Do the foods you eat improve your brain’s health, or at the least help manage a neurologic condition? Have you ever deliberated whether your favorite foods are related to the functions of the brain? These are questions that most people cannot answer. Eating a healthy diet is essential for general well-being. Your brain is your most essential organ and your digestive system is responsible for supplying your brain with all the nutrients to function properly. It also supplies the building blocks of neurotransmitters; brain chemicals that determine the quality of your focus, memory and general cognitive function. When you give your brain essential nutrients, you enable it to protect itself against mental fatigue, brain fog and degeneration.
Eating the wrong foods like trans fats and sugar can leave you feeling anxious, mentally foggy and depressed, while the right foods can make you mentally positive, sharp and productive. Some foods are particularly rich in nutrients like good fats, minerals, antioxidants and essential vitamins necessary to generate, protect and repair brain cells. We call them brain foods.
So what food should you feed your brain to keep it performing at its best? We consulted doctors and nutritionists to come up with a list of foods that are good for your brain.
Nuts and seeds are a real powerhouse when it comes to brain health. People who eat nuts and seeds live a longer, healthier life than those who don’t. Nuts have the potential to reverse parameters of brain aging. Nuts such as peanuts, walnuts and almonds as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds are high in omega fatty acids and protein. After water, protein is the second largest matter in the brain. That’s why it is vital to nourish your brain with foods rich in protein. Proteins assist the neurons within your brain to communicate with each other. Communication is made via neurotransmitters made from amino acids that are packed with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Omega fatty acids are crucial in building cells to maintain normal brain functions. Walnuts in particular are one of the best source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and mood-elevating serotonin.
Fish is an outstanding source of protein, which makes it a top-notch brain food. Protein from fatty fish is necessary to create mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Fish is also a good source of vitamin B12. You need vitamin B12 if you want a healthy nervous system and brain. More importantly, fish is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, a key structural component of nerve cells and brain cell membranes. The availability of these healthy fats determine the quality of your brain cells. The anti-inflammatory nature of omega-3s averts brain fog, anxiety, depression and ADHD. Eating fish can also boost your mood. However, not all fish are rich in omega-3s. Some of the best fish for the brain include sardines, Alaskan salmon, mackerel and herring.
Avocados are hyped as the best fruit for your brain. Unlike other fruits, this creamy, nutrient dense fruit is made of 75 percent monounsaturated fats. These fats are similar to the one present in olive oil, and it keeps your blood sugar levels in control and supports the secretion of acetylcholine. By now, you know what this brain chemical does. Avocados are also an excellent source of vitamins E, C. K and B complex. Vitamin E offers your cell membranes protection from free radicals and also slows down the progression of degenerative diseases. Avocados assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins by acting as a nutrients booster. Being rich in tyrosine, avocados trigger dopamine to keep you focused and motivated. While your brain usually utilizes glucose for energy, it can also burn healthy fat to fuel brain activities. Lastly, avocado has anti-inflammatory characteristics and also enhances blood flow to the brain.
All fruits are loaded with phytonutrients, fiber and vitamins but berries of all kinds – straw berries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries -are antioxidant powerhouses. These berries are rich in flavonoids. For the uninitiated, flavonoids is a group of strong antioxidants that offer brain cells protection against oxidative damage. Studies have proven that flavonoids avert age-related mental decline and can enhance several cognitive skills including leaning, memory and decision-making. They also trigger the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) responsible for stimulating the creation of new brain cells. Low levels of this protein is associated with a number of mood and neurological disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Chronic inflammation affects energy production in brain cells causing brain fog and mental fatigue. Berries will protect your brain from this type of chronic inflammation. For optimum brain health, take 3-4 servings of fresh organic berries per week.
A central part of the Mediterranean diet, Olive oil is by far the healthiest way to eat. It has heart healthy monounsaturated fats that enhance cognitive functions. Olive oil has significant amounts of vitamins K and E, both of which are essential in improving memory and thwarting mental decline. In total olive oil has 30+ phenolic compounds that are free radical scavengers and potent antioxidants. This oil also increases the levels of BDNF to avert depression. 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day is enough to keep your brain healthy.
You are probably relieved to see a snack that you actually enjoy. Chocolate is a favorite food across the world and the number one food that people crave. Besides being delicious, dark chocolate has 300+ known chemical compounds. It is rich in antioxidants that offer your cell membranes protection against free radicals. This antioxidants also support the learning and cognitive functions of your brain. Tryptophan present in dark chocolate triggers serotonin while magnesium is a stress reliever. By assisting the secretion of feel-good endorphins, dark chocolate causes feelings of euphoria. Phenyl ethylamine, popularly known as the love drug, is a psychoactive compound that gives you a thrill similar to being in love. The neuroprotective flavonoids present in chocolate promote brain plasticity and prolong the lives of brain cells. The flavonoids also stimulate the flow of blood to the brain to enhance attention span, reaction time, problem solving and memory. Don’t go munching on any dark chocolate you come across. Take a serving size of 1.5-3 ounces of dark chocolate with 70 percent of cocoa or higher daily.
Eggs are packed with vitamin B12 and protein. They are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs are rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a building block of serotonin (the happiness molecule). Statistically, over 90 percent of us don’t get enough choline. Lucky for you, whole eggs are a top food source for this B complex related nutrient that triggers acetylcholine to enhance learning and memory. Unknown to many people, your brain comprises of 60 percent fat and contains up to 25 percent of your body’s total cholesterol making it your fattiest organ. Eggs are known to raise good cholesterol (HDL). For best brain health, eat 2-6 free-range eggs per week.
Your brain is a powerhouse that needs good nutrition to function properly. The food you consume affects your mental health: every bite of food you eat is a choice that either nourishes or depletes your brain. Whether you want to stay sharp and focused for a work meeting, or want your brain to be active during exam season, pay close attention to your choice of food and the list above is a good place to start.