Women and men need different foods to accommodate very different brains.
Daniel Amen, MD, and his staff at Amen Clinics did a study of 46,000 brain scans involving about 26,000 patients. Using a brain-imaging test called SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), they found clear differences between male and female brains.
In general: Women's brains are more active than men's brains. Much of this activity is in the region known as the prefrontal cortex, which controls judgment, impulse control and organization. Women also produce less serotonin than men. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that makes you less worried and more relaxed, so women are more prone to anxiety and depression.
Men, on the other hand, produce less dopamine. Dopamine is involved with focus and impulse control, so men are more likely to be impulsive and have trouble concentrating.
Best Foods For Women
Foods that increase serotonin are critical for women. When their serotonin levels rise, women naturally experience less anxiety and are less likely to get upset…
- Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas increase the brain's production of serotonin. Other carbohydrates do the same thing, but chickpeas are better because they're high in nutrients and fiber, with about 12 grams of fiber per one-cup serving. Fiber slows the body's absorption of sugars...prevents sharp spikes in insulin...and helps the brain work at optimal levels.
- Sweet potatoes. They're a favorite starch of Dr. Amen because they taste good, are high in vitamin C and fiber and don't raise blood sugar/insulin as quickly as white potatoes. They're a "smart" carbohydrate that causes a gradual increase in serotonin.
- Blueberries. They're called "brain berries for a reason. Blueberries are a concentrated source of flavonoids and other antioxidants that reduce brain inflammation. This is important for good mood and memory. Studies have shown that people who eat blueberries may have less risk for dementia-related cognitive declines.
You will get some of the same benefits with other berries, including strawberries, but blueberries are a better choice for brain function.
- Dark chocolate. It is one of the healthiest foods that you can eat. Chocolate increases levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that dilates arteries throughout the body, including those in the brain. One study found that women who ate the most chocolate had greater improvements in verbal fluency and other mental functions than those who ate the least. Chocolate also can improve your mood and energy levels. Because it's high in antioxidants, it reduces the "oxidative stress that can impair memory and other brain functions.
Dr. Amen recommends dark chocolate with natural sweeteners. His company, Amen Clinics, makes a Brain on Joy Bar with dark chocolate and coconut.
Best Foods For Men
Men naturally gravitate to high-protein foods. The protein increases dopamine and provides fuel for a man's greater muscle mass. The trick for men is choosing healthier protein sources…
- Salmon. Between 15% and 20% of the brain's cerebral cortex consists of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty fish such as tuna, trout, sardines, herring and mackerel. Men who don't eat fish are more likely to have brain inflammation that can impair the transmission of nerve signals.
A study published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association found that elderly adults who got more DHA had improvements in memory and learning. The study focused on supplements, but you can get plenty of DHA and other omega-3s by eating fatty fish more often.
- Eggs. They are not the dietary danger that people once thought. Recent research has shown that people who eat a few eggs a week or even as many as one a day-are no more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than those who don't eat eggs.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein, inexpensive and easy to prepare. They also are high in vitamin B-12, which can reduce age-related brain shrinkage and improve cognitive function.
- Sesame seeds and Brazil nuts. In addition to increasing dopamine, they contain antioxidants that protect brain cells. Like other nuts and seeds, they're high in protein and monounsaturated fats that reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol.
Nuts and seeds are good for the heart as well as the brain. The landmark Adventist Health Study, conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University, found that people who ate nuts five or more times a week were only about half as likely to have a heart attack as those who rarely ate them.