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Can brain foods make you smarter?

More Brain Food: Glucose and Antioxidants
Breakfast of champions: the slow-burning glucose of oatmeal with the antioxidant power of berries.
Breakfast of champions: the slow-burning glucose of oatmeal with the antioxidant power of berries. Fisher

We mentioned on the last page that your brain needs glucose to function properly. The glucose supply should be steady, so that means no skipping meals. It also means you should avoid a cheap source of glucose, like a candy bar. Candy will give you a quick high and a plummeting low in terms of glucose levels, and if you've ever experienced a sugar crash, you know what that can do to your body. To provide a steady stream of glucose, you should look for food that slowly releases carbohydrates into the bloodstream, which include most fruits and vegetables, milk and breads with lots of grains. Foods such as candy and white bread just give you the sugar rush.

Glucose is essential for keeping the neurotransmitters in the brain at peak levels, but is there anything else you can eat besides oatmeal and salmon? Yogurt also aids the production of neurotransmitters thanks to its amino acids [source: Douglas et al.]. Choline, a nutrient found in eggs and soybeans, produces a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine; abnormally low levels of acetylcholine have been found in people with Alzheimer's disease, so you know you want to keep yours up [source: Aaronson]. Folic acid, essential for brain function, can be found in spinach and orange juice. And don't be afraid of spicing it up a bit; curcumin, a spice used in curries, may be one reason why India has such a low incidence of Alzheimer's [source: UCLA].

But don't go too crazy with all these brain foods. When you consume too many calories, you can undo the positive brain effects. In the process of converting glucose to energy, extra oxygen is created as unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals in turn cause oxidative stress by destroying brain cells they come in contact with. Not only does this oxidative stress force the brain's synapses to work harder, it's also a major factor in many diseases, which is why you so often hear about the benefits of antioxidants.

Fruits and vegetables are full of the antioxidants that can fight those free radicals. Load up on a salad of spinach, broccoli, carrots and onions, and don't forget to throw some berries on top. If you're more in the mood for a beverage, you can drink your antioxidants in the form of concord grape juice, which has the total antioxidant level of any fruit, vegetable or juice tested [source: Flora]. Green tea also provides antioxidants to the brain.

Keeping your brain running smoothly by means of fueling it with the right energy is just one step to increasing your smarts, though. Eating the right food will clear the pathways for knowledge to zoom around the brain, but you'll have to put it there. For some true food for thought, go to the next page and load up on more information about the brain.