Changing your diet can help jumpstart your mind
BY Michael Roizen , M.D., and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
We ask a lot of our little gray cells: Psst … brain. Impress the boss with a brilliant report on the widget account. Navigate home on the expressway with the reflexes of a NASCAR driver. Remember enough geometry (brush up on rhomboids first) to help the kids with homework. Oh yeah, and no more senior moments like at the water cooler today (what was the name of that music group from Liverpool?).
If your brain’s not always keeping up, check what’s on your plate. Sure, maintaining a beautiful mind takes solid sleep, regular exercise, time off and stimulation (meaning the mental kind, though the adults-only kind’s good, too). But nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness,” reminds us that the right food and drink – in the right “doses” – is crucial if you want your neurons to fire on all cylinders today and for years to come.
One reason: It turns out the brain is plastic, a term that describes not what it’s made of, but rather its ability to regrow and regenerate. Until a few years ago, researchers thought we were stuck for life with whatever brain cells and connections we’d managed to make in our youth … and it was all downhill from there. (We don’t know about your youth, but we were a little worried.) Nope. Now we know the brain keeps regenerating itself for most of your life. So feeding your cranium the raw materials it needs to make top-shelf new parts is, uh, smart. Here’s what Somer recommends:
DHA omega-3s: There’s a reason we keep talking about getting plenty of this specific form of good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids: DHA is the ultimate brain food. It’s what keeps the walls of brain cells flexible, fluid and able to communicate with each other. In fact, your brain is 60 percent fat – and half of it is DHA. Your body can’t make DHA, so you have to get it from food or supplements. In one study, people with small memory declines who took DHA daily for six months improved so much that their brains became three years younger.
How much: Most of us get just 100 milligrams of DHA a day. But we want you to aim for 900 milligrams of DHA a day. Get it from an algae-based DHA supplement, DHA-enriched foods and eating salmon and trout.
Jewel-toned fruits and veggies: Your brain’s just two percent of your body weight, but it gobbles up 20 percent to 25 percent of the oxygen you breathe in. All that oxygen lets you do calculus, knit a complicated sweater or remember every winning World Series team since 1903. The price for all that cellular activity? Lots of damaging free radicals – rogue oxygen molecules -– are formed. Help your brain mop them up with the phytochemicals bursting from high-intensity foods like dark-green spinach, brilliant-orange pumpkin, deep-red raspberries and bright-yellow peppers. Way better than supplements, the compounds found in rainbow-hued produce not only directly disarm free radicals, they also switch on genes that muster your body’s own antioxidant defense system for a double whammy.
How much: Aim for nine servings a day and go for a wide variety.
Water: Even a little dehydration – on that long walk when you forgot your water bottle, during your first 5K fun run or your 80th marathon – can blur your thinking.
Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans – they all pack healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats that help keep your arteries clear, the better to ferry blood to your brain. Bonus: Nuts also provide the raw materials your body uses to produce mood-boosting serotonin in your brain.
How much: one ounce a day, the amount in about 12 walnut halves or 24 almonds (spread them out throughout the day). More is great if you offset the calories somewhere else in your diet.
Dark chocolate: Real dark chocolate that’s 70 percent or more cocoa boosts your levels of feel-good dopamine and provides flavonoids, which help keep arteries young.
How much: 1/4 ounce four times a day.
Having chocolate and nuts be good for your brain as well as your body? Someone’s looking out for you.
The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV (check local listings). To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.
(c) 2010 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.