Americans, it's clear, are not malnourished calorically; in fact we consume too many calories. So it is indeed ironic that in the land of plenty we may be undernourishing our brains. According to Penland, Americans' eating patterns, and especially those of women, as a result of dieting, serve up special shortages of folic acid and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and selenium. While men eat more calories than women do, that doesn't give them better brains. Studies show that they eat fewer vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts, foods rich in key vitamins and minerals.
But even consuming recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for all nutrients may hot guarantee a robust brain. The current RDAs, says Penland, are crude measures, based on a few animal studies and on observations of what people ordinarily consume, and these allowed experts to decree minimum levels of vitamins and minerals needed to sustain normal growth, maintain immune function, and fend off death, plus a safety margin to accommodate individual differences. But nutrient levels needed for optimal general health and brain functioning may be many times higher than current RDAs, as they were in many of his own studies, says Penland.
Still, it would not be prudent to wolf down mega-amounts of vitamins and minerals. Reliable studies of the long-term effects of megadoses have yet to be done, especially of trace minerals, which can be toxic in large amounts. Penland warns against taking doses that exceed the RDAs at this time, except for calcium, the RDA of which is widely considered too low for most women. But along with other experts interviewed for this article, he suggests that, on top of a healthful diet, you take a multivitamin and mineral supplement that supplies RDA amounts. This is particularly important for the elderly, among whom marginal deficiencies of vitamins and minerals are widespread.
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