The hippocampus is connected to the neuropath, the neuropath’s connected to the cortex, and the cortex is connected to your brain, so hear the word of the brain doctors.
Can’t find your keys? Don’t know why you came into that room? Haven’t a clue what the name of that favorite movie you watched at least four times in the past five years might be? And whatever happened to those gifts you bought a few months ago to give to your niece for her graduation? In the middle of a sentence do you suddenly realize you don’t recall the point? Or the end of the joke you were telling?
Blame part of the problem on your hippocampus. Depending upon your age, it’s possible that your hippocampus is getting full to the point of overflowing, which means some of the stuff stored in there may be getting lost. The hippocampus, as you may or may not know, is the area of your brain where memories are stored, and when I think about how many years of memories I’ve gathered, it’s amazing my hippocampus isn’t as large as our two car garage, which is also overflowing.
It’s not just the hippocampus that’s at fault, however; a good part of our memory losses can be traced to the fact that our neural pathways are aging, perhaps even in need of some major repair. Even though the memories are there in the hippocampus, we still have to move them to the part of our brain where we can consciously think about them. That’s called the prefrontal cortex, and between that and the hippocampus run neural pathways, the connectors, in other words. And, according to several articles I’ve read (and wish I hadn’t), the pathways age just as roads do, developing potholes and cracks, making it harder for the memories to travel smoothly to your thinking area.
So, how do we keep the roads in good repair? You know all the usual answers already: Exercise, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish three times a week, get rid of excess weight, crossword puzzles and/or card games, stay involved with other people, etc. etc. But here’s a new one I just read about, and am still trying to deal with, personally. A noted neurosurgeon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is also a chief medical correspondent for CNN, is advising that one of the best ways to repair those neural pathways is a daily 90-minute nap!
Now, I know many of us suffer from a little to a lot of sleep deprivation, but when was the last time you took an hour and a half nap? If I did that, I’d never sleep at night, which would cause me to be more sleep deprived and damage my neural roadways even more. Even thinking about napping for 90 minutes keeps me awake. However, I’m passing Dr. Gupta’s advice on to you today (you’re welcome), just in case you’re looking for a good excuse to hit the couch or bed for a long nap every afternoon.
Not that you’ll remember that advice tomorrow, thanks to your overflowing hippocampus.
There are some foods, we’re told, that are especially beneficial to the brain and memory processes. Lucky for us, most of them are appealing, tasty and not difficult to obtain. Foods containing high levels of B vitamins; low-fat dairy such as yogurt, cottage or ricotta cheese, milk; whole grains; beans (such as garbanzo beans); fresh fruit and vegetables; barley and oats; fish; oysters (hurray!); unsweetened cocoa (mix it into some yogurt; it’s tasty); and I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten right now. Here are some suggestions for a brain healthy meal.
BEAN & BARLEY SOUP
Delicious on a chilly wet evening; great for vegetarians
1 T. canola oil
2 small onions, sliced
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. ground cumin
½ cup quick-cooking barley (uncooked; or use quinoa)
1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chick peas), undrained
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14 oz.) organic stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 box (9 oz.) frozen baby lima beans
3 cups water (or use vegetable broth to make it even richer)
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1. In a 4 qt. Dutch oven, heat oil over med. heat. Cook onions, garlic and cumin in the oil about 3 min., stirring occasionally, until onions are crisp-tender.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients except cilantro/parsley. Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 10-15 min. or until lima beans are tender. Stir in cilantro or parsley. Serve; sprinkle with a bit of cotija or feta cheese, if desired. Serves 5.
We’re told we should be eating fish at least three times a week, but finding new ways to cook fish can be a challenge. A couple of years ago I found this recipe for a new and different crispy coating to put on fish filets before cooking and now use it often. It calls for pistachios, which are high in those B6 vitamins that are good for the brain, as well as magnesium and potassium, also brain healthy, but are also low-fat no-cholesterol protein. This works well with both white fish, such as halibut, and salmon.
HALIBUT WITH PISTACHIO CRUST
2 halibut filets (or other fish of choice)
Salt and pepper
1 t. vegetable oil
¼ cup shelled pistachios, chopped
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
1 T. minced fresh cilantro
1 ½ t. minced fresh oregano
1. Toast the pistachios and panko in the oil in a nonstick skillet over med.-high heat until lightly browned, 2-3 min. Cool briefly, then stir in fresh herbs.
2. Brush fish filets with additional oil, season with salt and pepper, coat with pistachio mixture. Place in a small baking sheet or pan lined with parchment paper and roast in a preheated 400 degree oven until cooked through and the fish flakes easily with a fork, 10-15 min. Serve with brown rice or cooked quinoa sprinkled with parsley. Adding some fresh, diced pineapple to the rice or quinoa is a nice added touch and goes well with the fish. Serves 2.