What we eat affects our brain for better or worse.
Eat well and you’ll stay sharp, positive, and focused.
Eat badly and you may feel foggy, anxious, and even depressed. You’re also more likely to develop illnesses such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.
The good news is you’re probably eating lots of brain foods already. A few simple tweaks to your diet could improve the brain health of your whole family even more.
So what should you eat for a happy and well-nourished brain?
How is What You Eat Linked to Your Brain?
You might have heard the phrase you are what you eat but not realized just how closely connected your gut is to your brain.
Many brain-related problems such as fatigue, anxiety, memory and focus problems – and even degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s – could be linked to inflammation. This is the body’s response to stress from injury, infection or external factors such as a big project at work or anxiety about your kids.
Inflammation is also caused by allergies, exposure to toxins and poor diet – particularly processed foods high in salt, sugar, and additives.
Your gut controls your response to stress and helps keep inflammation under control. So by fortifying it with brain-healthy nutrients, you can give it a helping hand.
In addition, hormones produced in the gut or triggered by nutrients reaching the brain can influence your ability to think clearly, process information, learn efficiently, boost your memory and enable you to focus. They also influence your mood and might prevent you from feeling anxious or depressed.
Brain foods rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals boost energy levels and could help fighting brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.
Which Nutrients are the Best Brain Foods?
In order to perform at its best your brain needs:
- Antioxidants such as flavonoids and vitamin E to protect brain cells against the negative effects of stress, pollution, and poor diet
- Essential Fatty Acids to improve your concentration and memory
- Vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, folate, vitamin K and magnesium. These can help to boost your memory and improve the way you think and learn. Vitamin C could also help prevent stress and anxiety.
Read on for 10 delicious brain foods to add to your plate every day.
Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C
In order to get all the vitamins and minerals you need, current advice is to eat a rainbow every day.
Studies show that eating foods rich in vitamin C such as bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, kiwi fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries can help prevent loss of brain function as you get older.
Vitamin C can’t be stored by the body so it’s important to include foods rich in this essential nutrient frequently or take a quality supplement daily.
Avocados are also rich in vitamin C. People often avoid avocados as they think they are high in fat. In reality, avocados contain monosaturated fats which help to stabilize blood sugar levels and are great for your skin.
Avocados are also packed full of vitamin C as well as many other nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin K and folate. Because of this, they may help improve memory and concentration and prevent blood clots in the brain that can cause a stroke.
Green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are so good for you, they deserve a special mention.
Greens such as kale and spinach are packed full of vitamins A, C, and K that fight the inflammation that is often at the root of degenerative brain diseases. Broccoli also contains choline, the same nutrient found in egg yolks.
Eating plenty of green leafy vegetables is a great way to fill your plate while avoiding empty carbs that make your blood sugar levels fluctuate and often lead to weight gain and diabetes.
Nuts and seeds
Do you know which nut is best for your brain? The one that looks like a brain, of course – a walnut!
Studies have shown eating a few walnuts a day can improve the function of your brain particularly your memory, concentration, and the way you process information.
This is thought to be because walnuts are powerful antioxidants and high in brain-healthy vitamins and minerals. They also contain vitamin E which can help prevent brain diseases.
Seeds are also packed full of nutrients. Pumpkin seeds are particularly great for your brain as they contain magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron – micronutrients that all contribute to efficient cognitive function.
And it’s as easy as sprinkling them on your salad or granola!
These sweet and juicy little berries are a well-known superfood and easy to incorporate into your diet by adding them to your breakfast or blitzing them into your smoothie.
They are packed full of powerful nutrients that help fight against inflammation They are also packed full of vitamin C, K, and fiber. By including blueberries in your diet you may be able to increase your memory and focus.
Studies have shown that eating blueberries could even protect your brain against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Dark chocolate contains flavanols which are powerful antioxidants and reduce inflammation, helping your brain to work efficiently. Flavanols also boost the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine and can help lower blood pressure.
A couple squares of dark chocolate a day can also increase blood flow, helping to deliver the nutrients that your brain needs for energy and nourishment.
Remember, most of the chocolate you see on the supermarket shelves is highly processed and contains added sugar that is bad for your blood sugar levels.
Choose chocolate with the highest concentration of cocoa (70% and higher) or better still, make sure you have healthy snacks on hand that contain raw cacao powder or cacao nibs.
While drinking too much coffee can make you jittery and anxious, studies have shown consuming a large cup in the morning or smaller quantities throughout the day can sharpen your memory and help you focus.
Caffeine blocks adenosine which is a chemical in your brain that can make you feel sleepy. Like chocolate, it may also make you feel good by boosting serotonin. Long-term coffee consumption has been shown to reduce the amount your brain degenerates as it gets older and the likelihood that you will get age-related brain diseases.
Eggs used to get a bad press because they were thought to contain too much cholesterol. In fact, studies have shown eggs have almost no effect on your cholesterol levels.
Whatever you do, don’t throw away the yolks. Egg yolk contains choline – an essential nutrient that helps boost your happiness-hormones. Choline also helps your brain process information efficiently and boosts your memory.
If you’re pregnant, choline is vitally important for the development of your baby’s brain.
Eggs are also a great source of B-vitamins that reduce levels of homocysteine – an amino acid that has been linked to Alzheimer’s and stroke.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Studies show that including healthy fats in your diet such as Extra Virgin Olive Oil can boost memory, improve the way you learn and help fight against age-related deterioration of the brain.
This is because EVOO contains polyphenols – powerful antioxidants that neutralize and remove free radicals that cause disease.
Remember your Mama saying fish is good for your brain? Well, she was right!
Oily fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines are packed full of omega-3 essential fatty acids sometimes called EFAs. These are essential for cognitive function, they help keep your brain cells healthy and enable them to communicate effectively which promotes clear thinking and boosts memory.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids also help boost your energy levels which benefits both your brain and your body. For more information read 7 Energy-Boosting Tips for Tired Moms.
In order to really reap the benefits, it’s important to choose the best quality fish available, preferably wild-caught, as farmed fish can contain high levels of unhealthy toxins and mercury.
If you find it difficult to include enough quality oily fish in your diet, consider taking a high-quality supplement.
This tasty spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color has many health benefits, not least for your brain.
Turmeric, or the active ingredient, curcumin, is known to increase memory and focus.
It is a natural anti-inflammatory and one of the few nutrients that can cross the blood-brain barrier – the wall of cells that protect your brain – and can nourish it directly.
Curcumin can also enhance your mood and help to reduce anxiety and depression by boosting the hormones serotonin and dopamine. It also boosts BNDF, a hormone that is often low in people who suffer from age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
In order to get enough curcumin into your diet to make a difference to your health, you’d have to eat about 20 curries a day. A quality curcumin supplement is a great alternative!
For more information about the health benefits of turmeric including information about how to choose a supplement, read Super Food or Fad? Are all the Claims About Turmeric True?
How to boost the health of your brain
The foods you eat can boost the health of your brain, and your family’s brains, by fortifying them with the nutrients they need to function efficiently.
By making some simple changes to your diet you can improve your memory and focus, feel more positive, learn more efficiently and could even ward off brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
I’m sure you’ll agree – it’s food for thought!