Brain Healthy Nutrition
by Catharine Wright
Our brain controls everything that we do. It is a complex organ that we need to look after. The following brain super foods should be included in your diet to boost your brainpower and to protect you from age related decline and illnesses. Engage your brain… and fill your pantry with ‘brain healthy’ choices!
1. Wild Salmon
This is the best direct source of Omega 3 fatty acids, protein and B vitamins all of which are necessary for proper brain health. Omega 3’s keep the membranes of the brain cells flexible and are needed for the production of myelin, the fatty sheath that protects nerves and allows for efficient electrical impulses. Getting proper Omega 3’s improves learning, behavioural problems, depression and attention deficit disorder. These essential fats also lower blood pressure, boost immunity, and decrease inflammation. Try eating fresh or canned salmon at lease 3 times per week.
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E and contain an active pigment called anthocyanin. This is the protective compound that makes the berries blue and gives them their antioxidant potency. Blueberries can help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. According to a study published in a 2005 edition of “Nutritional Neuroscience,” researchers found that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved the learning capacity, memory and motor skills of age related decline. Further, the anthocyanins in blueberries were found to promote neurogenesis, or new neuron growth. One half cup of blueberries packs as much antioxidant power as five servings of peas, carrots, apples, squash or broccoli. Try adding one half-cup fresh or frozen blueberries daily to your diet.
An essential ingredient in curry is Turmeric. Turmeric appears to have significant anti-inflammatory and cancer-protective effects. People in India eat this spice almost everyday and have a very low incidence of neurological problems and the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world. It has been shown to protect your mind from memory problems. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and reduces oxidative damage. It may slow the progression of multiple sclerosis. Try adding curries to your diet. Premade powders and pastes can be bought at most supermarkets and make delicious vegetarian entrees.
Eggs provide a good source of choline, which is used by the body to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This is critical for nerve function and a deficit in this nutrient has been linked to Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders. A deficiency in choline is probably the single most common cause for declining memory. Egg yolks contribute choline to the body. It is important to eat free range or organic eggs, as the egg is only as healthy as the chicken that laid it (as long as it isn’t fried).
5. Whole grains
The best grains to eat are whole grained non -processed carbohydrates. Examples include: oatmeal, whole grain wheat, barley, millet, rye, and quinoa. These produce glucose which is the primary fuel for the brain, and at least 100 g of carbohydrates per day need to be consumed to provide enough glucose to power the brain’s activities. The brain uses more glucose than any other organ in the body. Whole grains are healthy complex carbohydrates that are broken down into glucose, but they are also good sources of dietary fiber, B vitamins and selenium. If you eat processed grains and sugar it will alter your memory, learning capacity and mood and increase risk of diabetes, strokes, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Try adding a new grain to your diet each week!
6. Leafy Greens
Leafy Greens are high in iron and when we have a lack of iron it affects our memory. Choose dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, bok choy, swiss chard to name a few. The iron in these foods helps to produce red blood cells, which enables more oxygen to get to the brain, keep it functioning optimally. Eat those greens everyday in stir-fry’s, salads or gently steamed.
7. Seeds and Nuts
Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein and some contain the essential amino acids, tyrosine and phenylalanine. For example, pumpkin and sesame seeds are both rich in tyrosine, which is required in the production dopamine, the brain chemical that contributes to mood and coordinated movement. Many other seeds and nuts contain B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, vitamin E and omega-6 fatty acids, which all help stimulate the brain and enhance function. Other examples of healthy nuts and seeds include walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds. Nuts are little storehouses of nutrients. Use cold pressed nut oils on salads and try raw nut butters.
8. Dark Chocolate
Delicious dark chocolate is good for you! It contains “procyanidin” which is a flavonoid that boosts circulation of blood to the brain, increasing nutrients and oxygen. It reduces inflammation and can prevent oxidation to the brain, which is the culprit for many neurological diseases. Chocolate can also lift your spirits. It contains a number of chemical substances that act as stimulants, increasing the activity of neurotransmitters and unleashing endorphins in the brain. Caffeine, phenylethylamine and theobromine found in chocolate can offer the chocolate eater a lift. Anandamide, another chemical found in chocolate can trigger a “feel-good” sensation in the brain. Chocolate is also a rich source of magnesium and deficiencies in this mineral have been linked to depression. If you are going to consume chocolate for its health benefits, ensure its dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cocoa solids, that’s where the health promoting antioxidants are. Moderation is key!
9. Green Tea
Green tea should be the national health beverage. It is loaded with antioxidants, which protect the brain as well as the heart. It has the highest concentration of polyphenols of all tea varieties and may be neuroprotective and help against cognitive decline. Two cups a day will give your brain a boost, helping memory, concentration and mood. Try switching one of your beverages a day to green tea.
10. Grape Juice
The little red grape packs a lot of punch. It is loaded with nutrients and powerful antioxidants which have been shown to improve overall cognitive function. Grapes contain a substance called resveratrol which has the ability to reduce the level of plaque build up on the brain which can disrupt memory and be a factor in Alzheimer’s. It is found also in red wine, which is why this alcohol has been linked to a healthier brain choice. Drink grape juice, red wine or buy fresh organic red grapes as a healthy brain snack.