Brain Fitness

Prestige issue 267, October 2015

Diet by Carine Chaccour

Seat of emotions and thoughts, the brain requires at least forty different substances (minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids, fatty acids …) to work well. Obviously, there is no «complete» food likely to bring all of these substances. Common sense leads therefore to vary the diet as much as possible to reach them all together. However, some foods stand out and are particularly beneficial…

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Carine Chaccour © Prestige

Fish and seafood to maintain brain structure

The brain is the most rich organ in fats. But unlike those in the fatty tissue, these fats are not used as reserve: they are components of biological membranes of neurons. This fatty sheath not only protects neurons, but also promotes the creation of new connections between cells. We owe this structure to Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly called «good fats». This is why fish is often associated with a brain in good health! Studies have shown that deficiencies of such fatty acids, induce neurophysiological dysfunctions and can affect the quality of sleep, learning, cognitive performance and perception of pleasure. Besides their very high content of Omega-3, shellfish also contain a large amount of minerals, including selenium. By partnering with other enzymes, it is able to prevent the formation of free radicals responsible for cognitive aging. Essential fatty acids play an important role in the brain. For optimum operation of the latter, it is necessary to maintain a perfect balance between two essential fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6. Omega-3 should preferably come from the flesh oil fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, herring). While Omega-6 are quite abundant in the fat of vegetable origin. Omega-3 are probably the most important for brain function.

To be happy, you have to eat fish!

Fish is an excellent food to promote health of the body in general and the brain in particular. Fish oil, in addition to providing good amounts of fatty acid DHA, increases serotonin levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter that positively influences the behavior and mood.

Starchy foods GI with low (glycemic index) for sustainable cognitive performance

The brain requires ongoing energy. At rest, it uses about 20% of the consumed energy and food and needs mainly carbohydrates. Its effectiveness depends on the nutritional quality but also the even distribution of these sugars. That is why we must focus on starchy foods with low glycemic index that will maintain a level of sugar in the blood more sustainable and supply the brain regularly.

Studies have shown that the activities requesting attention over long periods (for example a review) were more sensitive to the proper operation of the glucose (blood sugar in the blood).

Example of low GI carbohydrates: Wheat (whole grains, steamed), beans (cooked), beans (red and white), chickpeas, wholemeal bread, cereal bread, white rice, lentil soup …

Iron to ensure brain energy

The brain needs carbohydrates, but it also needs oxygen to produce energy. Minutes without oxidant (oxygen) or without fuel (glucose), and this is certain death to neurons. A simple momentary reduction of their contributions, however, prevents them from functioning optimally. This reduction may be caused by oxygen. For that it reaches to the brain, it must be carried by the red blood cells of the body. For this, its cells are required to contain enough iron tapped into the food consumed. If this is not the case, we are exposed to a deficiency in intellectual performance: decreased attention, mood disorders, memory loss … Foods rich in iron: red meat, organ meats, shellfish, green vegetables, legumes, breads and whole grain cereals, flours and iron-fortified cereals, quinoa, blackstrap molasses, spinach, lentils.

Antioxidants to improve cognitive abilities

As previously announced, the human brain is a very greedy organ. The deterioration of its favorite resource, sugar, releases oxidizing molecules that are responsible ultimately for its aging: these are free radicals. But there are substances which counteract and slow it senescence: antioxidants. Grape contains many antioxidants, especially flavonoids such as quercetin, myricetin, catechins, anthocyanins, and particularly resveratrol, the substance which is mostly responsible for the benefits of wine. All these molecules help to slow the action of free radicals generated by the high consumption of sugars in the brain. Several studies have shown that grape consumption (in juice) affects motor skills and memory. However, the red grape is about twice as antioxidant green grape, mainly because of its higher quantity of anthocyanins. In general, fruits and vegetables with the brightest colors contain more antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich foods: dark chocolate, olive oil, colorful fruits and vegetables (spinach, peppers).

The important vitamins for the brain

B vitamins: This group vitamins play an important role in the nervous system and the assimilation of carbohydrates. Folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 prevent the presence of homocysteine in the blood, a factor promoting the development of atheromatous plaque. Brewer’s yeast is rich in B vitamins as well as proteins and minerals. This is an excellent food for the brain.

Vitamin E: This is a very important fat-soluble vitamin to protect brain and nerve cells. One of the best antioxidant vitamins, it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier.

Vitamin C: This vitamin is present 10 times in the plasma of the blood-brain barrier, than anywhere else in the body. This vitamin is an excellent antioxidant, but it has more particularity to regenerate vitamin E and glutathione (one of the most important antioxidants in the body).

Some other factors enhancing good brain function

Physical activity: Physical activity helps to stimulate blood circulation and oxygenation in the body, which benefits directly to the brain. Exercise also can effectively control blood glucose levels.

Relaxation and Meditation: Meditation and relaxation provide a physiological state helping to maintain physical and emotional health and cardiovascular health. These techniques improve the efficiency of the immune system and provide a state of well-being and brain relaxation. During deep relaxation session (or meditation) one can notice slow heartbeat and breathing.

Rest and sleep: The body needs rest phases. Sleep is the most important phase, we spend almost half of our lives sleeping. During sleep the brain produces very important hormones and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or growth hormones.

Mental activity: Being interested in continuing education, to read, to document, to travel, to solve crosswords, are all measures that sharpen the mental faculties. The quality of life depends largely on the brain state. It belongs to everyone to protect from an early age that wonderful organ of the human body. The deteriorating brain health does not happen in a few days, but it lasts 10, 20 or 30 years. Poor diet and uncontrolled stress each day are responsible for the condition of the brain at 60 years and older. The quality of our end of life depends on our way of life yesterday and today.