Anna G. Larson, Published March 04 2013
Brain threats, brain protectorsWASHINGTON – Barnard outlines what he believes can harm and help the brain in “Power Foods for the Brain.”
- Saturated fats
Found in: Meats, dairy products and eggs
Why they’re a threat: Appear to encourage the production of beta-amyloid plaques (clumps of material in between nerve cells) in the brain.
The Chicago Health and Aging Study reported that people consuming the most saturated fat had more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Trans fats
Found in: Snack pastries, doughnuts and other junk foods
Why they’re a threat: These fats raise cholesterol levels and increase production of the beta-amyloid protein that collects in plaques in the brain as Alzheimer’s begins.
Trans fats have been shown to increase Alzheimer’s risk more than fivefold.
- Excess iron
Found in: cast-iron cookware, meat and iron supplements
Why it’s a threat: We need iron to make hemoglobin, but excess iron can build up in the brain and spark the production of damaging free radicals.
- Excess copper
Found in: Copper pipes and nutritional supplements
Why it’s a threat: The body needs traces of copper to make enzymes, but excess copper impairs cognition and ends up in plaques of Alzheimer’s disease
Found in: Uncoated aluminum cookware, baking powder, antacids and processed foods
Why it’s a threat: Aluminum has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Aluminums role in the brain remains controversial though.
- Nuts and seeds
Especially good nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseed
Why they protect: They’re rich in vitamin E, which has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s. One ounce daily is plenty.
- Blueberries and grapes
Why they protect: They’re full of powerful antioxidants that improve learning and recall, according to studies at the University of Cincinnati.
- Green leafy vegetables
Why they protect: They provide iron in a form that is more absorbable when the body needs more and less absorbable when the body already has enough, which protects the body from iron overload.
Green vegetables are also loaded with folate, an important brain-protecting B vitamin.
- Beans and chickpeas
Why they protect: Both have protein, calcium, vitamin B6 and folate, with no saturated or trans fat.
- Vitamin B12
How it protects: It’s essential for healthy nerves and brain cells. Many people have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from foods but B12 in supplements is highly absorbable.
Together, folate, vitamin B6 and B12 eliminate homocysteine, which can build up in the bloodstream and damage the brain.
Other brain protectors
How it protects: Exercise brings oxygen to the brain and can reverse brain shrinkage and improve memory.
- Mental exercises
How they protect: Brain stimulation – from books, newspapers and online brain-training exercises – strengthens the brain.
How it protects: Sleep is essential for preserving memories. The brain integrates facts and words learned during the day during the first half of sleep and then during the second, emotions and physical skills are integrated.
Source: “Power Foods for the Brain” by Dr. Neal Barnard.