The saying “you are what you eat” not only relates to the effect food has on your outer physique, but also on the inner functioning of various organs. Scientists are discovering that certain foods have a large impact on brain health and play a role in helping to stave off certain diseases such as dementia. There is no magical potion or cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, however exercise, diet and genetics are factors that influence brain health.
When the body is stressed, it releases inflammatory cytokines that prompt the immune system to step in and fight stress through inflammation. Low grade inflammation is not a health threat – rather it is needed to fight infection and help heal the body when you cut yourself or have an open wound. Chronic information is a whole different story. It is linked to major diseases including autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis and more.
Our gut helps keep the immune system and inflammation under control. Furthermore, gut hormones that enter the brain influence cognitive ability like helping us know when we feel full, staying focused on a specific task and processing new information. Foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and good fats, provide energy and sustenance and help protect the brain against diseases. When we feed our bodies nutrient rich foods, we are benefiting our gut and our brains simultaneously.
Blueberries, which is known as one of the superfoods, is packed with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, as well as vitamins C, K and fiber. Due to their high gallic acid, blueberries have an ability to protect the brain from oxidative stress and age related diseases. Studies have shown that diets rich in blueberries have lead to greater learning capacity and motor skills in aging rats. Blueberries can be enjoyed on a daily basis, either fresh, frozen or freeze dried.
2. Omega 3 Fatty Acid
Wild salmon is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, as well as other fatty fish such as trout, sardines and mackerel. Omega 3 contains anti-inflammatory substances that are excellent for brain health. According to a 2014 study, mice that were given supplements of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, showed improved cognitive function while they aged. Two to three portions of fatty fish per week is recommended.
3. Cocoa Flavonols
Believe it or not, chocolate is not so bad for you after all. Dark, dairy-free chocolate that is minimally processed and has about 70% cocoa, is packed with flavonols that contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They can also help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the brain and heart. Cocoa flavonols contain several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration and stimulates the production of endorphines, which helps improve mood. This food however, is best eaten in moderation.
In one recent large-scale analysis, researchers found that a diet supplemented with walnuts — which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, folate, antioxidants, and melatonin — improved adults’ performances on a series of six cognitive tests. Walnuts have a high antioxidant level and vitamin E can help ward off Alzheimer’s. Enjoy nuts as a daily snack, but limit the quantity as they some are high in sodium and are rather fattening.
5. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli and romaine lettuce, have proven brain health benefits. According to the National Institute on Aging, eating a lot of fruit, vegetables and whole grains can help stave off cognitive decline as well as other chronic diseases, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, has been shown to be both brain and heart healthy, compared with the regular western diet.
6. Green Tea
Green tea is known to be good for a lot of things, including brain health. In a recent study completed at the University of Basel, researchers discovered that green tea extract enhances your thinking process and working memory. After receiving green tea extract, participants scored higher for working memory tasks and an MRI showed a boost in connectivity between the parietal and frontal cortex of the brain. Professor Stefan Borgwardt, an author of the study, determined that green tea might increase the short-term synaptic plasticity of the brain. So go ahead and enjoy your tea.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its rich, golden color. Although there are a lot of spices that are full of antioxidants, turmeric has the added benefits of having anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective compounds. It reduces brain inflammation and can help break up the brain plaques that are implicated in causing Alzheimer’s. Turmerone, another substance found in turmeric, stimulates the production of new neurons and encourages brain repair. It has been found that older adults in India have the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world because turmeric is a staple in their diets.
8. Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats such as avocados and olive oil, that improved cognitive functioning and memory. The Mediterranean diet is a big proponent of these foods and has been touted together with the MIND diet (which is a slightly altered version), as one of the best diets for brain and heart health. Olive oil has antioxidants, vitamins K and E which are good for memory retention and prevent cognitive decline. Oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory agent unique to olive oil, helps clear the brain of the beta-amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Drizzle it on your salads and use it in your cooking, but make sure you use a superior quality oil.
These are some of the brain-healthy ingredients that will help nourish your brain. Remember, the wrong foods such as sugar and processed foods can leave you feeling tired, brain fogged, forgetful and depressed, whereas the right nutrient, rich foods help improve your memory, mood and cognitive functioning. You make the choice.