When I was a kid, brain food was big. Mothers used to coax cod liver oil pills down unsuspecting youngsters’ throats, touting them as "brain food."
Not half as bad as what my own mother went through as a kid: spoonfuls of stinky cod liver oil from a cobalt blue bottle with a fisherman in oilskins and sou’wester on the label, a huge cod fish slung over one shoulder. It was routinely taken over the slop pail in case any poor child erupted forth with a liquid rejection of the stuff.
While mom says that the cod liver oil of her childhood was touted more for cold protection than brain optimization, there’s no doubt that all things fish were marketed lock, stock and barrel as brain food in the mid-50s. There was even a dorky ad on the one and only channel we got in Edmonton for Captain Bottomjammer’s or somebody or other’s fish sticks and other fishy products. A nerdy little girl in round horn-rimmed glasses and bad braids grinned inanely at the camera, telling you how delicious it all was, not to mention good for you and your brain. I hated her guts.
All this brain food business came rushing back when I saw an advert the other day from health guru Andrew Weill. While it wasn’t touting brain food, per se, it was highlighting foods that may be good for maintaining a healthy mind.
Personally, I’ve always thought a big sugar rush was the best thing I could do for my brain when I hit a slump. But Dr. Weill suggests that more and more evidence points to chronic low-grade inflammation as a contributor to a host of diseases, including Alzheimer’s. The good news is that diet can be helpful in prevention of same, with the emphasis on foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Tops on the list: brain food, a.k.a. fish. Careful to avoid mercury-contaminated or otherwise questionable fish sources, Dr. Weill favours wild salmon and sardines. Freshly ground flaxseed and walnuts are also good sources.
Other foods to keep the old brain – and other bodily parts – from getting inflamed include: fresh, organic fruits and vegetables; extra-virgin olive oil instead of polyunsaturated vegetable oils like sunflower, corn and safflower oils; and naturally anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, ginger and red pepper.
Why the big fuss over fish?
Life in cold water endows fish and sea creatures with fats high in unusual, highly saturated omega-3 fatty acids. We humans can’t make these special fatty acids very easily from other fatty acids, so diet is our main source.