Our brain needs specific foods and nutrients to help it function properly. Eating the right kind of foods can not only support mood, mental energy and sleep but also cognitive functioning and mental focus. Here are the top 5 foods to support your brain health.
1. Eat your Blueberries
Anti-oxidants are important for protecting our bodies and brain from harmful free radicals. Antioxidants can be found in our fruits and vegetables, however the highest amounts can be found in berries. Blueberries, contains anthocyanins which can cross the blood-brain barrier, and research shows that this can help decrease vulnerability to the oxidative stress that occurs with aging, reduce inflammation, and increase signaling between neurons.
A six-year Nurse’s health study in over 16,000 older individuals found that consuming 2 or more half cup servings of blueberries and strawberries a week were linked to slower mental decline and delays in mental aging by up to 2.5 years. Another study identified nine older adults with mild cognitive impairment who consumed blueberry juice every day. After 12 weeks, they experienced improvements in several markers of brain function (Kroikorian 2010).
Tufts scientists have found that the addition of blueberries to the diet in animal studies improved short-term memory, navigational skills, balance and coordination. Compounds in blueberries seem to jump-start the brain in ways that get aging neurons to communicate again.
2. Eat your Eggs.
Eggs are packed with brain supporting nutrients such as Vitamin B6, B12, choline and folate. Deficiencies in B12 and folate have been linked to depression. The yolk is higher in fat and contains a nutrient called choline which is good for the brain.
The National Academic press indicates that choline is an important micronutrient that your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory. Two studies found that higher intakes of choline were linked to better memory and mental function (Nurk, Resfum, et al 2013) (Poly et al 2011). Because eggs are high in the B vitamins, they are good at helping to reduce mental decline as we age.
Eggs are economical, and quick and easy to make for any meal of the day. The Mayo clinic indicates that although chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, the effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared with the effect of trans fats. Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.
3. Drink Green Tea
Green tea is high in antioxidants and polyphenols which can help to protect the brain from free radical damage. It has shown to improve memory, mental focus and metal alertness (Dietz, Dekker, 2017).
L-theanine, is an amino acid found in green tea. This amino acid can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps reduce anxiety and makes us feel more relaxed. Although caffeine in green tea can help increase our mental alertness, the L-theanine helps us to avoid getting the “jitters” and nervous energy that coffee can sometimes give us.
So switch out your coffee for green tea and if you are not a hot green tea fan – brew a pot and put it in the fridge to cool and add stevia for a healthy iced tea beverage.
4. Eat Dark Chocolate
Get rid of your candy bars, cookies and candies and reach for a couple of squares of dark chocolate instead. Sugar is terrible for brain function and switching out these high sugar treats for some 85% dark chocolate may be just the trick. Chocolate is high in magnesium which helps to calm the mind and promote relaxation. In fact, craving chocolate can be a sign of a magnesium deficiency.
Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are packed with a few brain-boosting compounds, including flavonoids, caffeine and antioxidants. The flavonoids in chocolate gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Researchers say these compounds may enhance memory and also help slow down age-related mental decline (Sokolov, Pavlova et al, 2013).
Chocolate also contains a chemical, phenyethylamine (PEA), which can help to elevate mood and feelings of love, suppress appetite and improve memory and learning. Feel the love and eat some dark chocolate!
5. Eat Your Nuts and Seeds
Did you know that 60% of our brain is made up of fat? This includes saturated as well as polyunsaturated fats. Omega 3 is a very important fat for our brain and we just do not get enough in our diets due to poor food choices, consuming processed foods and poor cooking and heating methods. Omega 3’s surround our nerves and protect them. They ensure that our nerves can transmit a smooth signal. Believe it or not, these good fats help regulate the release and performance of neurotransmitters. If we don’t consume enough of these good fats in our diet we can experience depression, memory and learning problems, difficulty concentrating, inflammation and even schizophrenia (Holford 2004).
The best way to get good fats, especially Omega 3, is by eating raw nuts and seeds. You need them to be raw as this preserves the fat content and nutrients. Consuming flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts is a great way to get these good fats into your body. Walnuts are rated #1 for brain health, so make this nut a must! You can make up some trail mix bags and keep them in the fridge for a quick grab and go snack, put them on your yogurt, oatmeal or sprinkle on top of salads.
So take care of your brain and help feed it the nutrients it needs to function at it’s best!