Friday, October 30, 2020

Garbage In Garbage Out: How Food Affects Our Brain Function

 

I’ve had several reminders recently about the close connection between what we eat and how well our brain functions (or not).  The most recent:  I ate plenty today, so I was not hungry.  But my brain was definitely tired around 3 pm today, even though I’d tried all my usually restart techniques (had a snack, took a walk, did a short mindfulness practice, worked a word puzzle).  I ate a handful of nuts, and presto, about 15 minutes later I was ready to attack the to-do list again.  That little combination of protein and healthy fat was the kickstart my brain needed to re-engage.

 

The topic of this blog entry is not likely to be news to many of you.  We all know that eating a diet high in processed food, sugars, carbs and saturated fats is unhealthy for us.  But maybe we don’t think there are significant ramifications beyond that unsightly blob of belly fat.  Think again.

 

Our brain uses as much as 20 percent of the body’s energy.  So, it makes sense that the fuel we give our body to create energy (food) can have a direct impact on how well our brain functions.

 

A recent study concluded that higher levels of body fat in individuals 65 and older suggested a higher risk of cognitive impairment.  By contrast, greater muscle mass in the same age group suggested that these individuals were more protected from cognitive aging.   Of course, the difference between obesity and greater muscle mass is not merely a function of what an individual eats, but a bad diet is a strong predictor of obesity.

 

Studies have shown that high sugar intake causes the brain’s memory functions to deteriorate, and may increase the risk of dementia.  Other studies show the opposite, that a reduction in sugar intake can support improved brain function.

 

The food-brain function connection is certainly a long-term relationship.  The healthier you eat over the years, the better and longer your brain will work for you.  But there is also a more immediate food-brain function connection.  This article suggests a menu filled with protein, healthy fats and snacks to eat the day before and the day of a big test, to give your brain the energy it needs to do its best work.

 

Interested in learning more about which foods are actually good for you, and should improve your cognitive function?  This chart will tell you everything you want to know.  I think I’ll add some blueberries and dark chocolate to my handful of nuts when I hit tomorrow afternoon’s slump!