I love the term “brain food.” It seems pretty well recognized in the mainstream and has a natural way of rolling off the tongue. We can all likely agree that feeding the brain some good food is a smart nutritional strategy. Of all the organs that could possibly go south on us, the brain ranks pretty high in terms of one we’d want to nurture and protect. Actually, I can’t think of another organ that we put the word “food” after. Few people talk about kidney food, spleen food, liver food, or intestine food. To this end, nutrition experts and enthusiasts wisely point out the virtues of brain foods such as: fish, walnuts, blueberries, eggs, lecithin, coffee; herbs such as ginkgo, and a long list of supplements and amino acids that have passed the test of modern clinical use for brain health. Who doesn’t want to improve memory, cognition, mental acuity, and brain plasticity?
In my opinion, it’s time to add some new brain foods to the list. I imagine the brain must be tired of eating so many walnuts and fish oil capsules. We need some new nutritional morsels for this all-important organ – foods that truly work and can give the brain its best chance at longevity and a high level of function. Here’s my list of 5 unexpected brain foods:
Brain Food #1 – Love
Love truly has a great wisdom – and wisdom is perhaps the highest expression of all brain potentials. It’s the flowering of consciousness. We’re conditioned to think that information is what makes the brain smarter – and it often is. But gobs and gobs of data being crammed into the brain just isn’t enough to evolve us and make us smarter. Did you know that there’s as much neural traffic from heart to brain as there is from brain to heart? The heart talks to us all the time. We just need to listen.
Love asks a lot of us, and the brain loves new pathways, new neural grooves, and new opportunities to express its neuroplastic nature. Love renews us. It makes us believe. It helps us see through fresh eyes. Love often has us do things that defy logic and makes us “lose our mind.” This is good news for the brain because our mind often tortures the daylights out of us.
Love is also the antidote to bigger things in life. Indeed, someone once said “make love not war.” If you really think about this, it’s brilliant. That’s because war, from a big picture perspective, is so primitive. It’s the worst thing for any organ system. It also destroys the fabric of the world and traumatizes the soul, all of which keeps humanity in an un-evolved state. Grow more love, serve it, feed it to others, and eat it up when it comes your way. Love is the #1 brain food. I dare you to prove me wrong.
Brain Food #2 – Pleasure
A close cousin to the brain food of love is pleasure. Pleasure is a literal and metaphoric brain food. Here’s what I mean: from the metaphoric perspective, pleasure makes the brain happy, it tickles us, and has us feeling all warm and fuzzy. And every amateur scientist knows that such things make us long-lived and content. Furthermore, the brain is capable of getting turned-on. It gets all excited when something good comes its way, like a new idea, a new discovery, insight, or breakthrough. The brain is indeed hardwired for pleasure at the most fundamental level of our physiology.
From a more scientific perspective, the experience of pleasure generates a relaxation response – parasympathetic nervous system dominance. This physio-chemical state is the opposite of the stress response, which in excess bathes the brain in cortisol, creates inflammation and slowly degrades brain tissue and function. In other words, pleasure is the antidote to stress induced inflammatory responses. Pleasure literally detoxifies the brain. That’s a powerfully medicinal food.
Of course, choose your pleasures wisely – touch, intimacy, sex, dance, art, conversation, beauty, music, nature, and good food, to name a few. And for sure, you may want to add a few forbidden pleasures just to mix things up a bit.
Brain Food #3 – Novelty
Novelty is actually a very novel concept. Novelty means different. It means a playful newness, clever and fresh approaches, and unique experiments in our way of thinking and living. Some examples of novelty – taking a different road home, letting go of words like “like” or “you know”, eating completely new foods, doing a new kind of exercise, dating a different kind of person, being nice to someone you’ve been mean to – that sort of thing. Novelty feeds the brain and makes it young again. It keeps us interesting. It evolves intelligence…
Indeed, novelty is what evolution is all about – it’s entirely new forms of life being thrust onto the stage of existence – just for the heck of it. Novelty means we’re alive on planet Earth and are willing and able to see things through fresh eyes and step out of habit. It’s a brain food that we can’t get enough of, and it fortunately has no calories. Lastly, novelty is a brain food that’s easy to come by. Just ask yourself – what can I do to be more novel today? And from there, try this novel idea: just do it.
Brain Food #4 – Listening
Do you REALLY listen? Or do you sort of, kind of listen? Listen: I think listening is the most underrated brain food that there is. Too many people spend too much energy NOT listening, tuning out, or going back to sleep when we hear something that threatens our puny ego.
Listening makes the brain come alive. It wakes us up. Throughout history, most humanoids, if awakened in the late evening hours, indeed woke up because they HEARD something. And the more you hear, the more you know. And the more you know, the more your brain is a well-nourished and satisfied organ. And everyone wants a satisfied organ.
Listening is not only something you receive from the world, it’s also something you give to the world. Listening to someone, really listening, is one of the most generous gifts you can give to another brain. Haven’t you noticed your brain come alive when someone is really listening and taking you in? High quality listening is high quality nourishment for both brain and soul.
Brain Food #5 – Truth
If love is a staple food for the brain that can be consumed everyday, truth is like a superfood that even when taken in small doses packs a big nutritional wallop. Truth puts the brain on alert. It asks the brain do some hard thinking and deep consideration. Truth elevates the brain from its lying ways, and asks the brain to be a kinder, better organ.
Truth changes the brain fast, and often in exciting and electric ways. Think of the times when you finally spoke the truth after holding it back for far too long. It was a rush wasn’t it? Truth is also a great brain food because it helps you lose a ton of excess weight – don’t you feel lighter when the truth finally comes out?
Truth can also teach us some powerful life lessons. That’s because our minds are often held captive. Our brains can be hijacked and controlled by outdated and knucklehead belief systems. Brains need to be set free. The truth shall do that.
The world is starving for truth. Hearts and minds are starving for it. And the truth is, I hope you’re thinking of a few ways you can be more truthful, and indeed take a risk and speak what’s real. How authentic are you? How real? How honest can you be?
And of course, I’d love to know some of your unexpected brain foods, the ones that really make the sparks happen for you.
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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