Feeding Your Brain

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You know that proper nutrition assists your body to fight infection, prevent cancer, and function efficiently during daily activities. Take just a few minutes to evaluate your diet. In the blank next to each food category, write the number of servings you eat on a typical day:




_Milk, Yogurt, Cheese

_Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta

_Meats, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, Nuts

_Fats, Oils, Sweets

The brain requires 25 percent of the body's available resources.

You must keep your body adequately nourished to provide the essential nutrients in sufficient quantities. After all, the brain takes 25 percent of the available resources, and if what is available is not enough, 25 percent of "not enough" is still "not enough." You may need to learn compensation strategies to maintain your body fitness and function at peak performing capacity. Reducing the energy drain on total available resources increases the amount of resources available for mental processes. Let's start with proper nutrition. Like a car, you need a good supply and quality of fuel to run efficiently and at peak capacity.

Plan a Day's Meals Based on the USDA Food Pyramid

If you have lived in the United States in the past decade, you probably are very familiar with the Food Guide Pyramid released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (refer to Figure 4-5). It is on many food containers you purchase in the grocery stores. The admonitions are clear: Eat a certain number of foods from each of the tiers of the pyramid each day.

This is because the body needs more than 40 nutrients, and no one food supplies them all. If you just glance at the pyramid, it appears impossible to accommodate all of the recommendations in a single day. It may take some practice, but it is doable!

Use these guidelines to select food for a typical day. Several of the tiers recommend a range of servings. If you are slight in build, choose the lower of the number ranges. If you are big boned, select the higher. For example, we should eat two to four servings of fruit per day. Small people should choose two, and large people should choose four.

Complete the chart below: (We have filled in the morning snack as an example for you.)


Bread, Cereal, Rice Pasta (6-11)

Vegetables (3-5)

Fruit (2-4)

Milk, Yogurt, Cheese (2-3)

Meats, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, Nuts (2-3)

Fats, Oils, Sweets (sparingly)



1 carrot

1 glass of milk





The brain uses biochemicals to perform cognitive functions. It extracts these biochemicals from the foods we eat. Various biochemicals are used to make you feel happy, angry, relaxed, stressed, energized, or calm. Certain neuro-transmitters, such as serotonin, assist with sleep regulation and anxiety reduction. Serotonin is manufactured from the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in protein-rich foods. Let's take a little time to discuss just a few of the neurotransmitters.

Acetylcholine is one of the essential ingredients for memory formation and maintenance. Acetylcholine is made from the fat-like B vitamin choline, which is found in egg yolks and organ meats. Scientists do not fully understand the manufacturing process but do know that Alzheimer's disease can be linked to the underproduction of acetyl-choline due to the destruction of the cholinergic neurons that make it. Very few studies have been done on the effects of choline, but the few that do exist indicate that choline supplementation does enhance memory and reduce fatigue. However, if you have an abundant supply of choline and do not use it, this is similar to having a full tank of gasoline and not driving your car. You must use your mind to make the choline work for you.

Soldiers have been given tyrosine supplements and then exposed to environmental stresses such as high altitudes or prolonged cold. The typical responses to these conditions, headaches and memory lapses, are reduced. This study also indicates the importance of these biochemicals to the proper working mechanisms of the brain.

Other neurotransmitters, collectively called catecholamines, control arousal and anxiety states and are major factors in the brain's ability to handle stress. You may have heard of some of these: dopamine, epinephrine, and norepenephrine. Dopamine and norepenephrine are derived from the amino acid tyrosine. Stress in your environment depletes your blood of tyrosine, which is an important player in the manufacture of neurotransmitters. Amino acids, which are found in protein-rich foods and other dietary substances, are used by the body to create these neurotransmitters.

Deficiencies of B vitamins result in profound deleterious effects on the brain, such as abnormal brain waves, impaired memory, higher levels of anxiety and confusion, irritability, and depression. Even marginal deficiency levels demonstrate these effects. Remember serotonin? Folic acid is required to maintain the proper levels of serotonin in your brain. If your

Figure 6-4 Blood-brain barrier

thiamin (B1) supply is deficient, your brain's ability to use glucose is reduced, and less energy is available for your brain to maintain mental activities.

From these few examples, it is obvious that if deficits exist because of aging or stress, supplementation improves cognitive functioning. However, there is no evidence that any positive results will come from supplements if normal amounts of the neurotransmitters already exist. And there is always the possibility that if you self-prescribe supplements, you could overdose, resulting in adverse, possibly dangerous, reactions. A natural competition exists for elements crossing the blood-brain barrier in the blood supply.

Supplementing certain amino acids could overload your system and keep other necessary precursor amino acids from crossing into your brain. So do not run out and buy amino acid supplements.

The best way to supplement your body's natural requirements is by following a balanced diet.

The Dieting Trap

Many people fall into the trap of dieting. Cutting back on the quantity of food and not changing the quality of the food actually is detrimental to your weight-maintenance program. The following lighthearted quiz is a matching exercise for some of the not-too-successful diets. Match each ill-fated diet with its name.

a. Seafood diet b. Light diet c. Sir Edmund Hillary diet d. Will Rogers diet e. I Watch What I Eat diet f. Wine diet g. Fondue diet h. James Bond diet

Never say diet. I never 'et a food I didn't like. Ohhhhnnhhhh ... I'm hungggrrryyy. I watch my food all the way from my plate to my lips.

As soon as it gets light, I start eating. I see food, I eat it. I ate it because it was there. Cheeze, I'm hungry.

The matching game above is an exercise for your linguistic intelligence. All of the answers are a result of word play.

a. The Seafood diet I see food, I eat it.

Words that sound alike.

b. The Light diet As soon as it gets light, I start eating.

Two meanings for the same word.

c. Sir Edmund Hillary diet I ate it because it was there.

When asked why he had climbed Mt. Everest, Sir Hillary said "Because it was there."

d. Will Rogers diet I never 'et a food I didn't like.

A famous quote of Rogers is "I never met a man I didn't like".

e. I watch what I eat diet I watch my food all the way from my plate to my lips.

Two meanings for the same word.

f. The Wine Diet Ohhhhhmmmhhh—I'm hungggrrryyy.

Wine and whine sound alike.

g. The Fondue diet Cheeze, I'm hungry.

Fondue is a cheese dish. Cheese and cheeze sound alike.

h. The James Bond Diet Never say diet.

One of the James Bond stories is named "Never Say Die." Words that sound alike.

It is important for you to eat a balanced diet. Not only does it keep your body healthy, but it keeps your mind supplied with the nutrients necessary to function at peak capacity. For a general rule of thumb, anything brightly colored is brain food (just as crunchy fruits and vegetables, in general, are anticancer foods). You will learn in the next chapter how to fine-tune your mental processes and regain the mental agility you possessed 15 to 20 years ago. If you do not get adequate sleep and properly fuel your body to support these new practices, however, you will not reap your fullest benefits.

Anything brightly colored is brain food. Calculate Your Body Mass Index

Perhaps you are worried that you are eating too much or too little. All of us worry at one time or another about our proportions. Garfield, the popular cartoon cat created by Jim Davis, has a unique perspective on the weight issue and quips, "I'm not overweight. I'm undertall." But seriously, there is a calculation you can do to compare your height and weight.

Let's use a little old-fashioned math (exercise those particular brain cells!) and determine one of the factors of your physical health: a measurement called your Body Mass Index (BMI). Healthy older adults have a body mass index of 22 to 27. The calculation warrants use of a calculator. Here's the formula:

BMI = 704 x (your weight) (your height)2

Here are the steps:

1. Using a calculator, key in 704.

2. Press the multiplication sign.

3. Key in your weight in pounds.

4. Press the division key.

5. Key in your height in inches. (If you are 5'2"tall, that's

62 inches.)

6. Press the division key.

7. Key in your height in inches again.

8. Press the equal key.

The number in the display is your Body Mass Index. If the number is less than 22 or more than 27, you may want to talk to your doctor about your results.

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