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Fact or Fiction: Can Foods Really Benefit The Brain? (And If So, Which Ones?)

Brain food.Is there really such a thing as brain food?

Believe it or not, this old tale is correct. Many foods which have historically been promoted as “brain foods” offer benefits for the health of your brain and entire nervous system.

Fish for brain health

Fish are probably the most widely recognized brain foods. Not all fish are created equal, however. In addition, some land-based plants offer benefits similar to fish. The fish “All-Stars” for brain and nervous system health include oily, cold, deep-water fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon. Eat wild ocean fish, not farm-raised ones as the wild ones have superior nutritional profiles and are better for the environment. They are all rich sources of essential omega fatty acids which the body needs but cannot manufacture on its own.

Essential fatty acids are critical for the function of neurotransmitters, which convey messages throughout the entire body. The role of omega and other fatty acids and their role in the health of the nervous system have been well-researched. Many experts conclude that consuming adequate amounts of essential fatty acids improves mood, relieves anxiety, and diminishes feelings of depression. Research is ongoing to see if essential fatty acid consumption may or may not reduce chances for schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

If you want to reap the health benefits of fish from plant sources, include some flax seed or walnut oil in your diet. Use it unheated, in salad dressing or add some to a smoothie. Canola oil provides healthy fatty acids, as well. It may be heated.

Foods and drinks which stimulate the brain

Healthy nutritional choices support brain health and reduce anxiety. Stimulants, such as products that contain caffeine, may increase panic and promote a sensation of heart palpitations. Chocolate, green and black teas, coffee, and colas all contain caffeine. Caffeine is also found in over-the-counter headache, diet and cold remedies. The herbs guarana and yerbe mate contain caffeine, as well. Excess caffeine should be avoided; however, occasional small amounts can enhance alertness temporarily.

Alcohol is a depressant. It may temporarily reduce anxiety, but in the long run, it can make it worse. Alcohol may interact with medications commonly prescribed for anxiety.

Carbohydrates should be consumed as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains. Whole grains provide B-complex vitamins, and minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, that help the nerves to function. B vitamins reduce stress.

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Whole grains contain folic acid. Folic acid prevents serious birth defects, such as spinal bifida. The types of birth defects that folic acid prevents often occur during the first trimester of pregnancy, so it is important that women eat whole grains if they are even considering becoming pregnant.

High fiber foods promote a feeling of fullness and prevent sugar highs and subsequent crashes. Complex carbohydrates stabilize blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels prevent mood swings, anxiety, headaches and irritability, and fatigue. They are a good choice for sustaining energy levels. Complex carbohydrates reduce binge-eating and promote calm feelings during periods of stress.

Oats are a terrific calming food .They contain calcium and B vitamins which nourish and calm the nervous system. Figs and avocadoes contain nerve-soothing components, as well.

Avoid simple sugars, as they may cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can make you feel “wired” or jittery.

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C, which need constant replacement during times of stress. Berries have a well-deserved reputation as excellent foods for brain health. In fact, berries are among the most nutrient-rich food sources for the entire body. They are rich sources of vitamins and fiber.

Foods rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium should be eaten because these nutrients may be depleted with anxiety. Cold, deep-water fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts and legumes are good sources.

Tryptophan is a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid which may be obtained from eggs, meat, and legumes.

Foods rich in B vitamins are important to include in a healthy diet. A lack of B vitamins precipitates insomnia, depression, and fatigue. In addition to whole grains, meat and eggs are good sources of B complex vitamins.

Selenium is a nutrient found in nuts, seafood, meat, wheat germ, mushrooms, broccoli, onions and whole grains. Selenium enhances energy levels, prevents anxiety, and stabilizes moods.

Nutrition and Autism

Researchers have discovered that some autistic children lack certain nutrients. They found that autistic behaviors improve when a multivitamin is given consistently.

A gluten-free diet is sometimes beneficial. Gluten is found in several grains, including wheat, rye and barley.

Other people report that their children improve when refined sugars, white flour, additives, preservatives and food colorings are omitted from the diet. They recommend consuming a healthy, fresh diet. Results of scientific studies are conflicting as to whether improvement is seen consistently or not.  I believe that a whole foods diet is superior whether autistic symptoms diminish or not.

Others parents of autistic children consider a casein free diet helpful. Casein is found in dairy products. For people with digestive concerns, this may have benefits providing protein calcium and vitamin D are obtained from other sources.

Studies are ongoing to see if any of the diets recommended for autism produce consistent results.

I believe that a diet rich in healthy fatty acids may be beneficial. Many researchers have discovered that supplementation with fatty acids reduces learning, social and behavioral issues which are common among people with autism.

All children must receive adequate amounts of fatty acids for their brains to develop. One research project employed the use of 1.3 milligrams of Omega -3 fatty acids with DPA and EPA fatty acids daily for young children with autism. The researchers discovered that the children experienced a decrease of repetitiveness and hyperactivity – and improved social interaction.

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