In pursuit of mental greatness, many paths are being forged by pioneers in the field. There are camps of people interested in the newest Nootropics, which little pill might unlock a new mental capacity. There are camps pursuing mental clarity and perfection via mindfulness meditation and other cognitive hacks to reframe their perceptions of the world. And then there are people like Dr. Rhonda Patrick.
Rhonda Patrick is a PhD in biochemistry, and through life experience combined with her scientific knowledge, has pioneered research between gut health and mental health, as well as studying the relationship between vitamin D levels and serotonin production.
As a favor to you, here's a breakdown of those findings: vitamin D is critical to serotonin production. Serotonin makes you happy. Less than 30% of Americans get adequate levels of Vitamin D. What this means is that if you find yourself feeling inexplicably negative or low-energy all the time, is that it could be as simple as Vitamin D.
I have had major depression my entire life, and my doctor never once inquired deeply into my diet.
Rhonda had a similar experience, and managed to make tremendous positive changes in her mental well being in her pursuit of the science between a healthy diet and a healthy mind.
Before we get into the foods I recommend for a healthy brain, I have to heartily recommend following Dr. Rhonda Patrick on Instagram. Like many Instagrammers she takes photos of her meals. Except her meals are comprised of superfoods and she breaks down why she is eating all of them. It can be incredibly inspiring in thinking of how to improve your own diet:
Wild Alaskan salmon and salad for dinner! I try to eat salmon 2-3 times per week, which is what the American Heart Association recommends. They recommend that adults consume 500 mg/d of EPA and DHA (~2-3 servings of fatty fish per wk or ~8 oz of fish/wk). However, the mean intake Western society is ~135 mg/d (~2 servings of fish/mo). Salmon is also a source of iodine, selenium (which is a cofactor needed for all glutathione-related enzymes to work), iron, copper, and some vitamin D. I also have a plate of greens consisting of spinach and kale for all those goodies found in greens such as magnesium, folate, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, isothiocyanates (which kill cancer cells), and more. The greens are topped with avocados for potassium, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E (both tocopherols and tocotrienols). #micronutrients #omega3 #nutrition #healthy
She knows her stuff.
Rhonda Patrick aside, there is a growing school of thought that what we've been eating may be the cause of our growing malaise in the United States. That nutrition is perhaps a vastly overlooked tool in trying to better our mental capacity.
We know for certain now that you can change the behavior of a human being by depleting their essential nutrients. You can take a happy person and make them sad if they can't produce serotonin. That's a powerful case for looking into what might be missing in your diet.
If you're looking for ways to improve your brain by changing your diet, let's get into some of the best foods for keeping your brain in shape. If you have children, I insist that you try to find a way to get them to eat these foods, which are more necessary during brain development than ever.
You've heard of Omega-3 fatty acids by now, and that's because we know that they cannot be produced naturally in the body and must come from the diet. Supplementing may help a little, but the most potent form of omega-3's comes from oily fish.
This is because fish produce EPA and DHA, which is easy for your body to absorb and put to use. This is important. With some supplements, you may be intaking tons of omega-3's without actually getting much in an easily usable form.
When shopping for fish, look for fresh salmon, trout, herring, and sardines. If you are more adventurous of an eater, look for salmon roe, which is even more potent.
Benefits you'll find from these readily absorbed omega-3s include reduced brain inflammation, a lower risk of Alzheimer's, and improved mood and memory.
Vitamin E as well as healthy fats are essential for your body, and nuts are a great source of those. Walnuts particularly have similar fatty acids to fish, and Vitamin E has antioxidant effects that protect cell membranes.
The form of Vitamin E in walnuts has been said to be far more potent, and thus much better at protecting against stroke and neurodegeneration.
Tomatoes, and in particular cooked tomatoes offer lycopene, which is another antioxidant that protects your brain against free radicals later in life, reducing chances of Alzheimer's and dementia.
According to Psychology Today, lycopene also "regulates genes that influence inflammation and brain growth."
Beyond that tomatoes are linked to reduced risk of several cancers. Stew yourself some tomatoes and live with a bit less fear of some of the most frightening threats that old age has to offer.
You can also get Lycopene in pink grapefruit, watermelon, and carrots.
Seeds contain zinc, which is another antioxidant that can remove free radicals, but in addition zinc has anti-inflammatory properties, increases insulin sensitivity, and has benefits for energy levels, cognition, and sleep.
This is because zinc can help regulate dopamine, which is a transmitter essential in helping you concentrate.
Moreover, zinc can make the omega-3s you're taking in do their job more efficiently.
Other good sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans nuts, and whole grains.
Broccoli has vitamin C, which has been touted as helpful to energy levels for a long time, but more importantly has vitamin K2.
Oh yeah, you know it, another antioxidant that can protect you from free radicals, preserving the protection around your neurons.
Even more importantly, vitamin K2 assures that any vitamin D you consume does the job it's meant to. According to this article, if you are taking supplemental vitamin D, you absolutely must also take vitamin K2 to assure that calcium goes where it is meant to and doesn't cause harm.
I suggest buying a whole head of broccoli and a flavorful garlic hummus and going to town on it, but that's just me.
Other foods can include hard cheeses, egg yolks, butter, and chicken breast.
Those are some of my favorite brain boosting foods, but there are a ton more. For more information I absolutely recommend starting at Rhonda Patrick's YouTube channel, FoundMyFitness.
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If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, Brain Fog is a term used for those moments when your thoughts become suddenly unclear. You become unfocused. Simple math somehow becomes challenging. It’s a scary feeling for most people — a sudden loss of control of the most important part of their body. As we get older, these moments become more common, but dismissing them as a normal part of aging can be a mistake. People remain sharp well into their 90's.
So what’s the cause? What makes the difference between that sharp-minded 90-something and the 30-something that gets recurring episodes of forgetfulness?
The Zeigarnik Effect shows that "when we don’t finish a task, we experience discomfort and elusive thoughts because of it.” As humans, we cope with this discomfort by either escaping into a mode of complacency or taking action. If you're caught in between, take it one step at a time. Your brain and body will thank you.
Taking a few nootropic compounds doesn’t suddenly lead to a better lifestyle. Healthy sleep schedules, diet, and exercise all contribute to a healthy brain, but there’s a few things you can do now to increase your productivity: