Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Top 10: Brain Foods

Brain Foods
Justin Robinson, MA, RD, CSSD, FAFS, CSCS, is the director of strength and conditioning at RU Sports Performance Center and the nutrition consultant at Optimal Nutrition, Inc.

The quest for more brain power seemingly continues through our lifespan, primarily because it eludes us as we age. We constantly strive for higher test scores, improved focus at work and increased retention of names, important dates and conversations (especially those of us in relationships). If you have already exhausted every avenue to increase your brain power, including more sleep, meditation, Sudoku, and sufficient exercise, try incorporating a few of the following brain foods into your diet.

High-powered brain foods provide sustained energy, thus they typically include complex carbohydrates, fiber,
lean protein, and some fat. Brain foods also power your entire body, including the heart and vascular system, meaning they are low in cholesterol and saturated fat, high in omega-3 fatty acids and minimally processed. High omega-3 intake increases circulation, which may result in long-term health benefits including lower risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Evidence from recent animal studies suggests that high omega-3 intake may improve recovery from concussions. In short, brain foods not only improve behavior and mood, but can also reduce inflammation and decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease.
Brain Foods

No.10 Omega-3 fortified eggs

Free-range chickens fed diets high in omega-3 fatty acids produce eggs with higher omega-3, consequently improving the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. This fortification does not change the flavor or consistency of the eggs.

Brain Foods

No.9 Grass-fed beef

Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and omega-6 fats than corn- or grain-fed beef; a recent Clinical Nutrition study reports that improving (lowering) the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids provides significant health benefits. Based on these results, you may not need to supplement with omega-3 (fish and flax oil), but rather reduce the intake of foods high in omega-6 (such as most beef, eggs and dairy). Grass-fed cows may also have a lower presence of bacteria such as E. coli.
Brain Foods

No.8 Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is strained to remove the liquid whey, which creates a thick, creamy and tangy yogurt. Nutrition-wise, it may be higher in fat than American-style yogurt, but it has more protein and less added sugar (usually none). Enjoy plain Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey or use it to replace high-fat, creamy foods such as mayonnaise and sour cream. You can also “thin out” these foods by replacing half the amount with Greek yogurt.
Brain Foods

No.7 Chia seeds

Chia seeds are actually a more concentrated source of omega-3 than flax seed. Chia seeds can be ground and used in similar ways as flax seeds (added to smoothies, cereal, yogurt, etc.) or soaked in water or fruit juice to make chia fresca. These soaked seeds are gelatinous in texture and can be used as a substitute for butter or cream cheese in recipes and as a nutrient-dense additive to salad dressings, sauces, jams, cereals, dips, puddings, or soups. It will not affect flavor and will absolutely increase the nutritional value.
Brain Foods

No.6 Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is one of only two vegetarian sources of complete protein (soy is the other), meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids. Use Quinoa (a grain similar to couscous) as a substitute for rice or pasta in many dishes.
Brain Foods

No.5 Beans and legumes

Like whole wheat products, beans and legumes naturally provide complex carbohydrates and fiber, but additionally contain high amounts of potassium and phosphorus, which are beneficial for heart and bone health, respectively.
Brain Foods

No.4 Whole wheat breads, grains and pasta

These are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber (both soluble and insoluble) and B vitamins. These whole wheat brain foods are higher in protein than white grains.
Brain Foods

No.3 Raw nuts and seeds

Walnuts and almonds are great sources of omega-3. If you want to gain healthy weight, snack on nuts and seeds daily; they are very nutrient-dense and also pack a lot of energy. Raw is preferable since roasted nuts and seeds are often cooked in unhealthy oils (such as hydrogenated oils).
Brain Foods

No.2 Fresh fruit

Fresh fruit often gets a bad rap because it is “high in sugar,” which it is true, but it is also high in water, making it relatively low in calories for its volume. Bright-colored fruits, such as strawberries, acai, watermelon, and blueberries, are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available -- containing loads of vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Choose organic when you can, especially for fruits with thin, permeable skins, such as peaches and nectarines.
Brain Foods

No.1 Green tea

Moderate amounts of caffeine can improve focus, concentration and increase circulation (especially jasmine green tea). For you daily coffee drinkers, replace one or two cups per week with a cup of fresh brewed tea or choose tea as your late-afternoon pick-me-up rather than a soda or energy drink. Already a tea fan? If you have not already done so, try loose-leaf tea -- you’ll never go back.

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