Nutritional Expert- Saba Shaikh, Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
The power of your brain is immeasurable. As the control center of your body, it allows your heart to beat, the lungs to breathe, and lets you move, feel and think. Because the brain is such an energy-intensive organ, it uses around 20 percent of the body’s calories. That said, it requires an abundance of nutrients and good fuel to stay healthy. (1)
The foods we eat have a big role in the structure and health of our brains, and a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term function. From improving specific mental tasks such as memory and concentration to promoting overall brain structure, a healthy diet can keep your brain sharp and will increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain as you age. (1)
Certain foods in this overall scheme are particularly rich in healthful components like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants, which are known to support brain health and often referred to as foods. Incorporating many of these foods into a healthy diet on a regular basis can improve the health of your brain, which could translate into better mental function.(2)
Research shows that the best brain foods are the same ones that protect your heart and blood vessels, including the following:
Green, Leafy Vegetables:
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline.(2)
Fatty fish are abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats that have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Try to eat fish at least twice a week, but choose varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, cod, canned light tuna, and pollack. If you’re not a fan of fish, ask your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement, or choose terrestrial omega-3 sources such as flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts.(2)
Blueberries: Antioxidants Fight Cognitive Decline
Not only are blueberries delicious, but they are good for your brain. Consumption of blueberries may help improve or delay short term memory loss.
This readily available fruit may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. (1)
In a 2012 study published in Annals of Neurology, researchers at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years.(2)
The antioxidant compounds in blueberries:
• Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain and throughout the body
• Improve communication between brain cells
• Increase plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory. (1)
Dark Chocolate: Antioxidant Power to Boost Brain Health
Calling all sweet tooths, here’s a dessert you can feel good about! Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants that can improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. Antioxidants are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.
Research shows that dark chocolate can also:
• Combat fatigue and the effects of aging
• Boost both mood, focus, and alertness – one of the few foods that can do so naturally!
• Improve brain plasticity, crucial for learning
• Provide a very respectable dose of magnesium, zinc, fiber, and caffeine-like plant-based stimulant that the brain loves
Turmeric: This Brightly Colored Spice Boosts Mood, Memory & More Spice up your life, while contributing to a healthier brain by consuming turmeric, one of the most colorful and versatile ingredients in your cabinet.
Research has shown that inflammation is the “universal brain destructor” and this beloved Indian spice is packed with antioxidants, particularly curcumin, one of the most potent and naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agents ever identified.
Other benefits of turmeric include:
• Improves the brain’s oxygen intake
• Increases memory & cognitive function
• Benefits the immune system
Coffee: Aids in Processing, Memory & Focus
Whether enjoyed in the morning to start the day or for a late afternoon pick-me-up, your cup of joy has been shown to improve memory and potentially decrease the risk of dementia.
Beyond boosting alertness, a 2018 study suggests that caffeine may also increase the brain’s capacity for processing information, as the researchers found that caffeine causes an increase in brain entropy – complex and variable brain activity. When entropy is high, the brain can process more information.
Coffee is also a source of antioxidants, which may support brain health as a person gets older. Studies have linked lifelong coffee consumption with reduced risk of:
• Cognitive decline
• Parkinson’s disease
• Alzheimer’s disease (1)
Nuts are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats, and one type of nut in particular might also improve memory. A 2015 study from UCLA linked higher walnut consumption to improved cognitive test scores. Walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which helps lower blood pressure and protects arteries. That’s good for both the heart and brain. (2)
Avocados: Promotes Blood Flow & Brain Health
A diet rich with healthful unsaturated fat supports the brain and combats cognitive decline. Avocados are packed with good-for-you monounsaturated fats that promote healthy blood flow and support information-carrying nerves in the brain. They are also loaded with several of the brain’s most valued nutrients, including folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and copper.
A 2018 study out of Tufts University linked avocados with better brain functioning in older adults. The research monitored 40 healthy adults over the age of 50 who ate one fresh avocado per day for six months. Researchers found that they experienced a significant improvement in their problem-solving skills and working memory. The study also found that a control group in the same age bracket who did not eat an avocado each day did not experience the same cognitive health benefits during the study period. (1)
Other Brain Boosters
In addition to a healthy diet, exercise also helps to keep our brains sharp. Regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise per week to support the brain and body.
Along with diet and exercise, here are a few additional tips to optimize your brain function:
• Not eating too much or too little
• Getting enough sleep
• Keeping hydrated
• Reducing stress through yoga, mindfulness, or meditation
• Reducing alcohol intake
• Taking brain power supplements (1)