Sunday, November 29, 2009

Brain food

One cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well."  Virginia Woolfe

With the holidays fully upon us (fa la la la), and having just finished turkey feasts with all the fixings and still working on the leftovers, I thought now would be a great time to talk about food.  When it comes to your brain, you literally are what you eat.  Your grocery list can have a direct impact on whether you effectively cross things off of your to-do list.

Your brain is the biggest energy hog in your body.  While, on average, it represents only 2% of the body's weight, although I know we all can think of some people where it is obviously much less, it uses about 20% of the energy produced by the body.  Studies show that a person can be as much as 200% more productive just by making better eating choices.  That is pretty powerful stuff! You can promote quicker thinking, better memory and concentration and improved balance and coordination, sharper senses, and the activation of your feel good hormones just by what you put on your plate.

On the flip side, it is equally important to realize that certain foods can also diminish your brain power and  help to make you the dullest knife in the drawer. I don't know about you, but I want no help in that department.  With holiday food and festivities at every turn from now until after the new year, I'll go ahead and be a kill joy and concentrate on the bad things first. Let me add a little to the guilt. 

A list of the worst brain foods would include:  alcohol, artificial food colorings, artificial sweeteners, sugars and corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, and nicotine. Basically, what is bad for your heart is not going to help your brain either.

You brain runs pretty much on blood sugar, using as much as 20% of the carbohydrates you ingest.  It performs best on a steady supply. Simple carbohydrates - processed flour and sugary foods - cause wild fluctuations in this.  The blood sugar roller coaster is just plain not good for any part of your body.  So while that chocolate covered, cream filled doughnut may taste sinfully delicious, it is doing much more than making your pants tighter.

Since my brain injury, I have quit smoking and do not drink. I have become the obnoxious ex-smoker who gets offended when anyone pollutes "my" air.  How dare they?  While I do miss the way red wine would just slide down my throat and give me a big, warm hug all over, I don't want to chance canceling out all the other good things I am doing in my life. So, as a general rule, I do not indulge.

I have also cleaned up my daily diet immensely eating things like rice milk, flax seed and lots of nuts, fresh fruits and veggies and other good things.  I also do not eat any diet foods or artificial sweeteners.  Stevia is a natural artificial sweetener that can be found at any grocery store.  I know, don't I just make you sick?  It took a brain injury to make me do these things.  Believe me, I know it is not easy to do with less motivation.  But, then, I am jumping ahead to next week's blog.

Now, I am not advocating that we all give up every indulgent pleasure and become boring, abstainers from almost everything.  I did have a little bit of each dessert after the Thanksgiving meal thank you very much.  I believe that totally denying yourself only sets you up for failure and makes life very colorless.  I make healthy choices every day on a regular basis as a general rule and allow myself to indulge when I think the occasion calls for it.  That works for me.  You have to find what works for you.

I would encourage you to start by doing something manageable and small for you.  It might be changing your sweetener or limiting yourself to one cup of coffee a day.  I know my Dad cut out the sodas in his daily diet and lost weight and noticed that he feels much better.  The point is do something. You can do it. Look at your life and diet.  What can you change or eliminate?  Try it for a couple of days and see what changes you notice in your energy levels, your thinking,your moods or whatever.

I would love to hear what you are doing and any differences you perceive.  Now, go enjoy those leftovers!


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