It is well known that the food we eat can have a huge impact on our weight and heart health. However, food can have just as much impact on the health, structure and function of our brains too. More and more research is being done into the link between what we eat and our brain health, especially the gut brain link.
The brain uses just over 20% of our daily calorie intake so it needs nutritious food for it to function at its best. The type of food that we put into our bodies can enhance our cognitive abilities and protect the brain from damage and ageing.
Inflammatory diets including high sugar, refined (white) carbs, unhealthy fats and processed foods can limit memory and learning, impair cognition, negatively affect mood and can increase the risk of diseases, such as, Alzheimers and Dementia. A study found that fried food and processed meats are associated with lower scores in learning and memory. Researchers also found that people who eat fast food are 51% more likely to have depression.
The brain requires certain nutrients to stay healthy:
- Omega 3 fatty acids – help to build and repair brain cells. A study found that people with high levels of omega-3s had increased blood flow to the brain and identified a connection between omega-3 levels and better cognition and thinking abilities. Sources are found in oily fish, including salmon & mackerel, chia and flax seeds and walnuts. Walnuts are found to be one of the top nuts for brain health (they even look like a brain!) Walnut consumption can boost memory and cognitive function.
- Antioxidants – reduce cellular stress and inflammation and help to prevent cognitive decline. Sources include berries (especially blueberries), broccoli, leafy greens, butternut squash, avocados and green tea. Dark chocolate is full of powerful antioxidants and natural caffeine to stimulate focus and concentration as well as mood boosting endorphins.
- Vitamin E – can prevent or slow the rate of cognitive decline as the brain ages. It helps to preserve brain function and protect against nerve cell degeneration. A lack of vitamin E has also been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Sources include, nuts, avocado, sweet potato, tomatoes, spinach and sunflower seeds. Studies have found that adults low in vitamin E are at a higher risk memory problems.
Take a look at this smoothie recipe, that includes a range of the ingredients above, to boost your brain power in the mornings.
As well as eating a balanced nutritious diet, the areas below are also very beneficial to brain health, including:
- Getting enough sleep
- Keeping hydrated
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Increasing mindfulness, meditation and yoga/pilates to reduce stress levels
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