Diet, however, is never simple. It’s always a matter of trade-offs, as is demonstrated through the pros and cons of sugar. Glucose (one type of sugar) is the primary fuel source for all cells, especially those in the brain, because the brain uses most of our energy. Not eating enough can leave you feeling sluggish and mentally slow. However, eating too much sugar—which, I think we all recognize, is woefully easy to do—is thought to accelerate the aging of cells and, according to a review by the Harvard Department of Neurobiology is linked “to memory and cognitive deficiencies,” neither of which is a plus for creative thinking.
Consider the problem of chocolate. It contains cocoa polyphenols that can elevate mood and alleviate anxiety—which can hinder the decision-making that is central to creative endeavors. These traits have led to articles
extolling the treat as a productivity enhancer. Yet, chocolate is almost always mixed with high amounts of sugar, which in the short term may well help you ramp-up output and be more creative, but over time can impair brain function and lead to all sorts of health problems.
Perhaps we’d do better to stick with omega-3 fatty acids, which Dr. Gómez-Pinilla puts “at the top of the list.” He pointed specifically to DHA and EPA, which are found in fish, fish oil, and, to a smaller extent, in pastured eggs and beef. People with various cognitive disorders as well as attention problems often have low levels of these fatty acids, and some studies have concluded that consuming fish or fish oil can have a protective effect on the brain. There is also some evidence
that supplementing with DHA and EPA can help brain efficiency and heighten cognitive performance. Walnuts are rich in another omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, but also in antioxidants, vitamin E, and folate. What this combination of compounds does to the brain remains unclear, but one study
out of UCLA found that munching on a handful of walnuts a day, over a period of years, resulted in improved cognition in a wide swathe of the population.
Still, a handful of fish-oil pills or walnuts will not transform you into a Leonardo. I would add that anything other than high-quality fish oil will be destructive rather than helpful, and sources of the good stuff are both difficult to find and expensive. Then again, a steady diet of fish might allow you to remain highly inventive as you age.
But long-term, incremental changes are not what most of us are looking for. What we want is a hack, the magic pill that will blast your mind into the creative stratosphere.