These days, it seems like there is a pill or potion for every ailment- drink this if you’re tired, a few of these will help you sleep, this new supplement will get you in an amorous mood… I’m sure you’ve seen the ads, perhaps even tried a few yourselves.  I won’t try to deconstruct the rhetoric behind these ads; after all, these companies are just trying to make a buck off of us, right?  Perhaps, though, we’d be better served by using the knowledge that a better diet can lessen or stop some of these common problems before they’ve even begun.  And, as the brain controls how we feel about our bodies, e.g., how tired we feel, how hungry we are, etc., so does food control the brain.  Here are five foods that feed the brain, and how they might help you to feel as well as you possibly can.

1) Walnuts- Walnuts had to be number one.  I mean, come on- they even look like brains, packed away in bumpy, brown skulls! Well, I think they do.  Walnuts are about 15%-20% protein.  They have both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.  These fatties, especially the former, have lately been championed as the ultimate brain candy in just about every health journal (worth its salt).  Also, walnuts contain Vitamins E and B6, and all the nervous system benefits that they entail.  Studies also indicate that the components of walnuts may assist in regulating the brain’s serotonin levels, which control both appetite and mood, meaning that they may be useful in relieving depression, sleep disorders, and compulsive disorders.  Going nuts? Have a handful.

2) Sunflower Seeds- I used to eat more of these little badboys than any squirrel ever seen. Squirrels like sunflower seeds, right? Well, you get the point.  These little seeds contain an important amino acid, tryptophan (of Thanksgiving turkey renown), which, like our #1, can help the brain convert serotonin.  Recall said chemical’s positive effect on depression and sleeplessness… And, with a high level of thiamine to increase your memory and cognitive functioning.  Don’t underestimate the power of the sunflower!

3) Tomatoes- Tomatoes are constantly underrated.  The fact of the matter is, besides being a versatile ingredient in countless salads, sauces, and entrees, tomatoes contain an awesome antioxidant called Lycopene.  This substance is a protector against free radical damage, which is believed to lead to forms of Dementia, i.e., Alzheimer’s.  So eat’em up!

4) Spinach- “I ams what I eat!  A-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah!”  Popeye used this super-food to stay strong till the finish and to pump up his muscles.  He might not have known that spinach also helps the brain stay young by protecting it from stress caused by oxidation, and by slowing down the declines that are common with aging.  Research suggests that by eating spinach, we can improve both our capacity to learn and our motor functioning.  Arm muscles?  Well, it won’t hurt to try…

5) Green Tea- Legend has it that Siddhartha, founder of Buddhism, had trouble sleeping.  Apparently, in frustration, he ripped off his eyelids and tossed them to the ground.  There, they took root and became the first green tea plant (its leaves even look like eyelids).  Well, perhaps he might have tried some of our other Brain Foods before this impulsive act of self-mutilation, but who are we to question the Buddha?  Green Tea has the most polyphenols of all teas, and polyphenols are anti-carcinogenic.  With naturally occurring Vitamin C, grean tea helps strengthen blood vessels. One polyphenol in particular, EGCG, is 20 times more effective than Vitamin E in protecting the brain from oxidation.  Also, it boosts dopamine in the brain’s circuitry; helping us to maintain positive moods.  Polyphenols have also been shown to maintain glucose (the body’s main fuel), and help prevent heart attacks and cancers.  So go Green- keep your eyelids!