Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brain Enhancing Foods

This is a list of some common foods that help enhance the mind and help it maintain its sharpness with age

Carbohydrates are the principal source of the body's energy and are divided into two types —simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates include the various sugars found in fruit (fructose), milk (lactose), and table sugar (sucrose). Complex carbohydrates are found in vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Complex carbohydrates are preferable, as it takes longer for the body to break them down, releasing the sugar into the bloodstream slowly. Simple carbohydrates, especially table sugar, can flood the body and trigger an oversecretion of insulin by the isles of Langerhans, resulting in an initial surge of energy from the sugar followed by lethargy caused by the sudden rush of insulin. Foods should be unrefined, fresh, and natural; refined foods, canned goods, and snack foods should be avoided.

Food Sources: Fruits, whole grains, vegetables.

Effects: Carbohydrates help relax the brain and are necessary for good mental functioning. They act as an antidepressant for people with less sugarinduced serotonin in the brain than normal (such as those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder [SAD]), possibly by amplifying serotonergic neurotransmission. If consumption is timed right, they can increase the brain's energy levels, as they are readily broken down into glucose, a simple sugar found in nature that is necessary for the brain's functioning.

Precautions: Fructose does not have this calming effect. Simple sugars (table sugar, brown sugar, and honey, for instance) have no nutritional value except for calories, and can promote cavities, cause rapid changes in blood sugar and insulin, and lead to obesity, hypoglycemia, and diabetes, among other disorders. Some people are "carbohydrate cravers," and need them to prevent drowsiness, restlessness, or boredom; instead of becoming sleepy, these people become more focused and alert, and better sustain concentration. Carbohydrates are safe and, to quote Dr. Stuart Berger, "They are the only food category not linked to any killer diseases."

Dosage: 300 to 400 g/day from complex carbohydrates, or about 1200 to 1600 kilocalories/day (out of an average total of 1800 to 2200 kilocalories/day). Ideally, 65 percent of a person's caloric intake should be carbohydrates —55 percent from complex carbohydrates and starches and 10 percent from natural sugars such as those found in fruit. A minimum of 50 g/day are needed to prevent ketosis, an acidic condition of the blood. For best effect, carbohydrates should be taken with as little protein and fat as possible, as these slow down or hinder serotonin on its way to the brain.

Effects: Contains antioxidants. The darker the honey, the more the antioxidants; for instance, honey made from Illinois buckwheat flowers has 20 times the antioxidants as honey made from California sage. Tupelo honey has the most fructose of any of the honeys and doesn't cause the insulin rush that others do.

Precautions: For the most health benefits, the honey should be unfiltered, unheated, and unprocessed. Despite the claims of some health advocates, the vitamin and mineral content of honey is minimal, and any derived benefits negligible. Honey also has the highest sugar content of all the natural sweeteners, and even has more sugar content than refined sugar; in fact, it can rot teeth faster than table sugar, possibly because of its stickiness and the fact that its vitamin and mineral content, however small, may provide a favorable environment for bacteria. Compounding the problem is the fact that manufacturers may feed bees sugar water or add sugar syrup to the honey to increase the sweetness (a tipoff is inexpensive brands that pour easily). Further, the honey is heated to high temperatures, destroying much of the protein and nutritional content. Honey could also contain carcinogens that bees have inadvertently picked up from flowers sprayed with pesticides, or traces of penicillin and sulfite, which could pose a threat to susceptible individuals. Honey should never be fed to infants under one year of age, as it contains spores of Clostridium botulinum, the organism that causes botulism; while adults and older children have stomach acid that can kill the bacterium, infants do not, leaving them susceptible to sickness or even death.

AKA: Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, chlorella, cyanobacteria, nori, SBGA, seaweed, spirulina, Super Blue Green Algae. Microalgae are singlecelled plants that grow in fresh water or bacteria. The most common types used for food are chlorella and spirulina, though seaweed could probably be placed in this category also.

Effects: Super Blue Green Algae (SBGA) is said to increase energy and give feelings of euphoria. All forms of microalgae and seaweed are excellent sources of amino acids, chlorophyll, protein (higher than meats or soybeans), unsaturated fats, vitamins A, B-12, C, and E, and antioxidants.

Precautions: Microalgae and seaweed are good sources of amino acids and some vitamins but, beyond that, claims of their nutritional or therapeutic value are overstated. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., there is no evidence SBGA strengthens the immune system, and Sheldon Saul Hendler, M.D., Ph.D., states there is no scientific evidence for the salubrious effects attributed to these organisms, except for one report that spirulina is a good source of gammalinolenic acid (GLA). Super Blue Green Algae can cause abdominal distress, diarrhea, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, heart palpitations, nausea, skin rashes, vomiting, and women may even experience uterine bleeding. Adverse side effects may result from an allergy or intolerance, either to contaminants in harvesting or possible natural toxins in the SBGA itself. Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, used in the making of SBGA, is capable of producing two toxins, one of which affects the liver and the other the nervous system; it could also contain any number of naturally occurring toxins that are as yet undiscovered. Spirulina is high in phenylalanine, and so should not be taken by anyone with phenylketonuria (PKU) or skin cancer. There is no way of controlling the purity or potency of spirulina — consider the fact that Elliot Shubert, Ph.D., professor of biology at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, has found that every sample tested had significant levels of the toxic metals mercury and lead. Not only that, Harvard researchers have discovered that some components of this microalgae may encourage the growth of cancerous tumors. And the fact that no one knows what the pharmacological agent is that provides the stimulant effect worries Dr. Andrew Weil, as it may cause dependency.

AKA: Perna canaliculus, sea mussel. The oil of this shellfish is rich in amino acids, enzymes, and essential trace elements, and is said to be similar to Omega-3, but more potent in its health benefits.

Effects: Reputed to prevent heart disease and relieve joint and muscle pains.

Royal jelly is made from bee pollen, saliva secretions of worker bees, and honey, and has a thick, milky texture.

Effects: Protects against bacteria, viruses, and funguses. It contains many vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes, and testosterone, and is one of the richest natural sources of B-5, as well as the sole natural source of pure acetylcholine.

Precautions: It is more stable when mixed with honey, and it loses some of its nutritional value when exposed to air, room temperature, or sunlight. It should never be used in hot drinks, nor should anything hot be consumed immediately after taking it. Some avoid the freeze dried form, as the chemical structure is said to be altered in the process. Pure royal jelly, the most potent form, is extremely unstable and should always be kept refrigerated. John H. Renner, M.D., president of the Consumer Health Information Research Institute, asserts that any health benefits of bee pollen are a myth, and that it can even be harmful, as it may contain harmful bacteria, or trigger an allergic reaction from the variety of pollens it may contain. The few studies that have been conducted bear out this statement.

Dosage: Approximately Yi of a teaspoon daily; in capsule form, some recommend 150 mg/day, others 600 mg/day. Manufacturers say several weeks may pass before the beneficial effects of improved mental functioning and concentration are evident. It is available in sealed capsules, frozen, freeze-dried, or mixed with honey.

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