Brain Health, Heart Health, Jury Trials…OH MY!
Contributing Author: Lou Anna Red Corn, Fayette (KY) Commonwealth Attorney
It’s January and you know what that means? It’s National Oatmeal Month according to the internet. I’m not sure if this is a real thing or not, but since the point of making healthy change is associated with the new year — and eating whole grains is healthy — let’s go with it!
When it comes to “poor food choices” as a group, prosecutors during a big trial are in a league of their own.
Take a moment to recall what you ate during your last jury trial. If you started your day with a pop-tart, guzzled a cola during lunch recess, grabbed a fast-food burger on the way home, and treated yourself to an “adult beverage” when you got there, you just consumed the four worst food groups for brain health according to eatingwell.com. And the result of a steady diet of the wrong foods can affect your brain health. I don’t know about you, but as a 62-year-old woman I need to do everything I can to improve my memory and learning and reduce the risk of cognitive decline as I age — especially during an important trial.
If you think of yourself as a healthy eater, take a healthy eating diet quiz on the internet. I did and scored a disappointing 38/73 — which is average. No prosecutor wants to be average — at anything! The emailed survey results will show you where you are lacking and what you should do to improve. Unless you are an attorney under 35 years old (those folks who walk around with a Nalgene bottle) then drinking more water is likely one of the easiest ways to improve your score.
An attorney friend of mine learned about the need to drink more water the hard way. He’s kind of a big shot civil trial attorney in my town, and several years ago, as he was making his way to the podium to do his opening statement he dropped to the floor — unconscious. Pandemonium ensued. He was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance. We awaited the diagnosis — was it a heart attack? a stroke? Thankfully neither. He was simply dehydrated. They pumped him up with IV fluids and he was back in the courtroom the next day, albeit slightly embarrassed.
How much water should we consume each day? Apparently, there is no easy answer to this question, but the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine say an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women. Fortunately, about 20% of the fluids we need usually comes from food, and the rest from drinking water and beverages. Thankfully coffee and tea are fluids that can contribute to our daily water intake — but if you are a sugared and cream coffee drinker January is a good time to make the shift to black. Here’s a couple of tips for making the shift…start with a medium roast coffee — they have a sweeter flavor. Then each day reduce the amount of dairy and sugar you add. Over time you will come to enjoy the real coffee — I can assure you from personal experience — it can be done.
As for other changes to the trial diet, consider starting the day with a hard-boiled egg. You can prepare hard boiled eggs days in advance (keep them in the refrigerator) and have one each morning of trial. There are lots of benefits to eating an egg on the day of trial, including making you feel full and getting you to lunch.
What else should you have handy during a trial so you will be able to avoid the cola at lunch and the fast food on the way home? Try citrus, nuts and chocolate. All of these are delicious foods that will nourish your body and brain and prepare you to take on difficult tasks — like cross examination of the defendant — by supporting brain health and promoting mental performance.
There are other tasty — and nutritious — foods that will boost your brain power during trial. Check out the list from the Food Network. You’ll find leafy greens, broccoli, fish and peanut butter — along with recipe suggestions that can become your “go-tos” when you are in trial.
A final thought on what happens to our bodies during a trial — is it an effective weight loss program? Probably not. It may be tempting to think that we’re burning up more calories during a trial because we’re concentrating all the time … a person’s brain accounts for 2 percent of their body’s weight but the brain gobbles up 20 percent of a person’s energy. It stands to reason (pun intended) that the more we think the more calories we burn — but alas the increase in calories burned even during prolonged mental activity is insignificant compared to the overall rate of caloric consumption by the brain. What may account for the loss of weight during a trial though is the stress that comes from being responsible for 1000 moving pieces as well as anticipating and reacting to an intelligent and motivated opponent. Consequently, healthy eating becomes even more important during a trial to counter the stressors encountered during a trial — hence the advice above about eating foods to support you during trial.
So the next time you are in trial, take the time to prepare not only your witnesses and exhibits, but your meals and snacks. It will improve your cognitive function, your overall health, and that is bound to make you a better trial attorney.