Eating for Optimal Brain Health
When it comes to optimal brain function, adequate nutrition is important. Nutrition is especially vital during pregnancy and infancy, which are crucial times for the formation of the brain, mapping the foundation for the development of cognitive, motor, and social-emotional skills throughout. Thus, nutritional deficiencies are likely to affect behavior, cognitive and productivity in life.
As you know, our bodies don’t like stress. Whether it’s physical stress, like a dog chasing you or emotional stress, such as presenting a speech in front of a large group of people, our bodies release signalling molecules called inflammatory cytokines. These little signals trigger the immune system to fight back against the stress via inflammation as though stress is an infection. What does this have to do with nutrition and brain health you may ask? Our gastrointestinal tract keeps our body’s immune responses at bay. Hormones that are produced from the gut and the brain have a great impact on cognitive function. These hormones are beneficial for retaining and processing new information, concentration, reaction time and decision making. Nutrients rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins, aid in protecting against diseases of the brain and provide overall energy.
Vitamin C and E may help preserve brain health for those with mild memory complaints however the dose of these is unknown. Nutritional scientists have developed methods to determine the degree of potency in antioxidants in a variety of foods and what antioxidant effects may help support brain health with age. Foods such as blueberries, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes have been shown to have relatively high amounts of antioxidants.
There are some foods that are more beneficial for your brain health than others. Below are the top five brain foods that should be eaten daily to provide the essential nutrients to both the body and the mind. With a combination of chocolate (yes, chocolate!), fruit, vegetables and healthy fats, eating foods to boost brain health can be fun and worth it!
Evidence suggests that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in reversing age-related neuronal deficits, subsequent behavioral manifestations and help in managing healthy aging of the brain.
Research suggests that the polyphenolic content found in blueberries enhance the beneficial effects through their ability to lower inflammation and oxidative stress and directly by altering the signalling pathways involved in neuronal communication.
Overall, the consumption of blueberries may help protect against age-related deficits in cognitive and motor function.
A recent clinical trial showed that daily consumption of 6-9 ml of blueberry juice per kilogram of body weight for 12 weeks, had some positive results. Participants with mild cognitive impairment showed an improvement in cognitive function, including improved learning, recollection of words and reduced depressive symptoms.
If you love fish, you are in luck because salmon is one of the most nourishing brain-loving foods of all time! It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids to help keep your brain in tip-top shape. Say goodbye to brain fog and hello to improved memory! If you have children, feeding them oily fish such as salmon can help improve their focus and learning.
Ah yes, delicious chocolate. However, not all chocolate is created equally. In fact, dark chocolate is packed with flavanols which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and can help improve blood flow to the brain. But don’t go overboard on this just yet! Most of the chocolate you see at your local grocery store is highly processed with little benefit. Remember the darker the chocolate, the better. To support your brain health, choose organic or minimally processed dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa solids over milk and white chocolate.
Your mom was right if she told you to eat your broccoli, it’s good for your brain. Broccoli is one of the top brain foods as it contains high levels of Choline, vitamin C and Vitamin K. These nutrients are very important and help with supporting memory. Sulforaphane (SFN) (a compound derived from broccoli sprouts) is an agent with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In a recent study, this compound was suggested to potentially improve cognitive function in patients with schizophrenia.
You may have read or heard about using rosemary essential oil as this can be beneficial for your memory, but did you know how these components are helping to protect your brain? One of the main ingredients, carnosic acid, helps to protect the brain from neurodegeneration diseases. It protects the brain by fighting against free radicals which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and aging of the brain. In a study to find the most suitable essential oil to support memory, rosemary oil came out on top. Rosemary oil produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors.
- Gómez-Pinilla, Fernando. "Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function." Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9.7 (2008): 568-578.
- Molteni, Raffaella, et al. "A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning." Neuroscience 112.4 (2002): 803-814.
- Letenneur, Luc, et al. "Flavonoid intake and cognitive decline over a 10-year period." American journal of epidemiology 165.12 (2007): 1364-1371.
- Poulose, Shibu M., Marshall G. Miller, and Barbara Shukitt-Hale. "Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age." The Journal of nutrition 144.4 (2014): 561S-566S.
- Shukitt-Hale, Barbara. "Blueberries and neuronal aging." Gerontology 58.6 (2012): 518-523.
- Kalmijn, S. V., et al. "Dietary intake of fatty acids and fish in relation to cognitive performance at middle age." Neurology 62.2 (2004): 275-280.
- Park, Seon Kyeong, et al. "Antiamnesic Effect of Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) Leaves on Amyloid Beta (Aβ) 1–42-Induced Learning and Memory Impairment." Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 64.17 (2016): 3353-3361.
- Moss, Mark, Michelle Rouse, and Lucy Moss. "Aromas of Salvia species enhance everyday prospective memory performance in healthy young adults." Advances in Chemical Engineering and Science 2014 (2014).
- Kato-Kataoka, Akito, et al. "Soybean-derived phosphatidylserine improves memory function of the elderly Japanese subjects with memory complaints." Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition 47.3 (2010): 246-255.
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