The Well-Fed Brain


Contributing Editor
Walt Pickut

Want a healthy brain? Just feed it right. It’s hungry!

Your brain is only about 2% of your body mass, but it uses over 20% of your oxygen and up to 400 calories every day just by firing its little neurons while you think. As an energy-burner, your brain is the most expensive organ you carry around with you. It’s always hungry!

But your brain is a picky eater. Unlike other body parts, it runs exclusively on the sugar called glucose, just half of every molecule of ordinary table sugar. While so called “brain foods” do supply vitamins and building materials for your brain, your brain’s only real fuel is glucose.

There is, however, another way to feed your brain. It has nothing to do with food of any kind. It’s not protein, fat, or carbohydrate, and it’s not vitamins, minerals, or medicine.

Your brain gets fed through your eyes, your ears, and all of your senses. Are you giving your brain good stuff or junk food?

This week, your Jamestown Gazette is all about what you are feeding your brain. Your mental health, after all, depends on that.

Consider your relationships, for example. Are they nurturing or draining, are they uplifting or destructive? The choice is all yours to make them what they need to be.

Joanna Coles, one-time editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, said it this way: “Love and food are very similar in many ways. We can’t survive without them, and they bring us great joy, and just as there is junk food, and you can become obese, there’s also junk love.”

So, what are you feeding your brain, your mind, even your soul with your everyday life?

“There’s tons of junk food for your mind on the Internet,” as Henry Rollins, singer and songwriter, told his radio talk-show audience recently. “You can sit there for three or 10 or 20 hours a day getting in online arguments with other people who also choose to waste their time.”

Mental health is a subject that is rarely mentioned in ordinary conversations. Some people think it is too private, maybe too intrusive, or maybe too likely to invite judgment of someone else’s lifestyle or problems.

But I think that is very odd. Mental health is about the quality of your life and mine. Mentally, we all have miles to run every day. Sometimes it even feels like a Marathon. Emotionally, some days we have mountains to climb. But just like a real marathon or mountain, they require us to be fit, strong, and tough. Your mental health is your most important asset.

If you’d go to a gym, eat healthy, and dress right to win, why not do the same for your mental health?
Here’s this week’s good news: You are in control. Design your life like a shopping trip to the supermarket. Choose the most healthful items and skip the mental junk food aisle.

If you’re not sure where that is, one hint might be that it has a remote control and a soft easy chair next to it, or it has a keyboard, a mouse, and a screen showing you things you’d rather your friends didn’t see you watching.

Take prize-winning author Lorrie Moore’s advice. “Everything one reads is nourishment of some sort – good food or junk food – and one assumes it all goes in and has its way with your brain cells.”

Eat well and enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.