This is not going to be an article about all the good foods you should eat and the stuff you should avoid. Many articles, including some of my own, have already beaten that horse. Most people know that carrots are better than cheeseburgers and I’m not going to get into that again at this time. What I want to do instead is give you a different perspective on the value of nutrition in improving and maintaining brain fitness – and what that really means.
Data supports the value of healthy foods for improving performance on intelligence tests and for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Foods like fruits, vegetables, red wine (or moderate use of other alcohols), chocolate, soy protein, fish, olive oils, and others you have heard about, seem to help your brain.
We don’t know what we don’t know
The difficulty comes when scientists try to break down these foods and purify the specific natural chemicals responsible for their good effects. Usually, these types of experiments fail, although there are a few successes. But do you really care that it’s the polyphenols in fruits or the bisdemethoxycurcumin in tumeric that seem to be the active players? It’s not like your going to take some blueberries into your home chemistry lab and isolate the ‘most important’ ingredient – you’re just going to eat a handful of blueberries.
Imagine an alien coming down to Earth and trying to figure out what the most important part of a car is. Is it the wheels, the spark plugs, the axle, what? Obviously, all these parts work together to make the car drive and none of them work without the others. You don’t need to understand how an internal combustion engine works in order to drive your car from point A to point B.
The real value of quality nutrition comes from all of the good foods working together. Usually when we try to take them apart, the effect disappears. I’m all for high quality multi-vitamin supplements and take them daily myself. However, when you see all of the ads for highly purified specific components touting to improve your memory, your sex life or whatever you have to be careful. We simply don’t know enough yet about all the different healthful components of our food. Any good nutritionist or reputable nutrition company will tell you that supplements are never substitutes for a quality diet.
When it comes to brain fitness, good nutrition is simply the way to supply raw materials to the brain so that it can do the job it is designed to do. Eat the right stuff and let your brain work it out. All of the foods listed above contain hundreds or thousand of different kinds of molecules that the brain uses to run smoothly. There is no single ingredient that is better than everything else.