Food For Thought
Olive oil for a healthy heart,
And don’t forget whole grains –
But who’s most suited for the part,
When it’s time to feed the brain?
The brain – the control centre of the nervous system, that complex organ that dictates what you do and how you function, that omniscient appendage without which you would be no more advanced than a quivering mass of cell tissue. Yes, it’s an important part of your body. A multi-tasker that can give our smart phones a run for their money!
Your brain functions continuously – when you breathe, talk, taste, run, secrete enzymes, add seven and eight incorrectly and scribble the answer on the palm of your hands, your brain is the organ assimilating all the information and stimuli. Even as you read this, there are neurons sparking off deep within your skull. Your brain makes up just 2% of your weight but it is the organ that uses up the most energy – as much as 20%! Little wonder, then, that the brain needs top-notch fuel in the form of good food with the right nutrients to help it function efficiently and well.
Can what you eat affect the workings of your brain? The answer is a definite ‘Yes!’ Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, Ph D., a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science who has spent years studying the effects of food and exercise on the brain, says, “Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging.”
So, what are the best foods for your brain?
Fish is at the top of many lists as one of the best foods for brain health. It contains long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, which help in improving learning ability. Fish is also a good source of iodine, which is required for the normal development and functioning of the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are present mainly in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. In India, the Indian salmon (raavas), sardines and mackerel (bangda) are good sources.
But what about the risks of eating fish? How much fish to consume is a hotly debated question, since fatty fish are often contaminated with methyl mercury, a pollutant in the oceans. It may be safe to avoid the big predatory fish such as shark (mori) and king mackerel which have higher mercury levels. Consuming about 340g of safer fish such as salmon and sardines per week should ensure that you are getting a sufficient amount of nutrients without too much risk. If you do not eat fish, check with your doctor about taking fish oil supplements, or marine DHA from algae, which contains no animal products.