(Published in the January 2011 issue)
When it was analyzed during autopsy, Albert Einstein’s brain was shown to have 73% more glial cells than average. These cells form during the embryo’s development, so Mama Pauline must have been eating right while her budding genius was still in utero.
Leonardo Da Vinci enjoyed a popular Renaissance dish of grilled eel and orange slices, and studies have shown that pregnant women who eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like carefully chosen seafood, may boost their children’s IQs. Beethoven had a penchant for strong coffee (60 beans to the cup), the Dalai Lama is a chocoholic, and Theodor “Dr. Seuss" Geisel was a fan of green eggs and ham (made green by healthy herbs, no doubt).
Einstein said, “There’s a genius in all of us.” If he’s right, then perhaps all we have to do to realize our mental potential is eat healthy foods.
Here’s a list of no-brainers.
Fish and Tips
Swap red meat for red snapper or other omega-3 fatty acid powerhouses (especially wild-caught, deep sea, cold-water varieties) including salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel. One of the omega-3s in fish, DHA, is a key building block in components of grey matter. So, a diet rich in omega-3s may keep brain cells well-lubricated and vibrant, improving mood, brain-wiring and cell-to-cell communications. That all adds up to quick thinking.
Wild-caught salmon is also a rich source of niacin, which is believed to ward off age-related cognitive decline from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As Dr. Seuss says, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”Pepe Ccapatinta, executive chef at
Piattiin La Jolla Shores, puts sardines, wild-caught salmon and anchovies on his A-list of brain foods.
“A lot of people don’t like sardines because of a bad experience as kids, but they need to move beyond that and add them to their diet,” he says.
Ccapatinta decorates pizzas and antipasti platters with anchovies, balancing the salty fish with sweet tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Another of his faves is wild-caught salmon salad stuffed inside avocado halves.
Açaí (meaning “fruit that cries” in Portuguese) is a brainy berry packed with antioxidants, omega fatty acids, amino acids, fiber, vitamins (A, B6, C and E), iron and calcium. A Brazilian import linked to staving off age-related brain ailments, açaí is available as a juice, fruit pulp or freeze-dried powder. Its rich taste is a blend of purple berries and bittersweet chocolate, making it delightful in smoothies and traditional Brazilian frozen açaí bowls.
Feeling Berry Good
Blueberries are packed with a variety of micronutrients including Vitamins B6, C and K, along with manganese, antioxidant pigments and phytochemicals attributed to enhancing long-term memory and boosting cognitive processing. Studies have also shown that wild blueberries may lessen deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients by shielding the brain from free-radical attack. So, toss them in your muffins, cereal and yogurt, and rejoice. (Stoli Bluberi vodka may make you feel smart for an hour or two, but a “brain food” it is not.)
(better jot them down to be safe)
Rosemary not only jazzes up boring chicken and tames the gamey flavor of lamb, but also snaps memory back into shape. The aromatic evergreen of Mediterranean roots contains carnosic acid, which has been found to put the skids on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s by warding off free radicals from the brain.
Claire Allison, chef/owner of
in Solana Beach, recommends her hormone-free lamb sandwich, marinated in rosemary and mint (picked fresh from her restaurant’s on-site garden). “When you see rosemary, you just want to grab it in your hands, smell it and crush it,” says Allison. “The fresh, clean, piney fragrance invigorates you and transports you to a warm, sunny Mediterranean clime. We’re so fortunate it grows here, copiously, like a weed.”
Use Your Bean
Arabica rules-more than 100 million people in this country can’t start their day until they’ve had their java jolt. In its most pristine form (sans the double-caramelmocha-crème-brulée-like infusions) coffee is now, after decades of debate, widely considered to be a high-octane brain fuel when consumed in moderate amounts. The caffeine, in particular, has been shown to boost short-term memory, increase focus and enhance problem-solving skills.
In addition to being a brain-friendly upper, the coffee bean is packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, just like its close cousin, the cocoa bean.
Pure, dark chocolate with a cocoa content of over 70 percent is a brain-stimulating food packed with catechins and antioxidant flavonoids-eight times the number found in strawberries. This blissful bean endowed with aphrodisiacal properties elevates mood and cognitive functions, so indulge guiltlessly.“We’re especially happy to give people a brainy sweet chocolate fix,” says vegan Jim "Jimbo” Someck, owner of
Jimbo’snatural markets across San Diego. Jimbo’s not only embraces “brain foods,” but also carries them in organic, hormone- and antibioticfree varieties.
“Anytime you eat simply, you’re more alert, sleep better and wake up with a clearer head,” says Someck.
How fitting it is that walnuts, loaded with brain-boosting plant-based omega-3s (i.e., alpha-linolenic acid), resemble miniature hemispheres of the brain. The fatty acids in these little gems, which are said to increase cognitive functioning as omega-3s from animal sources do, have also been linked to blocking signals produced by free radicals that could eventually create inflammation in the brain. Walnuts have also been found to hike melatonin levels, one of the body’s sleep-regulating hormones. Crazy? Maybe. Nuts? For sure.For more photos, click