Brain food

I often get asked  – What foods are good for the brain?

I think the answer is – most of them. The brain, like everything else, requires a balance of nutrients, and a balanced diet is the best thing you can do for it.

The concept of ‘a brain food’, such as blueberries, or a class of brain foods, is a marketing strategy, not a scientific one.

After I have been unhelpful with the brain-food question, I often get asked – OK then, what is good for the brain?

The best answer I can give to that one, based on my reading but bearing in mind uncertainties, is 1) caloric restriction (reducing the number of calories ingested daily), and 2) physical exercise.

That is not very helpful either is it? – it’s not as compelling as ‘blueberries for sure’. There seems to be quite good evidence that physical exercise is good for brain function.

The third question I get asked is – OK, is eating brains good for the brain – does eating brains make you brainier?

By now you may have guessed that I’m not going to be very helpful with that one either. I usually ask – does eating cornflakes make you cornflakier (or flakier even)?

What matters is – what is the nutritional content of brains, and would eating that be good for the brain (or any other part of me for that matter)?

So, it’s about 80% water (no surprises there, we mostly are), ~10% protein, ~8% fat. Exciting hey. That’s actually quite a high percent-fat though. The brain uses fat as the insulation that coats brain cells and stops them from short-circuiting. Then there are minerals (phosphorus, potassium and sodium) and vitamins (B, C) in reasonable amounts, but nothing spectacular.

Cholesterol is mostly found in cell walls, and most cells in the brain are small (there are ~86 billion neurones that have to fit in your head), so the proportion of cell walls is large. What this means is that brains are high in cholesterol. Typically 2,000 to 3,000 mg per 100 g of brain. That’s astonishing, and I know of no other food that gets close to this level (for comparison – meat is about 70-160 mg per 100 g). The FDA recommended daily cholesterol allowance is 300 mg, so a 100 g serve of brain contains around 10 times the daily allowance.

So much for brain food I’m afraid.

If you want  a healthier brain (or heart, organs, skin, bones…etc) – eat well, eat less and exercise. That’s it.