Feed Your Brain
Whether you are preparing for a test or managing a big project, it is more important than ever to stay at the top of your game mentally. The foundations for a strong mind are sleep and nutrition. I have talked about sleep previously, so the focus of this article is nutrition.
Several diets have been posited as brain friendly. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults. The ketogenic diet has been associated with increased endurance, a leaner body, and recovery from traumatic brain injury. The evidence is mixed for vegetarian and vegan diets: avoidance of processed meats is probably helpful, but could result in some nutrient deficiencies.
Rather than promote one diet over another, I chose instead to look for similarities between the plans that can be broadly applied to fit most anyone's preferences.
Start With Whole Foods
As one person put it, "things that your grandmother would recognize as food." Or, as the sign at my gym suggests: "Always read the label. If it has one, it isn't food."
Eat Mostly Plants
Brightly colored vegetables and whole fruits should constitute the majority of your food by volume. Leafy greens are high in B-vitamins that have been associated with brain health. Broccoli is a good source of vitamins K and C. Berries, especially blueberries, should be eaten at least twice a week if possible.
Avoid Sugar and Processed Flours
Sugar does bad things to the brain. Processed flours are quickly converted into sugar. Don't do it.
Have Animal Protein, Especially Oily Fish
Fish is indeed brain food. Filled with healthy omega-3 fats that are good for the brain (and can't be made in the body), fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are top-notch. Meats are also excellent sources of iron and essential vitamins. Organ meats like liver can be especially nutrient-dense. Limit processed meats such as sausages and deli meats.
Don't be Afraid of Fats
The brain itself is 60% fat, so it should not be particularly surprising that fat would be good for it. However, be selective in the types of fat you are getting. If you are eating meats and especially oily fish you probably don't need to supplement too much. Whole eggs (and especially free range eggs) are another excellent source. Vegetarians or vegans might want to ensure a good dose of avocado, nuts, olive oil and coconut oil. Stay away from the processed seed oils.
Go Easy on the Grains
I already mentioned processed flour. Although whole grains are preferable, they are not particularly nutritious. Fiber and vitamins are more readily found in other plants. If you find yourself needing carbohydrates, sweet potatoes or other colorful root vegetables are probably a better bet.
A Bit of Chocolate for Dessert
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, appears to improve long-term cognitive ability. Just don't overdo it.
Diet is a sensitive topic for many people, so I have tried to avoid anything too controversial while highlighting the common threads. If you think I did a bad job, feel free to tell me about it in the comments.