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Which Are the Best Brain Foods?

In the brainpower newsletter, I try to report on brain foods as I come across the relevant scientific literature. But I also know that reading reports on a hundred different foods that have various beneficial and negative effects on the brain gets confusing. With that in mind, here is a short list of some of the best brain foods.

1. Fish

Fish has been considered a brain food for a long time, and recent research backs the claim. Many types of fish contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils. Plain tuna from the can may be the easiest and cheapest way to include fish in your diet. Otherwise, wild-caught salmon are a great source.

Be aware, though, that many fish - both wild caught and farmed - now contain mercury, which is a brain toxin. So unless you are eating trout caught from high mountain streams with pure water, you should probably limit your fish intake to no more than three times weekly. That amount has been shown to be good for the brain.

Fish, by the way, is one of the brain foods that has both immediate and long-term benefits. It has been shown that brain waves actually speed up after a meal that includes fish. The fish oils also help keep arteries clean, preventing a major cause of brain problems: reduced blood flow to the brain.

2. Vegetables

Vegetables are a great source of beneficial vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Vitamins nourish the brain cells. Antioxidants prevent or slow oxidative damage to our body, including the brain. When cells use oxygen, they produce "free radicals," harmful by-products which cause damage. As "free radical scavengers," antioxidants prevent and repair the damage done. Finally, fiber reduces the build-up of toxins in the body (and brain) by keeping the body cleaned out.

3. Fruits

Fruits are a great food for all the same reasons as vegetables. Some of the fruits that are richest in antioxidants are Raspberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, red grapes, kiwi and oranges. Though many do not think of them as one, avocados are a fruit, and in addition to being rich in antioxidants they contain a lot of protein.

Fruit can be expensive in some parts of the world. If that is true where you are, you may want to check out the prices of frozen fruit, which is often cheaper. It can be blended with orange juice and a banana for a morning "smoothie."

Here's a video on which foods are good for the brain and which are bad for your neurons...

The video also addresses the importantance of activities that are good for the brain, which we cover on our pages on neurobics and other brain exercises.

4. Chocolate

I had to include this one, perhaps one of the sweetest of the brain foods. Cocoa beans contain flavanols and antioxidants, both of which are good for the body and brain. There is evidence that they can help reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The latter is a common cause of brain impairment, due to the decrease blood flow (and therefore oxygen) to the brain.

The bad news? Two things. One is that flavanols are often destroyed in the processing of cocoa beans. The other is that most chocolate has enough unhealthy sugar to counter any benefit from the good nutrients. So if you want to get a brain benefit from chocolate, it is best to stick to the dark varieties, particularly those that are more than 50% cocoa. I have trained myself over time to enjoy even 85% cocoa bars.

Interestingly the Mars company has developed a patented technology which helps retain naturally occurring flavanols. I have read that they use it in their Dove Dark Chocolate and CocoaVia chocolate bars (both are registered trademarks).

5. Water

One of the better brain foods is not a food, but plain water. Dehydration is more common than most think, with mild headaches one of the first symptoms. Your brain is about 80 percent water, and it needs enough to function at its best. Longer term, even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones, damaging your brain over time.

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