What Are They?
There are many "brain foods", or foods that enhance brain function, as well as a large number of other "foods" that can interfere with cognitive function, memory, concentration and learning. Scientific researchers often try to isolate a nutrient or nutrients that provide a benefit to brain functioning.
To date, they have suggested B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron and antioxidants. There are dozens of different antioxidants, most of which are found in fruits and vegetables. Various antioxidants are responsible for the vibrant colors that we see in plant foods.
Non-Plant Brain Foods
Just about the only non-plant foods that are significant sources of antioxidants are certain kinds of fish and seafood. For example, the pink color of salmon is due to a unique antioxidant called Astaxanthin.
Salmon is also a good source of protein, the antioxidant vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. Shrimp also contains Astaxanthin, but is not a source of omega-3 fatty acids and is relatively high in cholesterol. In addition, shrimp is referred to as a "bottom feeder", which means it scavenges toxins from the ocean floor. So, when it comes to choosing seafood, salmon is a better choice than shrimp, especially if you are looking for brain foods.
What Causes Fuzzy Thinking?
When it comes to food that may interfere with cognitive function, particularly as we age, the main culprits are the simple carbohydrates. These are such items as starchy white breads and sugars.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are complex carbohydrates.
They are digested slowly, which helps keep the level of insulin and other hormone levels stable.
Simple or Complex? Blood Sugar 101
Complex carbohydrates contain large amounts of unique antioxidants. For example, carrots contain beta-carotene. Tomatoes contain lycopene. Dark leafy greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as folic acid, which is essential for normal brain development and function.
The simple carbohydrates are mostly those that have been heavily processed. Refined grains and bleached white flour, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are among the simple carbs. White bread, cakes, donuts, sodas, white rice, pasta, pancakes and muffins are just a few of the “NON” brain foods.
They are digested too quickly, which causes spikes in blood sugar (glucose) levels and sets into action a chain of events that ends with the production of advanced glycation end-products, aptly referred to as AGEs.
AGEs are composed of several proteins stuck together with glucose. The cells of the body cannot use the proteins, so they become oxidized or hardened. When the hardened proteins are able to enter the cells of the body, including the neurons in our brains, they kill the cells. This is one of the things that happens in Alzheimer’s disease.
The REAL Breakfast of Champions
If you are a parent, give your kids brain foods for breakfast. A good breakfast might consist of walnuts or almonds, because of the protein and omega-3 content, oatmeal, a whole grain that is digested slowly and provides folic acid, and blueberries, because of the unique antioxidants they contain.
Researchers have proven again and again that kids perform better in school when they eat breakfast. Until recently, they were vague about what foods should be included in that breakfast.
They are starting to recommend specific brain foods like the ones mentioned in this article. For children with Attention Deficit Disorder or other learning problems, the right foods can make a huge difference.