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Feature: The Healthy Brain Diet




By Sandra Gordon

Whether you’re divvying up the restaurant tab, helping with homework or multitasking on projects at work, your brain works better when you feed it well. In fact, scientists in the pioneering field of nutritional neuroscience are finding that specific nutrients may be able to charge your brain’s neurotransmitters (messenger cells), thereby enhancing your mental performance and sharpening your memory. These nutrients come in pill form, but “the best brain food is a healthy diet,” says Rachel Patton, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Vancouver who specializes in prenatal, postnatal and pediatric nutrition. To give yourself a mental edge, here’s the heads up on what to eat to feed your brain well.

Neuro nutrient: OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

WHAT IT DOES: Known as the brain’s building

blocks, omega-3s may help improve memory in young adults. “Omega-3 fats are especially important during pregnancy and early childhood when the brain grows rapidly,” Patton says. Research indicates that omega-3 fats can improve memory function and attention span in schoolage children. Benefits in early childhood include improved language and social activity scores and higher IQ in toddlers. Omega-3 fats can also lower risk of depression in adults, including postpartum depression. SUPER SOURCES: salmon,

sardines, and herring are among the highest sources

of omega 3 fats (DHA and EPA). Bonus: They’re low in mercury, too. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Adults should eat at

least eight ounces of seafood per week. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should aim for 8 to 12 ounces or 2 to 3 servings of a variety of seafood. But limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week, and avoid tilefish, swordfish, shark and King mackerel due to their high mercury content. Children should consume one to two smaller portions of low-mercury fish per week. If you don’t consume fish, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about taking an omega-3 supplement from fish oil or microalgae.

Neuro nutrient: B VITAMINS

WHAT IT DOES: Deficiencies in B6, B12, and

folate (known as folic acid or vitamin B9 in supplement form) have been linked to lower cognition in older adults. “Getting enough B vitamins can have a positive impact on brain function throughout life,” Patton says. Folate influences memory and abstract thinking and can reduce the risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy. SUPER SOURCES: chicken, fish, dark green

leafy vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and lentils.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: If you’re trying to get

pregnant, don’t rely on your diet to get enough folic acid. Before pregnancy, take a multivitamin with 400 mcg/day. During pregnancy, take a prenatal vitamin with 600 mcg of folic acid. Get 500 mcg of folic acid in supplement form during lactation. All other adults should be able to get enough folate/folic acid from their diet, especially since breads and cereals sold in the U.S. are fortified with folic acid.

Neuro nutrient:



This plant pigment accumulates between brain cells to help your brain’s neurotransmitters communicate with each other. “The connections between our brain cells are like money to the economy,” says Matthew Kuchan, PhD, a researcher at Abbott Nutrition and the Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory at the University of Illinois. Emerging research suggests that lutein impacts our intellect at every stage—from childhood through old age. “There’s a strong correlation between lutein status in 8 and 9 year olds and their performance on memory tests and measures of academic performance,” Kuchan says. Similarly, a study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that seniors who consumed more lutein had better crystalized intelligence—the ability to continued on page 20


Vancouver Family Magazine • • June 2017

Vancouver Family Magazine June 2017  

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