Brain food: Eat for mental agility, not just your waistline

What you eat has a profound effect on how you think.
People go on diets for many reasons, but most commonly they are used to get one's body into better physical shape. That is a worthwhile goal, but imagine if we pushed the definition of a diet even further and thought of it as a way to improve mental health, as well?

By Katherine Martinko
It makes sense. Think of the way in which each of us uses food to boost our mood or energy levels: coffee when we're tired, chocolate when we're down, sugary treats for a jolt of energy, hot oily fries to perk up on a long road trip (my personal vice). But as neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi writes for The Guardian, we should be harnessing more of the good power in food to enhance the way we think and perform mentally.

"Whatever you just ate will be part of what you will think. For anyone lucky enough to use their brain for a living, this has immediate professional outcomes. In the long term, this affects every one of us, because food affects not just our moods and thoughts but also the way we age."
Mosconi's research has found that the foods we eat have a measurable impact on how our brains age and their susceptibility to diseases like Alzheimer's. Certain foods that are staples of the Western diet, such as fast, fatty, overly-processed foods and sweet fizzy drinks, cause the brain to shrink prematurely (when compared to people on a Mediterranean diet), while leading to fatigue and sluggishness.

"Subsequent studies provided even more alarming evidence that people on the Western diet had started developing Alzheimer’s plaques already in their 40s and 50s. These are all signs of accelerated ageing and increased risk of future dementia."

So, the next time you're debating between candy or carrots for a late afternoon pick-me-up, think about more than just your waistline. Your mental agility and longevity are also at stake.

Which brain-building foods does Mosconi recommend?
The list will be familiar to anyone who has read about the Mediterranean diet -- a blend of fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon, anchovies) to protect brain against disease; dark leafy greens (swiss chard, kale, rapini, spinach) that fortify the nervous system; berries to keep memory sharp; extra-virgin vegetable oils (olive and flax) that contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats; complex carbohydrates (whole grains, sweet potatoes, legumes) for energy, stable blood sugar, and fibre; and plenty of water to keep the brain hydrated.
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