Why you should eat for your brain
We all want to age gracefully, and most importantly with our minds intact. Brain health and food for brain health should be everyone’s concern, as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are devastating conditions, and the numbers are rising still.
The future prospects for the population are dire in general health, and in particular, in brain health.
5.3 million people currently have Alzheimer’s disease, and by the year 2050, 7 trillion people are expected to be sufferers of Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association reports.
Still, we can hope that with some adjustments in diet and lifestyle, we may decrease these numbers and preserve our brain health.
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We can try and hope we won’t be the sufferers because cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are terrifying conditions for both the victim and their loved ones.
So, what can we do to alleviate or avert, a health assault on our brain health?
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This means that you should eat for your brain as you eat for your heart… you are eating for your heart, right?
Imagine yourself as an old lady, and your body and brain are still strong, intact, and they can be, with the right brain food, and a little exercise.
See yourself dancing and doing somersaults, shocking the gawking bystanders who are much younger than you, but they have nothing on you when it comes to those dance moves! Yes, that’s how I want to be!
And you can do it too if you set your mind to it, and feed the brain right, and move. You can still be as sharp as a tack.
One of the worst things that can happen to us as we age is to have cognitive decline.
It is interesting that you hear about heart health all the time, but not so much about brain health. Not to really rank one over the other, but the heart cannot beat without the brain telling it to.
But I know, you don’t need anyone to tell you that your brain is very important. So important that it may be a good thing to consciously choose food that will benefit not only your heart and every other organ and especially the brain.
The amazing thing is that what you eat not only affects the function of your brain but also the structure of the brain, research has found
Visualize your brain as an expensive car, a Jaguar, or a Mercedes for example. I like this analogy of an expensive car.
If you have an expensive car, you baby it, you treat it delicately and only put premium fuel in it. Its the same with your brain. You put crap in it and you get out the same- yes, pun intended. And yes, that means you damage it.
The damage, however, happens over time. So you may not know the harm you are causing until much later, and then it is too late to know anything because then cognitive damage prevents that recognition.
These low-grade fuels are fast foods most cooked in bad oils such as omega 6 as in canola oil, foods full of simple sugars, processed foods such as cured meets full of chemicals, and high fructose corn syrup, you get the gist.
Think of beautiful vibrant alive colors when you think of food for the brain.
The low fuel foods such as processed food promote insulin resistance and inflammation, and oxidative stress.
These non-premium foods have been implicated per studies in health issues such s depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and even to a degree Alzheimers disease and dementia.
Research is clear, high sugar diets, predispose one to develop metabolic syndrome and likely type two diabetes. And having diabetes, ups the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that consuming a diet high in saturated fats and simple sugars affected memory and learning even in relatively young women, those in their 25-45 age. This is not to say the effects don’t occur even earlier.
The gut-brain connection
Start thinking of your gut as your second brain. Have ever wondered why you feel butterflies in the stomach when you are nervous? Like when you have a major interview for a great job. Suddenly the stomach doesn’t feel too good.
You see, the gut and the mind have a relationship. They communicate. 95 percent of your serotonin is produced in your gut, and your gut is lined with millions of nerve cells that communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve.
This also explains why the things you eat can influence your emotions, and how you act.
Also, researchers are finding that the microbes in your gut can do a lot of things including affecting the way you behave. There is a link between your gut health and depression and anxiety. Your gut health depends on the type of food you eat, that in turn feeds the right bacteria.
You eat too much sugar and the bad microbes grow and produce biochemical products that totally influence your emotions, psych, and mental health.
Yes, it has been proven that these bad microbes will make you reach for more sugary food too.
You are not in control then. They are. Some microbes can even cure some diseases, or affect the way various medications affect you. Take a listen to this TED Talk for more on how microbes influence one’s health here
Can diet affect your mental health?
Like many other health conditions, diet and lifestyle can affect brain health. Diet may prevent the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
The process that leads to Alzheimer’s disease begins years before disease onset, research states.
So, let us look at the foods that feed the brain for better brain health.
What are the best foods for mental health?
The good thing is that it is not hard to feed your brain with some amazing superfoods. Here are 20 superfoods you should eat regularly.
Beets are a delicious and vibrant superfood. They are good for the heart as well well as the brain.
And they are so underutilized. Just to set the record straight, really, when was last time you cooked or ate beets? See what I mean? We need to eat more beets.
Eat more beets and your brain will be well fed with the right fuel. So what’s so great about them anyway?
A chemical called betanin, that is responsible for the red color found in beets is associated with slowing brain aging.
That is exactly what I want, a young and agile brain. I hope you too! Researchers found that this compound betanin inhibits the accumulation of the misfolded proteins or the alfa beta proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Betanin thereby slows down Alzheimer’s progression.
Beets also contain nitrates, which aids in improving blood flow through the body and thus helps nutrients to reach the brain and feed those brain cells so they perform at optimal levels. It is no good if you eat and the transit system is clogged and nutrients transport is impeded.
Beets also have anxiolytic and antidepressant properties per research. They are anti-stress, have antioxidants, are anticancer. They protect the liver and the kidneys, are great for wound healing and have anti-inflammatory properties. That is a superpower.
I hope by now you are convinced that you should eat more avocados.
These delicious fruits are a powerhouse of amazing nutrients and a great way to feed your brain.
They are also so versatile so you can eat more in a variety of dishes, from quac, salads to smoothies, these superfoods taste good anyway you have them.
The great thing too about avocados is that they not only taste good, but they are also good for weight loss because they are filling and keep you feeling full longer.
Additionally, they are a great source of good for you fats, including omega 3 fatty acids.
They contain monounsaturated fats. And as such they contribute to improved blood flow too, again ensuring nutrients reach your brain.
Avocados, contain vitamin, K, A, D, E, potassium, magnesium, folate, and B vitamins. So yes, that is what I mean by powerhouse of nutrients. Folate and B vitamins, vitamin K, and magnesium are all essential for optimal functioning of the brain.
3. Green Tea
In recent years, science has proved that green tea is a powerful nutrient and a great one for brain health. Green tea is known to induce mental clarity, cognitive function, physical activation, and relation.
This effect is compounded if one takes matcha green tea in which these phytochemicals are concentrated, making matcha green tea a super mood and brain food.
Green tea contains catechins polyphenols, EGCG antioxidants that protect the brain from the neurologic cognitive damage of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease, research shows.
The caffeine in green tea improved alertness, performance on demanding cognitive tasks and increases vigor.
Additionally, the L theanine helps one relax by counteracting the effect of caffeine. improves mood, relaxation, and calmness which means the caffeine won’t make one crazy hyper. Instead one ends up with a nice zen-like state while demolishing their to-do list after a cup of green tea.
Theanine, per this article, also acts as a neurotransmitter and was found to reduce blood pressure in animal studies.
Additionally, green tea research found improves working memory particularly by improving short-term plasticity of the parietal-frontal lobe brain connections. This is great news and an easy way to improve your memory.
No more forgetting names as soon as they are provided. Drink your green tea. Okay, I hope this converts you to a tea drinker, considering its many brain benefits.
Broccoli is an amazing superfood. It contains choline, folate, Vitamin K, all of which contribute to brain health.
A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that foods rich in choline metabolites are important in keeping the structural integrity of cell membranes and signaling during the development of neuron cells. And I will hazard to say, that sounds like something we want for our brain cells. improved signaling is essential for cell functioning.
Eating broccoli is an easy and healthy way to strengthen your brain. It is a low-calorie food, and a powerhouse of lots of nutrients such as vitamin C, calcium and lots of potassium, and vitamin A as well. All these nutrients are important for mental health.
Vitamin K has been associated with improved memory in older adults per studies such as this, as well as this one. While you reading this post may not be old, I would venture to say that, optimizing our vitamin K consumption can help your brain health too now and in the future.
Please note that a reduction in intake may be recommended by your doctor if you are taking certain medications.
Also, compounds in broccoli such as sulforaphane and Kaempferol, vitamin C and E, have an antioxidant effect in the brain. Researchers also propose that these phytochemicals also activate the brains own production of antioxidant through various pathways such as Nr2f pathway.
This is a powerful way to keep your brain healthy. The Nr2f is the brains most powerful source of natural antioxidants, and activating it or optimizing it goes a long way in keeping your brain healthy.
If you want to optimize your Nr2f pathway new research is showing that you can take Nr2f in pill form with amazing results for general health.
5. Omega three fatty acids rich foods such as fatty fish
Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely important in all body systems health, and most importantly in the brain. Increasing research is showing the incredible effect of these essential fats.
Our bodies cannot produce this necessary fat, and so we have to find it in our diet.
So guess what, if you don’t eat food that contains this necessary nutrient, and don’t supplement it, the body and brain functions suffer.
Unfortunately, regular western diet is sorely lacking in these beneficial fats. Instead, we are inundated with foods doused in inflammatory omega six fats. As a result, dire health consequences then ensue including mental health issues, heart diseases, and metabolic syndrome.
Research shows that diets that are inflammatory such as high cholesterol diets lead to blood vessels lumen narrowing and intimal (that is part of the anatomy of a blood vessel) thickness. The thickening of the lumen and blood vessel narrowing are signs of an inflammatory process.
One problem that leads to a decline in brain health is inflammation and oxidation in the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids decrease the inflammatory markers, including monocyte activity, and macrophage aggregation showing a decrease in inflammation thereby protecting the brain. Omega three foods decreased intracranial atherosclerosis stenosis (narrowing of vessels) in the brain.
That means blood flow to organs including the brain where lots of nutrients are needed are impended. In addition, blood vessel narrowing can also lead to stroke and terrible damage to the brain, that can be life-altering.
A double-blind controlled study published in the Journal of Alzheimer Disease found that supplementing with omega three fatty acids had a positive effect on memory in older adults, suggesting that these fats can be used to improve memory function in old age.
We shouldn’t, however, wait till we are old. I believe we can reap these same benefits before we are old.
Just eat these foods high in omega three fatty acids.
- Fatty fish such as wild salmon
- Walnuts, Almonds
Other great omegae3 foods include:
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- hemp seeds
Studies done by several universities found that there is a correlation between the levels of DHA and EPA and dementia. They found that higher levels of DHA and EPA may help protect one from dementia.
This double-blind study followed healthy subjects for 26 weeks, testing for recall was better in those who had received Omega 3 supplementation.
More on Omega threes especially DHA in brain health.
This study in the Journal of diabetic Research found that the metabolic changes that occur in diabetes that can lead to diabetic encephalopathy and using avocado oil reduced the inflammatory effects that cause cognitive decline. It Prevented brain mitochondrial dysfunction, prevented ROS and oxidative stress.
This research found that using avocado oil led to reduced oxidative stress in the brain and better mitochondrial function.
First of all oxidation in the brain or anywhere in the body is a bad thing. Secondly, the mitochondria are the cells energy factory, so we do not want a dysfunction there, because then the brain n will not get energy or use energy and that will lead cell death and brain dysfunction.
This research shows that blueberries are rich in flavonoids called anthocyanins and that consumption of blueberries can prevent oxidative stress and inhibit inflammation.
Blueberries also prevent kidney injury and improve vascular health due to their high flavonoid levels, especially anthocyanin.
Recent studies have shown that supplementation with blueberry can alleviate age-related behavioral deficits and high-fat diet-related behavioral declines.
According to the same study, blueberry supplementation enhances motor and memory performance in aged animals.
Results reported in the aforementioned study found that anthocyanins produced anxiolytic (Reduces anxiety) and motor enhancing effects in mice as well as DNA protection from free radicals in the brain. We can hope that the same goes for humans when they consume blueberries.
And according to research, flavonoids may help improve cognitive function and prevent age-related and pathological degenerative processes in the brain.
Plus blueberry supplementation in experimental research was found to be helpful in autoimmune related encephalomyelitis similar to MS suggesting that blueberries may be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of MS.
The Phyto compounds in blueberries have been found to accumulate in areas of the brain such as the hippocampus, suggesting their positive effect in memory and learning. Other studies have also shown that berries with their richness of flavonoids slowed the rate of cognitive decline in older adults.
A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that in adults with early signs of dementia, blueberry supplementation.
The anthocyanin in blueberries study says are associated with increased neuronal signaling in the brain center that helps mediate memory functioning, improve glucose usage, as well as antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects altogether preventing neurodegeneration.
Although more comprehensive human trials are needed, the study found that supplementation with blueberries improves memory in older adults.
Celery is a nearly calorie-free superfood. It is so easy to eat and does not just about everyone loves its juicy crunch? Celery helps calm inflammation in the brain Inflammation is the number one cause of brain degeneration.
An amazing compound in celery, a type of flavonoids called luteolin is able to stop some gene encryption for cell death and stops pro-inflammatory activity in the brain. This research found that the compound luteolin had great effects on microglia, an inhibitory effect of pro-inflammatory cytokines expression.
cytokines are those inflammatory chemicals that are produced by some white blood cells.
9. Nuts and seeds
Eating nuts regularly, according to research, increases cognitive well being. This is yet another great way to help with the brain health.
Nuts contain vitamin E and good fats like the omega 3 fatty acids which reduce oxidative stress and prevents cognitive decline as we grow older. Omega threes which as discussed above are great for brain health. So what seeds and nuts to eat. such as:
Researchers found that walnuts extracts protect against amyloid better-mediated cell death. And walnuts supplementation in studies reduced the generation of free radicals and inhibited membrane and DNA damage. Walnuts prevented Aβ-mediated cytotoxicity (poisoning of cells), neuronal loss, and the risk of developing AD study found.
10. Leafy greens.
For overall health, green leafy vegetables will provide you with various vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, K, Lutein, Beta carotin, and folate.
According to this study, published in Science Daily, Vitamin K, lutein, and folate are associated with increased cognition in a study that followed 950 adults for an average of 5 years.
This is one easy way of protecting your brain health as these types of greens are readily available in most places, and they are easy to prepare. So, love your greens.
Curcumin has diverse biological actions and has a therapeutic effect on many diseases. Curcumin is being recommended for its effect on many health issues in recent years.
Curcumin has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for years for it anti-inflammatory properties from the phytochemical compounds known as curcuminoids.
Turmeric’s curcumin is immune protective, and a powerful antioxidant, which is great for health protecting the brain from oxidative stress.
Many chronic health issues are a result of inflammation including damage to the brain
Related article: Natural ways to heal inflammation
Research In a study that followed patients with the major depressive disorder, the response to curcumin was promising, with a conclusion that curcumin may be an effective way to treat major depressive disorder without suicidal ideation.
It was found that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric is an effective way for the treatment of depression and psychotic features.
This study found that Curcumin increased serotonin and dopamine in the brain and decreased depressive moods as much as some antidepressant medications.
Curcumin also has a positive effect on the growth of new brain cells and enhanced cognition in animal studies.
Research has also found that curcumin has a positive effect on genes involved in brain development and brain plasticity leading to enhanced cognition and memory. It seems that there are only good things to say about the effects of Turmerics curcumin effect on health and especially brain health.
12. Pumpkin seeds
I know I have already mentioned seeds as great food for brain health. But pumpkin seeds deserved their very own discussion, not just a mention. Pumpkin seeds are great for brain health and so much more as they house so many nutrients. And they are so good to snack on too.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in many compounds including zinc, Magnesium, copper, and vitamins such as folate, K, all of which provide great benefits to brain wellness. let us look at some of these nutrients:
- Zinc: in the brain zinc is crucial as it is involved in t signaling and can be found in the synaptic areas of nerve cells, study states, and adds that changes in brain zinc status is implicated in the occurrence of a condition such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and even ALS.
- Magnesium: is plentiful in pumpkin seeds. And magnesium is vital for many biological processes in the whole body and especially important for the brain. Some diseases neuromuscular and psychiatric-like some types of depression are seen in magnesium deficiency
- Copper: is another element found in the little mighty pumpkin seed. Coppe plays an essential role in the central nervous system. Development and function.
Copper is essential for proper brain function, but it has to regulated tightly as excess can lead to oxidative stress, and if less then brain signals are disturbed, and lead to diseases such as AD, Menkes and Wilson’s diseases.
- Iron: Pumpkin seeds also contain iron, a compound that is required for proper brain function. Iron deficiency is associated with brain dysfunction. Iron helps with brain function such as Myelination and synaptic plasticity. That means that the brain cells are able to communicate and pass messages from cell to cell much more efficiently.
Iron deficiency research states, produces changes in the amygdala, striatum, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex and these disturbances lead to cognitive deficits. Iron deficiency can have long-lasting effects on cognition even after the deficiency is remedied.
As anyone can see, it is important to keep it from happening in the first place by eating food high in iron. Iron is essential for neuronal plasticity, which is affected by early Iron deficiency. Neurological changes that happen early in life, research shows remain even in later life.
13. Complex carbohydrates
I know the Keto diet is the in thing right now. But the right carbs, complex carbs are essential to brain health.
Complex carbs are great for providing the brain with a steady source of energy. And the brain demands and uses most of the energy you provide for your body.
Complex carbs are what you need for sustained steady energy for optimal brain function.
When simple sugars are consumed the brain energy stream fluctuates and at a time it is too low for your brain to function properly.
When energy plummets due to simple sugar consumption you experience brain fog and lethargy. You don’t want your brain glucose to fluctuate if you need to think clearly, which you should. So the best thing is to incorporate complex carbs in your diet.
Did you know that the greatest amount of glucose is used by the brain? Yes, the brain demands its energy, and that is lots and lots of energy our brain is a big machine, a complex machine that demands lots of the right fuel to function properly. So the best thing is to provide your brain with the best form of glucose in the form of complex carbohydrates.
Keep in mind also that whole grains contain fiber, and that keeps the uptake for glucose in an even keel, just what the body and the brain need to perform at optimal levels.
Too quick of an influx as you get with simple sugars leads to insulin resistance and does not sustain energy required by the brain to function properly. That is why \Not to mention the energy levels from simple sugars rise and deep too suddenly. This means at times the brain has no energy to do its many and very important varied jobs.
14. Lean protein
Protein is very important for a healthy brain.
Tryptophan, an amino acid derived from a protein is a turned into serotonin, a neurotransmitter important to a properly functioning brain and preventing conditions such as depression and anxiety.
15. Fermented foods
Eating fermented food such as yogurt, kimchi, Kefir, Kombucha it turns out is really beneficial for health including brain health. The gut and the brain research shows are in constant communication, and some gut microbes produce some neuroactive compounds such as GABA (source) that are beneficial to mental health.
These microbes take part in many processes including having an anti-inflammatory effect by influencing the local and systemic antioxidant status, and preventing peroxidation effect, they protect the intestinal barrier preventing leaky gut.
Current research is uncovering some amazing things about our gut bacteria, or our microbiome. Apparently, these bacteria exist in our bodies in trillions and vastly in numbers than our very own cells. Apparently, our microbiome can influence our brains and is so vast that we are seriously outnumbered.
These microbiomes have some amazing effects on us. Sometimes so great that they can affect our moods making us depressed or anxious. Isn’t that really amazing, coming from some bacteria. So we shouldn’t be surprised if our next psych meds are Psychbiotics.
Bacteria-based medicine. So far animal studies have shown there is a correlation between our gut microbes and behavior. There are many studies that are finding, indeed there is a connection between behavior and gut bacteria.
However, when you reach for that yogurt. make sure its the right kind with multi-strain of the right bacteria, this research found that eating probiotic yogurt or the multispecies capsule had a beneficial effect on mental health. And if you are science-minded and want to read more on this, check this peer-reviewed article,
It is really an eye opener on the topic. It is amazing to find that these gut microbes also make some nutrients bioavailable to the host-us; such nutrients like magnesium and zinc which also contribute to mental health.
16. Black Beans
Beans are great for brain health as they are loaded with protein, folate, and magnesium. all of which are beneficial to brain health. Magnesium is especially essential to the good functioning of the heart, which means good blood flow to all your organs and especially the brain. Magnesium in animal studies have been found to reverse some of the effects of Alzheimer’s diseases.*
17. Dark chocolate
Cocoa in dark chocolate is one decadent way of getting some antioxidants and brain-boosting health flavonols. Cocoa contains antioxidants which stop inflammation in the brain and therefore protecting the brain from aging by inflammation.
Flavonols also support the hippocampus, or your memory center, enhancing memory and learning and also improves mood especially when eaten mindfully, researchers say. So relax and enjoy some dark chocolate, but don’t overdo it.
A study done on sleep deprived individuals and sleep deprivation’s effect on blood flow showed increased SB and DPB on subjects. Flavanols rich chocolate improved blood flow and memory counteracting vascular impairment after sleep deprivation.
This goes to show that one impairment in one area of health is likely to impact another. As you see here sleep deprivation somehow impacted blood flow. But how nice it is that dark chocolate flavonols were able to rectify the situation. However, I d say sleep enough and don’t eat too much chocolate, even the dark chocolate.
Eggs contain B vitamins such as folic, b6 and b12; A study done by the University of Oxford found that subjects with mild brain atrophy as in those with mild dementia when supplemented with B vitamins, their homocysteine levels decreased.
Homocysteine is a risk factor for brain atrophy leading to cognitive decline. Administering B vitamins were found to lower the level of homocysteine.
B vitamins stop the accelerated rate of brain atrophy in those elderly people with mild cognitive impairment.
Eggs also contain choline a substance necessary in the synthesis of acetylcholine a neurotransmitter.
Choline has diverse uses in the human body. Choline is important in cell structure as well as neurotransmitter synthesis. “Adequate concentrations of choline potentially preserves neurons, brain volume and neuronal transmission” and thus are believed to protect against age-related cognitive decline and certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, per (source)
This study also found that there was a relationship between dietary choline and memory and cognitive function in study subjects.
Technically, this is an herb, we do not think of it a food, but nevertheless, sage is great for brain power, and many others health benefits.
As clary sage, it has benefits that include hormonal balance, great for PMS, modulating symptoms of PMS such as cramps and mood swings.
A 2003 study in the Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour found that administration of sage oil to study subjects improved immediate and delayed recall in the placebo-
a controlled double-blind study, sage oil was able to improve cognition in healthy young adults.
And a 2010 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, compared the antidepressant effects of lavender, rosemary chamomile, and clary sage oils. The study found that treatment with 5%(v/v) clary sage oil had the biggest anti-stress effect.
The researchers found that clary sage oil can be used as a therapeutic agent for patients with depression. So sage is a good herb to have and as a cooking herb, tastes good in pasta dishes, chicken, or butternut squash or really any squash dishes. Try some sage dishes for improving your mental health, and if you don’t want to cook, sniff some clary sage oil. I love this blend.
Okay, water really is not food, I agree, but absolutely essential, and raise your hand if you are not drinking enough! Most of us are not. We have to actually commit to drinking more water for our general health. Many people are going around mildly or even greatly dehydrated. when you are dehydrated even mildly, you feel fatigue easily, you may experience brain fog and irritability. And even confusion.
You can get hypotensive and feel dizzy as your brain is not getting enough nutrients. Your blood is thick and viscous, difficulty to reach the vital organs such as s the brain. additionally, good water has vital minerals, the electrolytes you need for many biochemical reactions needed for your body, and brain to function properly.
Good water has magnesium, for example, a mineral that takes part in over 300, enzymatic reactions in the body. So drink those 8 glasses of water. No, Mountain Dew and the daily liter of coke won’t do. Green tea or even black tea would be okay.
Related article: Many people are deficient in Magnesium, are you?
Choose brain food superfoods daily, and you will be as young as humanly possible, and your brain will be as well, and likely the rest of you too will be as healthy as possible. The right brain food is your very own fountain of youth. The health of your brain is on your plate if you just choose the right foods to go in it.
So tell me, how do you keep your brain young, and sharp? Tell me in the comments below. And if you found this post useful, please share with your friends.
Learn more about brain foods: