Home Grown Food for the Brain

I know that I’m far away from being self-sufficient, but I love the idea of being at least semi self sufficient.

The idea of always having fresh fruit and vegetables in or around the house, even if you haven’t visited a supermarket for over a week, really excites me. Imagine coming home from work late and not having to drag yourself to the supermarket. Or having friends over spontaneously and still have enough food in the house to cook a proper meal?

The grocery store is right there in your garden, balcony or even living room.

There are many fruits and vegetables to choose from. Some are easy to grow, others more difficult, some can be harvested in winter, most in summer, some are well-suited for a balcony, others need too much space, and so on.

When I started the vegetable garden I wanted to make sure that:

➭ I can harvest year round.
➭ The main foods I grow are important brain foods.
➭ I have a good harvest per square centimeter.

Why Brain Food?

Like a car, our brain needs quality fuel to run efficiently. There is strong scientific evidence that eating healthy can really help us stay focused, be productive, and achieve peak performance in every stage of our life.

Of all the organs in our body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet. From its very architecture to its ability to perform, everything in the brain calls out for the proper food. In fact, the only way for the brain to receive nourishment is through our diet. Day after day, the foods we eat are broken down into nutrients, taken up into the bloodstream and carried to the brain to replenish depleted storage, activate cellular reactions, and finally, to be incorporated into our very brain tissue.

After rigorous study, it turns out that eating the wrong foods affects far more than our waistlines. When we eat a fatty, sugary meal and experience symptoms like sluggishness, brain fog, drowsiness — what many of us don’t realize is that these symptoms originate not in the stomach but in the brain. The latest research indicates that a poor diet causes the loss of key structural and functional elements in the brain, with an aggressively higher vulnerability to brain aging and dementia.

Mediterranean vs. Western Diet

To the left, you can see the MRI scan of a 52-year-old woman who’s been on a Mediterranean-style diet most of her life. Her brain takes up most of the space inside the skull (eg. the white ribbon that surrounds the brain). The ventricles, those little butterfly-shaped fissures in the middle of the brain, are small and compact. The hippocampus (the memory center of the brain) is well-rounded and in close contact with the surrounding tissues.

In comparison, the scan to the right shows the brain of a slightly younger, 50-year-old woman who’s been eating a Western-type diet for many years (e.g., fast foods, processed meat, dairy, refined sweets and sodas). The red arrows point to brain atrophy, or shrinkage, indicating neuronal loss. As the brain loses neurons, the space is replaced by fluids instead, which show up as black on an MRI. As the arrows indicate, there are more black areas present in the brain that has been fed a typical Western diet than in the brain that consumed a Mediterranean diet.

These are all signs of accelerated aging and increased risk of dementia. 

For more information on the topic and research by Moscani, click here.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating habits from the 1960s of people from countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, and it encourages the consumption of fresh, seasonal, and local foods.

The Mediterranean diet is not a single prescribed diet, but rather a general food-based eating pattern, which is marked by local and cultural differences throughout the Mediterranean region.

The diet is generally characterized by:

1.) A high intake of plant-based foods (e.g. fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, and cereals) and olive oil;

2.) A moderate intake of fish and poultry;

3.) A low intakes of dairy products (mostly yoghurt and cheese), red and processed meats, and sweets. Wine is typically consumed in moderation and, normally, with a meal.

4.) A strong focus is placed on social and cultural aspects, such as communal mealtimes, resting after eating, and regular physical activity.

The health benefits of the diet are supported by scientific evidence.

The Mediterranean diet is associated with lower mortality and morbidity (disease occurrence), and has been linked to numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of cancer, cognitive disease and cardiovascular disease as well as metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

A recent publication from the World Health Organization (WHO) identified the Mediterranean diet as an effective dietary strategy to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are currently the leading cause of premature death globally (under 65 years of age). The available literature strongly suggests that Mediterranean dietary patterns are beneficial for the prevention and control of diet-related NCDs. It is also considered one of the easiest dietary patterns to follow long-term due to its flexibility and the accessibility of the characteristic foods. 

Read more about this on the website of The European Food Information Council (EFIC).

Dr. Mosconi holds a PhD degree in Neuroscience and Nuclear Medicine, and is a certified Integrative Nutritionist and holistic healthcare practitioner.

Her research is well known regarding the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease in at-risk individuals, especially women, using brain imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). She is passionately interested in how risk of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease can be mitigated, if not prevented through the combination of appropriate medical care and lifestyle modifications involving diet, nutrition, physical and intellectual fitness.