healthy vegetable oil-based salad dressings, seeds and nuts, peanut butter, and whole grains," says Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of the section on nutrition and nutritional epidemiology in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush University, in Chicago. 

The benefit has been seen with vitamin E rich foods, but not supplements, she says. And most of the foods below are rich in vitamin E


Salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring are examples of fish rich in heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In the brain, DHA seems to be very important for the normal functioning of neurons. 

Is there a downside? For the developing nervous system, you need to stay away from deep water fish like tuna, which can have mercury in them. For pregnant women and very young children, let the sushi go.


If you can't quite figure out how to learn to like green leafys, you probably haven't eaten enough of them, because their vitamin E and folate are awesome for your brain cells. So think about eating kale, collard greens, spinach, and broccoli.

After all, one cup of raw spinach has 15% of your daily intake of vitamin E, and 1/2 a cup of cooked spinach has 25% of your daily intake. That's all!


Avocado is a righteous food. You say AMEN to that. This creamy treat is full of the good fats that make blood flow better in your brain, which means nutrients get to all parts of your gray matter, and so you're hungry hungry neurons aren't deprived of food.

In addition to increasing blood flow, they also help lower blood pressure - high blood pressure is a risk factor for a decline in cognitive abilities. But wait ... there's more! Eating an avocado is also smart because its high vitamin C content is associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's.

And now that football season has returned for the fall, there's no better game-time snack to help you remember which team you're rooting for!


Yes, nuts are fatty. Whatever. These nutty, fatty, nut fats are the very good kind that may help keep both your heart and brain healthy and functioning properly. And, as you might expect, nuts have high levels of brain-beneficial vitamin E.

Other good choices include walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed ... getting the picture?? They're all good!! Get them raw or get them roasted, but just make sure to get them with less salt.


Studies have shown that people who consume moderate amounts of red wine and other types of alcohol may be at reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease. Why? Because you're just a little bit happier? Hmmm? Actually the reason is more likely to be that they can help keep your blood platelets from sticking together and clogging all the little arteries and capillaries in your brain. Keeping the pipes clear keeps the neuron nutrients flowing, keeping your sagging gray matter just a bit perkier.

Of course, if you can't keep your consumption to one to two per day, don't start (there, that's my lawyer-induced disclaimer).


You think YOU are stressed? What about your brain? After firing away in silence all day, every day, it's in some serious need of a ... mind massage ... or ... neuron yoga ... or ... something. Fortunately, blueberries have been shown to block the oxidative stress on your freaked out brain cells, which may help reduce the age-related effects of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

So chill out and de-stress your brain with some blueberries dude.  


I know, I know. This heading sounds odd, but I want you to bear with me here. A) If you are an exerciser, then exercising is really just fun anyway. And B), if you are not an exerciser, then the best activity is doing something you love to do. Either way, you're having a good time, moving more. There. Did that resolve that little cognitive dissonance for you?

The distinction is important because, being active on a regular basis is strongly associated with a risk reduction for conditions like Alzheimer's. So move more have a good time doing it. That's a recipe for keeping your Lamborghini brain cells revving along in top form.

Dr. Will Clower is an award winning author, media personality, CEO of Mediterranean Wellness, and the founder and director of the Mediterranean PATH.


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