• Dr Tracey Evans

Smart Eating For Brain Health


Our brains are exposed daily to multiple stressors including lifestyle and environmental factors. Over time, this stress has an impact on the brain at the level of the neurons and can affect mood, memory and other cognitive functions. Cognition refers to the learning, processing and retrieval of new information including memory, this is impaired in people suffering with depression and those suffering with diseases characterized by dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. One of the important factors for taking care of your brain health is diet, so the adage ‘you are what you eat’ certainly has some truth in it. What you eat can and does help to preserve brain health, here I will outline some tips on food and drink that can help you to keep your brain healthy.




Berries

Different berries, including blueberries, blackberries and raspberries have attracted scientific attention in recent years. This is because they contain bioactive compounds, called phytochemicals, that can boost brain health. Many berries are rich in flavonoids, flavonoids are neither a vitamin or mineral, they are a type of phytochemical that provide health benefits. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier and positively affect brain health. Antioxidants are very important for health and wellness and can protect many types of cells, including neurons; antioxidants are also able to protect DNA, which can be damaged by free radicals. Blueberries are especially healthy – to get their benefits eat them as a snack, blend them in smoothies or eat them with porridge – however, you want! Just find a place for them in your diet.


Walnuts

Walnuts are packed full of essential fatty acids. Omega fatty acids are well known for their health benefits such as managing inflammation and also they have essential roles in the brain making up the physical structure of the brain and helping with signal transmission. Not only are these fatty acids important for learning and memory, but their absence can also affect the brain development and health of a growing foetus. There are many nuts and seeds that contain these essential fatty acids, including flax seeds so including them in your diet could undoubtedly help preserve and boost your brain health in addition to general heart health. Sprinkle them on salads, cereals or just eat them as a snack.


Oily Fish

Oily fish including salmon, fresh tuna (not tinned), mackerel, herring, pilchards and sardines are also rich sources of the essential fatty acids, Omega 3. The consumption of oily fish with omega 3 fats may help people suffering with depression and also delay brain ageing reducing the risk of developing diseases characterised by dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) derived from omega 3 is also a major component of the eye, and so if there is insufficient diet levels, it may contribute to poorer eye health. For too long we have been afraid of eating fat in our diet, this was misguided information the problem is the type of fats that we eat. Eating oily fish twice a week could prove beneficial although, there are concerns in some areas around fish toxicity so if you are pregnant or nursing, it is important to check with your midwife, health visitor or GP.


Dark Chocolate

Well for all the chocoholics out there, this is a good one! Not only does dark chocolate contain beneficial minerals, it may also improve brain function, reduce depression and lower cognitive decline. One of the first studies to observe that regular consumption of cocoa flavanols, found in dark chocolate, may improve brain function demonstrated slower cognitive decline in elderly people. This is yet another example of what the ‘health-bombs’ - phytochemicals, can do to our health so do not underestimate their power in health. In addition to improvements in cognitive function, cocoa may also positively affect blood pressure, and insulin resistance. This is really important because high blood pressure and insulin resistance is also associated with with heart disease – so do not forget, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.


Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that has been used in India for thousands of years, and even back then it was known to be super powerful for health. I am a firm believer that plants contain more health benefits than even science is currently aware and this information has probably been lost over the years. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, this is linked to its ability to act as a powerful antioxidant and have anti-inflammatory effects. There is growing scientific evidence showing curcumin can positively impact various diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and the ageing process. Turmeric is often added to curries however, it can also be added to milk and drunk as a tea, it can be blended in a smoothie and so much more. If you can find a way to turmeric to your cooking or drinks, I highly recommend you do this. I have grated turmeric into hot water and drunk it as a tea, it is very good although it does stain fingers and clothes!


Greens

Leafy greens like kale and spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and broccoli are among the foods high in folate, folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in foods also known as folic acid when supplemented.The B vitamins, are a family of essential vitamins important for nearly all tissues, and is especially important for brain health. Deficiency in folate does occur during the ageing process and it is also associated with mild changes in cognitive, depression, and also dementia. So by eating your green vegetables, you can help keep your folate levels up and protect the brain from age-related changes, in addition to other conditions such as depression. The reason depression features here is because the B vitamins play a role in making sure our brain chemicals - ‘happy hormones’ and sleep regulators are produced, without these mood and sleep respectively can be affected. If you are not a lover of kale, I recommend adding it to smoothies, this is a great source of folate and when included with apple and lime – you don’t taste it!


Red Wine

The brain is very sensitive to oxidative damage, which is why the foods described above generally have good antioxidant effects. Polyphenols, another phytochemical health-bomb, can also act as an antioxidant. You may be pleased to hear that research suggests the polyphenols from red wine may be protective to health, including the brain. The Mediterranean diet is typically considered one of the best for health and this includes a small glass of red wine with dinner. It is well established that alcohol should be consumed in moderation due to increasing the risk of diseases such as liver disease and some cancers; however, the good news is that the odd glass of red wine could actually be good for brain health.


Summary

For brain cells to work effectively to help manage mood, sleep, memory, learning and so much we need to take good care of it. Diet, sleep, stress management, exercise and some primary ways we can take care of our brain so it can take care of us. So, act now and make some changes to your diet today. Share this information with your friends and family to be sure they are taking care of their brain health too.

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