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Why Carbs And Some Fats Make The Best Brain Food


We often think about our diet in terms of what it can do for our heart and our waistline, but the right nutrients also provide the fuel for the brain to operate properly.

Maggy Boyd, a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, explains how to feed your brain.  

"The brain's primary source of fuel is carbohydrates," Boyd said. "Those carbohydrates are broken down into sugar in a form called glucose. Your brain uses glucose as its main source of energy."

That's why she says low-carb diets may not be best for your brain.

"If you're not eating enough carbs, you're essentially restricting your brain from its fuel source it prefers," Boyd said.

Those hoping for a quick nutrition fix to get smarter will be disappointed. Boyd says getting adequate nutrition in the long-term sets a person up for success.

What to feed and not to feed your brain

Boyd says food rich in healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants are ideal for long-term brain health. And the more packaging, the worse the food is for your brain's health.

Healthy fats

Your brain is about 60 percent fat. Omega-3 is a type of healthy fat found in fatty fish, like tuna, salmon and mackerel. Those fats serve as the building blocks to your brain, so it's important for children to eat them.

Healthy fat sources are typically from non-animal products, though, like avocado, nuts, oil-based salad dressings and sunflower seeds, which are rich in Omega-3. 

Fruits and vegetables

Brightly colored fruits, like berries and oranges, and dark green, leafy vegetables have vitamins and antioxidants that prevent "oxidative damage" in your brain. Such damage can be caused by free radicals like cigarette smoke. You want to eat these foods throughout your day and life for long-term brain benefits. 

Fast food and packaged food

Omega-6 is unhealthy fat that's found in fast food and processed, packaged food. Omega-6 can cause inflammation in the brain, which can slow you down mentally and physically.  

Maggie Boyd is a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System. 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.