How you eat can affect your mind at fundamental levels. Here are five things you should know about feeding your brain:

Don’t overdose on sugar

Your brain, which accounts for 2 percent of your body weight, sucks down roughly 20 percent of your daily calories. It demands a constant supply of glucose. But this doesn’t mean that you should slurp soda to keep your brain functioning optimally. In fact, high glucose levels slowly but surely damage cells everywhere in your body, including those in your brain.

Become a grazer

To optimize brain power, one tactic might be more frequent but smaller meals. Your brain works best with about 25 grams of glucose circulating in your blood stream—about the amount found in a banana.

Eat foods that don’t raise blood glucose levels

Pretzels cause blood sugar to rise very quickly. Raw carrots, however, do not. High fiber carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels relatively slowly, and combining them with fat or protein can slow absorption even more. The key is a balanced diet, where all macronutrients— carbohydrates, fats and proteins—are given their due.

Know your fats

Not all fats are equal. Trans fats, common in fast food, are the worst. However, your brain is 60 percent fat and very low levels of cholesterol have been associated with depression, aggression and anti-social behavior. Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s, are proving valuable in treating depression and other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, as well as benefiting infant brain development.

Know yourself

Food affects everyone’s brain a little differently. Listen to your body, and find out what choices are right for you.

Your diet truly is one of your primary defenses against all disease, including brain disorders of all kinds. Previous studies have shown that elderly individuals who consume a healthy diet are in fact less likely to suffer symptoms of dementia as they age. Avoiding sugars and grains, and being mindful of eating foods that do not cause major spikes in your glucose levels, is very important if you want to optimize your health and keep your mind sharp as a tack well into old age.

Omega-3s are vital for a healthy brain

Probably one of the most essential nutrients for your brain are omega-3 fats. Studies have shown that omega- 3s can protect against cognitive deterioration. They can also influence mood, personality and behavior.

For example, in one study, participants with lower blood levels of omega-3s were more likely to have symptoms of depression and a more negative outlook, according to accepted tests for depression, impulsiveness, and personality. Those with higher blood levels demonstrated the opposite emotional states.

Unfortunately, the ideal source of omega-3 —fish—is typically not a safe solution these days, as nearly all of them contain high levels of mercury, dioxins and PCBs. However, omega-3s are vital and I strongly recommend getting your omega-3s from a high quality krill or fish oil instead.

Eating vegetables is a smart choice

Boosting your vegetable intake is a surefire way to optimize your health, and may also help prevent age-related mental decline. Vegetables such as spinach may be beneficial in slowing down age-related central nervous systems and cognitive behavioral deficits. Nutritional intervention with vegetables may even play an important role in reversing the cognitive declines seen from aging.

Vegetables are key sources of antioxidants, nutrients that disarm harmful molecules called free radicals—the undesirable byproducts of various metabolic functions, which damage cells. Over time, this damage, called oxidative damage or oxidative stress, is believed to play a leading role in certain diseases and age-related changes.

Your brain may be particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of free radicals because it is relatively deficient in antioxidants to begin with. Free radical destruction is a contributing factor to the decline in memory and motor performance seen in aging.

This is another reason for eating whole foods, and not just supplements.

Foods containing a variety of phytochemicals, including phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, offer much greater protection and health benefits than individual nutrients.

Eating vegetables that work best for your nutritional type based on your personal biochemistry, can maximize the health benefits you can reap from your diet.

Foods to avoid

In addition to knowing what kinds of foods to add to your diet, it’s equally important to know what to avoid, in order to protect the health of your brain.

Sugars and grains were already mentioned in the article above. But here are two other common dietary items that can wreak havoc with your brain function.

Aspartame, for example, is an excitotoxin that can literally destroy your brain cells. There are many studies showing the dangers of aspartame. One recent review, conducted in 2008 by scientists from the University of Pretoria, found that consuming a lot of aspartame may inhibit the ability of your brain enzymes to function normally leading to neurodegeneration and brain lesions.

Other animal studies have linked aspartame to brain damage and brain tumors, even in low doses. I believe aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are dangerous to your health in so many ways, I even wrote an entire book on this topic called Sweet Deception.

Unfermented soy products are another common food that should be avoided. One well-designed epidemiological study linked tofu consumption with exaggerated brain aging. Men who ate tofu at least twice weekly had more cognitive impairment, compared with those who rarely or never ate the soybean curd, and their cognitive test results were about equivalent to what they would have been if they were five years older than their current age.

What’s more, higher midlife tofu consumption was also associated with low brain weight. Shrinkage does occur naturally with age, but for the men who had consumed more tofu showed an exaggeration of the usual patterns you typically see in aging.

Dr. Kaayla Daniel has written an excellent book, The Whole Soy Story, which covers the health dangers of soy in great depth and I highly recommend it to anyone still under the illusion that soy is a health food.

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