Eating smart

by Susan Writer. 0 Comments

My mother often said, “Fish is brain food.” I assumed that statement was just an excuse for stinking up the house with pickled herring, like my mother-in-law still does when, in the name of guaranteeing good luck, she graces the New Year’s Eve table with smelly, slimy white filets.

It turns out the magic of fish is one old wives’ tale that might just float, having found considerable backing by countless learned studies. Those fabulous omega-3 fatty acids found in particularly high concentrations in the oiliest fish — like herring — have been linked with working such wonders as reversing the effects of traumatic brain injury, helping hyperactive kids and adults stay more focused, and even promoting better heart health.

Now, while a well prepared piece of salmon and a tuna sandwich constitute tasty treats and might be as good for your heart as they are for your head, I have a far more delicious secret weapon in the old preferred gray matter diet. And it may also prove a deliciously clever one.

A recent article on discusses work being done by a New York physician and researcher. Dr. Franz Messerli was curious to see if there was a direct correlation between genuine smarts and the amount of chocolate eaten by a nation’s population on average. His investigations led him to conclude the countries with the largest per capita rates of chocolate consumption also produce the greatest number of Nobel Laureates. Powered by flavanols, a chemical found in the cocoa bean, an intrinsic ingredient in any true chocolate, this treat from pre-Columbian gods and kings is not only believed to sharpen your mental abilities, but also shows promise, according to Wikipedia, “to keep arteries flexible, increase small vessel circulation, reduce blood pressure, and protect against sunburn.” There’s even the suggestion of certain antioxidant properties.

By Dr. Messerli’s calculations, an annual intake of a modest four and a half pounds or so should do the trick. The caveat of boosting brain function with chocolate is, the more processed the final product, the lower the flavanol levels and the higher the sugar content are likely to be. The secret lies in what I already knew about my favorite food group. When it comes to cocoa-based treats — the darker, the bitterer, the better. This isn’t to say I’d turn my nose, and taste buds, up at a nice chunk of silky smooth milk chocolate. I figure all detrimental effects of the non-dark stuff can easily be offset. I’ll just have to eat more fish and drink more wine; and everyone knows how good an occasional glass of wine can be for you.

So by following the example of experts, I too can tailor findings of various studies to formulate a supposition that works for me. Just in time for the traditional season of gastronomic overindulgence, I can confidently claim that some of the best holiday “goodies” are, in fact, good for me.

Now, that’s food for thought.


Woodsboro-based Susan Writer writes a regular column for and is one of The FNP’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at

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