Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Diet Can Improve Brain Function

Whether you are a new parent, wondering if there is anything you can do to stack the odds in favor of healthy brain development in your child, or a middle aged person experiencing increasing forgetfulness and brain fog, you might want to know what studies have shown about how you can influence the condition and functioning of the brain with diet.  So many studies have been done, testing so many variables, that the results can be confusing and overwhelming, but the following information seemed to be the most helpful, so I'm presenting it to you.

We've Got Fat Heads
The brain is made up of roughly 2/3 fats, so it makes sense to study the impact of fat consumption on the brain.  The majority of findings in this area indicated that eating fats is good for the brain, but not just any fats.  Trans fats are to be avoided at all costs, and saturated fats from meats and dairy need to be approached with caution.  Saturated fats from grass-fed or free range animals are much safer than from those grown on conventional feed.  Healthy fats, like those found in almonds, avocados, olives and most nuts and seeds are not only safe, but beneficial to the brain.  Fish oil was found to be the most critical to brain health, so unless you're allergic, feel free to consume a variety of fish on a frequent basis, or take a good quality fish oil supplement.  A word of caution - while fats can be healthy, they do contain almost twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates, so if you're watching your weight, choose the healthy fats only, and don't overdo it.

There's Something About Carbs...
Some of the research has centered on whether a diet high in carbohydrates is good for the brain.  Those studies have shown that carbohydrates, specifically grains, with wheat being among the worst, lead to increased inflammation, free radical production and oxidative risk, thereby increasing the likelihood of dementia.  This might lead one to adopt a very low carb diet, but other studies have shown that vegetarians, who traditionally consume more carbohydrates tend to have higher levels of brain health.  How can they both be true?  This is where looking at the variables being controlled for and whether they are looking for disease or health comes in.  In short, moderation seems to be the secret ingredient here.  Diets don't have to be all fat or all carbs.  A major factor to look out for is genetically modified grains (GMO), which may be causing the current spike in negative reactions to these foods.

Junk Food and Depression
A study completed in 2012 showed that people who regularly consumed fast food were 40% more likely to suffer from depression.  That study came on the heels of another one in 2011 that showed that the more trans fats people eat, the more likely they are to suffer from depression.  Food is not only fuel.  It is the building blocks for replacing cells throughout our bodies, including our brains.

The Pediatric Brain
You may have heard that breast feeding infants is best for brain development.  One of the reasons may be the presence of DHA in breast milk.  It's the same fatty acid in fish oil, which is critical to brain development and health.

Beyond infancy, studies have shown that children who frequently consume junk foods (sugar, processed sweets, soda, fast food) tend to have higher incidence of worrying, sadness, crying, anxiety, aggression, tantrums and hyperactivity as well as lower IQ's.

Your Safest Course of Action
The Mediterranean diet seems to be the healthiest option for most people.  Here are the guidelines, but remember that fats have more calories and moderation is key.  Opt for organic and/or local fruits, vegetables and grains, organic/grass-fed or free range when it comes to meat, eggs and dairy and wild caught when it comes to fish, whenever possible.

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Beans and pulses are healthy, fiber-filled carbohydrate rich foods with some protein content.
  • Limit your grains and choose organic/non GMO varieties.
  • Reduce your consumption of meats and choose higher quality.
  • Enjoy fish, nuts and free range eggs, which are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats.
  • Seeds, avocados and olive oil are also good sources for healthy fats.
  • Avoid junk foods and trans fats.
  • Keep your portion sizes reasonable.
  • Enjoy!

If you'd like to learn more about this, or other health related topics, visit us at www.wantaghwoodschiropractic.com, or come on in.