My Mom used to tell me, “Eat fish, it’s brain food.” Was there anything to the idea that certain foods could improve cognitive function, or was this just another way to get a little boy to eat his dinner? As adults, can eating certain foods help make us more successful leaders by increasing our mental horsepower?
Actually…yes. Researchers have identified an entire class of foods that are considered ergogenic, keeping our brains healthy and boosting cognitive functions. Submitted for your consideration, here are my picks for the Top Ten Foods Every Leader Should Eat.
Of course walnuts are going to be good for you…don’t they look like little brains inside of a shell? Actually, they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may reverse some of the cognitive damage that’s already been sustained over the years.
Blueberries and raspberries contain anthocyanin, which is a chemical that protects the neurons associated with memory. Strawberries also contain a chemical linked to improved memory. How about this for a smart desert, a three-berry fruit salad over frozen vanilla yogurt with walnuts on top?
When I was growing up, eggs were considered a good food. Then they became bad, now they are considered a great food. Research in two areas has advanced to foster this reversal of fortune: First we now know that eggs contain cholesterol, however they raise the HDL, the good cholesterol. Eggs also modify the LDL cholesterol from the small artery-clogging type to the large type, which has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Like walnuts, eggs are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, according to the American Optometric Association, eggs contain significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin which protect your eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration. When purchasing eggs, consider those from free-range hens as they contain significantly more nutrients than those raised in factory farms.
Like eggs, the recommendations about coffee consumption have changed over the years. Recent research has shown that the caffeine in one cup of joe (80 mg) will make you smarter, help metabolize fat and improve your memory. In addition, there is some evidence that coffee may protect you from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and age related dementias. Just don’t overdo it. A couple of cups a day is good for you, more may make you jittery.
With copious amounts of blood pressure lowering monounsaturated fatty acids, avocados have been found to protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline. An intelligent choice for breakfast might be an omelet, several slices of avocado and cup of coffee.
- Brussels Sprouts
These little balls of joy contain a ton of diindolymethane, a compound known to boost our immune system’s ability to protect newly formed brain cells. I’ll admit it…until a few years ago, I couldn’t bring myself to eat these things. Then I discovered a great recipe: Peel the outer layers, slice in half and array on a hot cookie sheet coated with olive oil. Place in pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. At 15 minutes, move them around with a spatula, then coat sprouts with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and paprika. The flat, cut side will caramelize and develop a slight crispy edge. Trust me, even if you never liked them before, you will like these.
This is the Rodney Dangerfield of essential nutrients…it gets no respect, no respect at all. According to a recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal, being dehydrated only one percent of your body weight significantly decreases your problem solving ability and slows down your decision making capability. As for what constitutes good hydration, take the “Eight by Eight” (eight, eight-ounce glasses) of water per day guideline with a grain of sodium chloride. Almost any liquid, (tea, juice, coffee, seltzer, milk, etc.) even mild diuretics other than alcohol are fine.
- Sweet potatoes
This holiday favorite contains plentiful amounts of carotenoids, which functions in two ways, as an antioxidant and as an anti-inflammatory agent. These properties are especially important to help our brains age more slowly.
As it turned out, my Mom was right about fish. Several studies, including a recent one at UCLA, concluded that cold-water fish contain abundant amounts of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These nutrients have been shown to increase the volume of the brain responsible for abstract thinking, problem solving and visual memory. An intellectual meal plan for dinner might include broiled salmon, a sweet potato and Brussels sprouts with a tall glass of ice tea.
If you really put your mind to it, a well-designed food plan can nourish your body as well as provide food for thought.
Oh yes, there are only nine picks for my Top Ten Foods Every Leader Should Eat. Superman enjoyed beef bourguignon. The Green Arrow made chili. And the Mutant Ninja Turtles loved pizza. What’s the secret food you eat to become a brainy superhero? Let me know.