Eat Your Way to a Healthier Brain
Did you know that March 12 – 18 was Brain Health Awareness week? In recognition of this very important subject, we thought it would be beneficial to share with you some helpful tips on managing your brain health.
There’s very little your doctor can give you to keep your memory sharp and ward off dementia. Our brain matter shrinks as we age, and this loss of volume has been linked to memory and cognitive deficits. (Brain size matters!!) While researchers are desperately searching for cures for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the best advice anyone can give you is to eat foods, herbs/spices that support brain health and to live an active lifestyle. The saying “healthy brain, happy life” is spot on! Without a healthy brain, finding happiness in life can be a huge challenge.
So today we are going to share with you some tips on how to keep your brain healthy and happy.
The biggest one is FOOD. Here are some of the top brain foods you should include in your diet.
NUTS & SEEDS
Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds are a terrific sources of vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids which helps prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease as you age. And it’s not just your brain that benefits from nuts; your heart will be happier too.
Walnuts in particular are excellent brain food. These wrinkly nuts—which kind of resemble the human brain—are rich in vitamin E and high concentration of DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid (1/4 cup of walnuts provides almost 100 percent of your recommended daily intake of DHA).
Pumpkin seeds – are packed with omega-3 fatty acids to improve mental health, help maintain memory and support brain development, and they also contain high levels of magnesium, which is believed to have a calming effect on the brain, and zinc, which increases brain power by enhancing focus and memory.
Ground flaxseed – A top source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), flaxseed is the perfect way for vegetarians and vegans to add healthy fats to their diet. Improves the workings of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain that processes sensory information like touch and taste.
All berries, especially blueberries are exceptionally rich in antioxidants that protect brain cells from damage. Researchers discovered that people who regularly ate berries scored higher on memory tests. So make sure that at least one of your (5-9) daily servings of fruits & vegetables is berries.
(In a recent study, researchers gave a group of adults with mild cognitive impairment, a risk condition for Alzheimer’s, freeze-dried blueberry powder daily, while another group took a placebo. After 16 weeks, those who ate the blueberry powder (the equivalent of one cup of berries) had improved memory, better cognitive performance, and increased brain activity.)
Numerous studies suggest that the nutrients contained in pomegranates can help to protect your brain from different forms of damage. Pomegranate juice contains three times as many antioxidants as red wine and green tea. (It’s higher in the juices that were extracted from the whole fruit).
These buttery fruits are rich in monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow in the brain. This helps every organ in your body—particularly the brain and heart. Avocados also lower blood pressure, thanks to their potassium content. Lower blood pressure helps to keep the brain in top form and reduce your risks for hypertension or a stroke. The fiber in avocados also reduces the risk of heart disease and bad cholesterol.
Kale, Chard, Spinach and other cruciferous veggies
These superfoods contain powerful antioxidants that can protect your brain from toxic free radicals.
Kale is one of the most nutrition-dense vegetables in the world, kale is packed with the antioxidants beta carotene, flavonoids, and polyphenols. One cup of kale also contains nearly as much vitamin C (a natural antidepressant) as an orange. Kale is also a great source of B vitamins, which are believed to prevent memory loss and keep the brain young and healthy.
Beets contain high levels of dietary nitrates, which help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to places that need it—including the brain. Researchers found that older adults drinking beet juice before exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembled what would be expected in younger adults.
Because what celery lacks in taste it more than makes up for in brain power! It’s a rich source of luteolin, a plant compound believed to reduce inflammation in the brain, thereby protecting it from the aging process.
Lentils are packed with folate, a B vitamin shown to help boost brain power and play a role in decreasing levels of amino acids that can impair brain functioning as we age. Lentils also contain thiamin and vitamin B6, which increase focus and energy, iron, which is important for cognitive functioning in women during childbearing years, and zinc, which is believed to be a memory booster.
Whole grains, which you digest slowly, provide fuel for your brain. (Although your brain accounts for only 3 percent of your total body weight, it uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.) Rich sources include brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa, bran flakes, oats, and barley.
SPICES/HERBS & OTHER FOODS
Some scientists have hailed turmeric a “wonder spice” due to its seemingly endless list of health benefits: anti-inflammatory; anti-oxidant; anti-depressant; anti-aging; anti-cancer. In terms of brain health, curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is believed to be effective in delaying or even reversing brain diseases and age-related decline in brain function such as memory loss.
Has a beneficial impact on learning, concentration, memory, and age related mental impairment. Recent research has demonstrated multiple pharmacological properties of saffron as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and memory enhancer.
In several studies sage has also been shown to help with memory and focus. Even smelling it can improve alertness. (In one study, British researchers gave 44 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18-37 one gram of sage oil and then tested their word recall over several hours. People getting sage outperformed people who got a placebo by up to 10%)
The flavanols that get absorbed when you consume chocolate penetrate and accumulate in the brain regions involved in learning and memory, especially the hippocampus. Tests have shown that even single doses of high-flavanol dark chocolate can improve performance on cognitive tests, including memory, in healthy adults.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil/Avocado Oil/Flaxseed Oil
The healthy fats in these oils protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of certain plaques in the brain.
Salmon and other oily fish, Eggs, red wine, coffee/tea
All of these foods are also good for the brain. (A cup of coffee before a big exam can help your brain perform at its best. That’s because caffeine improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times)
The Mediterranean diet is good for your heart and brain. It is loaded with fresh fruits and veggies, healthy fats like olive oil, whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, and fish, with moderate amounts of red wine. Eating a Mediterranean diet might slow down brain loss that normally occurs with age. An Indian diet is also similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it includes lots of vegetables, spices/herbs (goes back thousands of years), fresh & dried fruits, nuts/seeds and an abundance of pulses/lentils/beans.
All of the B complex vitamins are essential for your overall health. But three of them — B6, B12 and folic acid (B9) — are especially vital for brain health. Studies have shown that these vitamins work together to help prevent mental decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Vegetarian sources include whole grains, enriched breads and flours, dried beans, lentils, nuts/seeds, peas, milk and eggs.
Vitamin B-12 is used in the production of red blood cells and is needed for nerve function. It’s found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products as well as fortified cereals and nut milk. The main concern is for vegetarians/vegans who do not eat eggs and dairy, as they are not able to get enough vitamin B-12 from other sources. Adding other vegetarian options such as nutritional yeast, fortified meat & milk substitutes and supplements may help vegetarians get the recommended amounts.
It can be overwhelming just thinking about how you are going to incorporate this many foods in your diet on a regular basis! My solution is to drink your nutrients in a health-packed smoothie. Below are ingredients we include in our daily smoothie. In the brackets I have included the key brain-health vitamins and minerals you get from all of these ingredients.
DAILY SMOOTHIE (Antioxidant/Nutrition Powerhouse)
Fruits/Veggies: Kale, spinach, blueberries, banana, pomegranate juice (Vit A,C,K, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium)
1/4 avocado for the monounsaturated healthy fat.
Nuts/Seeds: Walnuts, pumpkins seeds, hemp seeds (Vit E, B-vitamins, omega-3’s, zinc, magnesium, iron)
Nut Milk: (calcium, zinc, Vit A,D and B-vitamins)
The worst food for your brain is SUGAR!
Most of us are simply eating too much sugar. It’s found in 74% of packaged foods. It is highly addictive because it creates a vicious cycle of intense cravings similar to highly addictive drugs like cocaine and heroine. It lights up and highjacks the brain’s reward pathways (or pleasure centres), causing a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine to be released. The problem is with over-activating this reward system because it starts of cycle of cravings, loss of control, and increased tolerance to sugar. We feel deprived until we can get the next “hit”!
Here’s the real scary part…
Research has shown that the brains of obese children actually light up differently when they taste sugar, reflecting an elevated “food reward” response. This suggests that their brain circuitry may predispose the to a lifetime of intense sugar cravings.
Stay Active (it helps to oxygenate your brain)
As little as 15 – 30 minutes of regular exercise three times a week could improve memory and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 40%.
Keep playing those mind games!!
Surprise and challenge your mind with different games because that’s how your brain gets fired up and forms new neural connections. (Crossword puzzles, Sudoko, chess, etc.)
Restful sleep is also an important part of keeping your brain healthy. An overworked, unrested brain leads to physical and mental stress. Meditation is a wonderful way to calm and rejuvenate your brain.