It is a known fact that maintaining a healthy diet is beneficial for the body, but we’re here to talk about the ways it can improve your brain health as well! Research shows that certain foods can boost brain health, namely in areas of the brain that are related to memory and learning. Although these foods won’t provide a “quick fix”, consuming them helps combat cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases in the long run.
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are a great source of omega-3, which helps boost blood flow in the brain. The brain is made up of about 60% fat, so you should aim to have fatty fish about twice a week. Research has found that omega-3 can help with memory and cognition as well as ADHD. That being said, it's important to ensure that the fish you consume are mainly wild and uncaged to avoid toxins. Please ask your local fisherman for more information before consuming large amounts of fish.
Fish that are high in omega-3 include:
For vegetarians and vegans, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and avocados, which are also high in omega-3, make great alternatives. Another option is asking your doctor/nutritionist for omega-3 supplements, which may help but should not be substituted for the food itself.
Berries get their beautiful color from a type of phytonutrients called flavonoids, which research has shown can also help improve memory. Fruits and plants that contain this compound typically have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
That holds true with berries, which are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can help improve communication between braincells, therefore increasing neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections over time. This is related to things such as learning abilities and memory.
The following are some antioxidant-rich berries:
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are not only a great way to get your daily protein intake, they are also a superb source of omega-3 (like fatty fish) and antioxidants (like berries), which help with improving brain function, especially in older age. Nuts and seeds are also rich sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which a study found helps improve cognition and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Nuts and seeds you should be eating are:
Bonus nut: Walnuts contain an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which not only helps improve cognitive function as well as memory, but can also help lower blood pressure and protect your arteries. That means they benefit both your brain and your heart.
In addition to helping keep the brain alert (and tasting delicious), coffee can also help with memory retention. However, keep in mind that caffeine consumption might not be right for you, especially when it’s affecting your sleep, causing anxiety or migraines. If this is the case, it’s best to avoid drinking coffee altogether.
Complex brain activity is caused by something called brain entropy, which researchers found is increased by caffeine intake. The more entropy there is, the more information your brain can process!
Additionally, coffee, like berries, is a great source of antioxidants, which help battle:
Cacao, like berries, contains a type of antioxidant called flavonoids, which helps in warding off oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is something you want to reduce as it contributes to cognitive decline and brain diseases as you grow older.
In fact, a study found that cacao not only helped with enhancing neuronal function and brain connectivity, it also helped improve behavior .
This means that you can have that chocolate bar, guilt-free, as long as it contains at least 70% cacao and low amounts of sugar. Even sprinkling some cacao nibs onto your morning cereal or yoghurt can add that extra antioxidant flavor.
6. Complex Carbohydrates
Otherwise known as wholegrains, complex carbohydrates are great source of vitamin E. This is fantastic news for pasta lovers and those who haven’t hopped on to the gluten-free bandwagon.
Moreover, complex carbs are naturally rich in glucose, which is the main energy source for the brain. It also doesn’t hurt that they have a low glycemic index, meaning that they don’t affect insulin levels the way simple carbohydrates do and allow you to maintain energy levels for longer.
Some complex carbs you should be having:
Luckily, this typical go-to breakfast food is a great source of vitamin B and folic acid. Due to this, the nutrients from eggs help decrease levels of homocysteine in the blood which may prevent brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. Increased levels of homocysteine could potentially increase the risk of stroke, cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer's disease. It is, however, important to make sure you are getting hold of some good quality hormone-free eggs to get the most benefit.
There you have it! These foods – which are most likely part of your daily diet already – are the foods you should continue eating to maintain your brain health in the long run. Luckily, these are also foods that are likely sitting in your pantry or your fridge and which can be easily combined together to make a healthy, hearty meal.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have that burger you’ve been craving every once in a while, it only means that you need to maintain a healthy diet for your brain’s sake and make sure you’re eating these 7 types of food consistently.
Also remember to stay hydrated, as water consumption is vital for brain health. Your brain is made up of 73% water, so even a 2-4 percent drop in water intake could impair your cognitive performance. To keep up with sufficient water consumption, try investing in a trendy water bottle so you can track your daily water intake and ensure that you’re drinking a sufficient amount.
Last, but not least, don’t forget the importance of daily exercises, whether it is physical (we wrote about that here), or mental (like meditation or neurofeedback) to stay brain-fit.