How to Feed Your Brain

Lest cooking shows and food fests cause us to forget: We eat, essentially, to nourish our bodies and minds.

The gastronomes who are cooking and tasting their way through three-day fantasy camp Food University at Caesars Palace got this reminder Thursday afternoon from Jeffrey Cummings and Kate Zhong, the director and director of clinical research development for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The center’s foundation, Keep Memory Alive, receives a portion of the event’s proceeds, and Cummings and Zhong were there to talk about the role food plays in maintaining healthy brains.

Happily for the attendees (who dropped $1,995 each to cook with the likes of Alex Stratta and Duff Goldman), the clinicians’ somewhat serious message was also palatable: Healthy choices in what we cook and eat can have a significant positive impact on our brains. Using Alzheimer’s Disease as an example, Cummings noted that 54 percent of its risk factors are controllable—factors such as exercise, smoking … and diet.

Diet has the indirect effect of helping control weight, hypertension and diabetes, other risk factors for Alzheimer’s. But it also has the direct effect of supplying the brain with antioxidants that prevent cell deterioration.

Zhong gave four sayings for remembering key categories of antioxidants:

1. Go fishing, go nuts. Try plenty of flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, olive oil and other foods rich in Omega 3 essential acids.

2. Be colorful. Embrace fruits and vegetables such as apples, blueberries spinach and even cocoa—all are stocked with flavonoids that are good for your brain.

3. Coffee, tea and me. Black coffee and green tea are abundant in quinines and EGCG.

4. Cheers! Red wine and grape juice contain resveratrol. (The Ruvo Center is in the first stage of a nationwide clinical trial examining the benefit of resveratrol in treating Alzheimer’s patients with mild dementia. Begun approximately eight months ago, Zhong said, the trial is expected to yield results sometime next year.)

While encouraging Food U attendees to include antioxidant-rich foods in their menus, Zhong also emphasized that no miracle ingredient or diet can save someone’s brain: “It’s really a lifestyle.”