Some of the best foods for brain health are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and delicious, and often overlooked. Here is what you need to know about enhancing your brain health with simple additions to your diet.
Since 2012, the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association has included a session called "Food and the Brain." In 2015, one of the presenters even shucked a bucket of oysters at nine o'clock in the morning to make a point about the brain-healthy qualities of shellfish. The psychiatrist presenting the talk posed questions about food to the doctors assembled rather than droning on with a long lecture. Answer a question correctly, and you were rewarded with a fresh, raw oyster.
Not many doctors learn about brain nutrition through this method, but more and more psychiatrists, neurologists, and primary care providers are recognizing the role of good diet in mental and neurological health.
A paper published in early 2015 in the prestigious medical journal Lancet Psychiatry notes that "although the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology." In addition to the aforementioned oysters, more and more researchers are recognizing the usefulness of beans and greens.
Beans For Brains
Although purely vegan diets are associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction with quality of life, eating too much meat poses its own problems. The way farm animals are raised in the United States and some other countries is appalling. They are confined to cages and fed lots, and only avoid serious infections by being given daily doses of antibiotics. These antibiotics, scientists are slowly finding out, do more than just stop infections. They also change the way the brain can absorb the amino acids it needs for making proteins across the blood-brain barrier. Animals that are fed grain to fatten them up just before slaugher accumulate an abnormal kind of intramuscular fat that makes their meat tasty, but is not found in nature. Most experts advise eating meat as a condiment rather than as a main course, and only eating animals raised free-range, not on feed lots or in cages. Some countries in the European Union only permit the sale of free-range poultry and beef.
It's better for most of us to get much of our protein from beans. Beans are the original brain food. Many kinds of beans manufacture dopamine, the same chemical associated with pleasure in the brain.
Not only do we feel better when we eat them, they help the brain manufacture dopamine even when it can't make enough of the chemical on its own. This improves concentration, coordination, and mood.
Greens Are Also Great For The Brain
Another great brain food is green foods, especially if they are fermented. Pickles that have not been heat processed, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain live cultures of Lactobacillus. These bacteria release anti-inflammatory compounds that circulate to over 260 million connections between the digestive tract and the brain. When inflammation-relieving compounds reach the brain, they enable it to absorb the amino acids it needs to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that fights depression.