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What you eat affect your brain

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Can what you eat actually affect how well your brain ages? That’s been a subject of heated debate as some scientists race to identify gene mutations linked to Alzheimer’s disease while others home ...

Can what you eat actually affect how well your brain ages? That’s been a subject of heated debate as some scientists race to identify gene mutations linked to Alzheimer’s disease while others home in on nutrients that appear to protect against dementia and keep our brains sharp through the years.

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What you eat affect your brain What you eat affect your brain Document Transcript

  • WHAT YOU EATAFFECT YOUR BRAINCan what you eat actually affecthow well your brain ages? That’sbeen a subject of heated debate assome scientists race to identifygene mutations linked toAlzheimer’s disease while othershome in on nutrients that appearto protect against dementia andkeep our brains sharp through theyears.Vegetarian activist Dr. NealBarnard, a clinical researcher andadjunct professor at the GeorgeWashington University School ofMedicine, believes the balance tipsmore toward diet than genes andadvocates for a complete avoidanceof animal products in his newbook “Power Foods for the Brain.”Few nutritionists would argue withthe basic tenets of Barnard’s eatingplan: Consume a diet based onfruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts,and whole grains. He also urgesregular exercise and adequate sleepto prevent brain diseases and rapidaging.
  • Where Barnard and his staff at thenonprofit Washington-based researchgroup Physicians for ResponsibleMedicine part ways with the publichealth establishment is in their veganapproach to eating. In their view, meat,chicken, fish, dairy products, and mostoils are not brain foods.First off, animal products containsaturated fat, which “has been prettystrongly linked to Alzheimer’s risk,”Barnard says. “There’s no good reason toeat it.” Saturated fat raises artery-damaging cholesterol, and researchsuggests it contributes to the formationof beta amyloid plaques that gunk up thebrain and are associated withAlzheimer’s disease.That makes sense to me, but why shouldI avoid my fat-free Greek yogurt or eggwhite omelets that contain no saturatedfat? Barnard has a weaker case to makeagainst those because research hasn’tdrawn a clear connection betweenanimal protein and long-term memoryloss.He did, though, make an intriguingargument against the over-fortificationof foods, especially cereals supplementedwith minerals such as copper and iron.“Very few of us are deficient in theseminerals, and many of us have toomuch,” he said. High intakes of copperhave been linked to memory problems inseniors, and both copper and iron havebeen found in beta-amyloid plaques.
  • Just how much these mineralscontribute to Alzheimer’s risk remainsunknown, but Barnard was quick topoint out that while the body may gettoo much iron from animal products, itonly absorbs the different form of ironfound in spinach and other leafy greenswhen stores are running low.Limiting omega-6 fats such as corn andvegetable oil is also key for brainhealth, Barnard says, because these fatsknock out the beneficial effects ofomega-3 fats — found in fish oil,walnuts, and flaxseed — that promoteblood flow to the brain.Barnard excludes fish as a brain foodbecause fatty fish is often contaminatedwith mercury, which is also toxic to thebrain.So which foods will actually help youshore up your brain’s defenses againstaging? The book is careful not to singleout a few magic bullet foods that willward off memory loss — none exists —but it does emphasize the followingdietary principles.Dietary principles:1. Make a power plate at everymeal. One quarter of the plate shouldbe filled with fruits, one quarter withgrains, one quarter with legumes, andone quarter with vegetables.2. Do colorful combinations offoods. Combining sweet potatoes withkale or oranges with apples willensure that you get a variety ofvitamins and other plant chemicalsthat work synergistically to promotegood brain health.3. Get creative with legumes. Vegans usethese as their main source of protein,so think hummus, tofu, tempeh, aswell as beans, lentils, and peas.4. Learn to prepare foods withoutoil. The book recommends drysauteeing vegetables. I’m assumingover low heat, so they won’t burn. Youcan also cook vegetables and grains invegetable broth for added flavor.5. Don’t forget the nuts andseeds. Sprinkle nuts and seeds onyour salads, grains, and morningoatmeal to get omega-3 fats andvitamin E, both beneficial for thebrain.6. Skip all supplements, except onecontaining B12. Vegetarians oftenlack B12 — essential for proper brainfunction — in their diets since it’sfound mainly in animal products suchas beef, turkey, and pork, so the bookrecommends taking a dailysupplement.