Don't take feeling fine as a sign of thinking at your best. In most cases, your mental function is affected long before you notice physical problems. Consequently, vague yet profound changes, such as cloudy thinking, mental fatigue or reduced memory, can progress undetected because you otherwise feel fine.
And there's no reason to put up with "getting by" when you can think at your best with the following -- and very simple -- dietary guidelines.
Breakfast is essential for restocking drained glucose stores, the brain's main fuel. Your morning meal needn't be big or complicated, but it must be nutritious. Include at least one fruit, one whole grain, and a protein-rich source, such as nonfat milk or an egg substitute. For example, a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, an orange and a glass of nonfat milk.
Eat every three to four hours and always include whole grains for brain fuel, with a little protein to sustain energy and alertness.
Avoid high-fat or "heavy" meals that contain more than 1,000 calories, which divert the blood supply to the digestive tract and away from the brain, leaving you sluggish and sleepy.
Colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and other unprocessed foods contain a wealth of antioxidants that protect delicate brain tissue from damage caused by oxygen fragments, called oxidants or free radicals. Left unchecked, this damage is associated with memory loss and even dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Maintain a healthy antioxidant arsenal by including at least nine servings of colorful fruits and vegetables in your daily diet -- two at every meal and at least one at every snack.
While saturated fats clog arteries and diminish brain function, omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, boost mood, mind and memory, and possibly lower Alzheimer's risk by up to 60 percent. Aim for two servings of fatty fish a week or at least 220 milligrams of DHA daily from foods or supplements fortified with an algal-based, contaminant-free DHA (look for "life'sDHA" on the label of many supplements and foods, including milk, cheese, bread, eggs, pasta sauce and more).
Limit alcohol and avoid nicotine, which can be toxic to the brain or constrict blood vessels and interfere with circulation (and oxygen flow) to the brain. The good news: A glass of red wine several times a week aids brain function. A cup of coffee might kick-start the day and even temporarily improve memory, but more than three cups during the day can interfere with mental processes and give you the "coffee jitters."
Avoid exposure to mercury, lead and other toxic metals that damage brain and nerve tissue and are associated with subtle neurological and psychological disorders, including learning disabilities, reduced attention span, poor reasoning and concentration skills, and reduced IQ.
A series on memory and how to improve it and help your brain function better.
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