Diet is The Key To Brain Health (and Power) – Here’s Why…
Let me make an educated guess; at some point in your life, when you’ve been eating an item of food (or drink) that is classed as unhealthy, someone – probably your parents or grandparents – has uttered the phrase “You are what you eat. If you keep eating <insert unhealthy food here>, you’ll turn into <insert unhealthy food here>”.
I know how you feel. When I was a kid, I loved sweets (candy); I couldn’t get enough of them. In amongst warnings about how they’d rot my teeth, I was told that I’d turn into candy if I continued to consume it in the fashion I was. At the time I paid no heed to it, but many years later it got me thinking and asking the question ‘Are we really what we eat? How much does the food we eat actually affect our brains?’.
If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, you’re in for a treat, as in today’s piece I’m going to look at how foods affect our grey matter – specifically which foods can have a positive impact on brain health and cognitive function.
How Dietary Choices Can (Positively) Impact Cognition, Focus and Memory
While it is has been known for a long time that what we eat affect our bodies and the way we look, research is now starting to delve deeper into how our diets positively and negatively impact our grey matter.
No-one likes stress. I don’t, you don’t, our bodies don’t – and neither do our brains. When we’re stressed – regardless of the cause – our bodies respond by releasing inflammatory cytokines1.
These tiny proteins force the immune system to intervene and fight against the stress, which it does by inducing inflammation (it actually deals with stress in the same way it tackles an infection). While inflammation can have many positives effects, i.e. protecting us against illnesses and mending the body when we injured ourselves, too much inflammation has the opposite effect entirely. In fact, chronic levels of inflammation have been linked to a plethora of autoimmune diseases and conditions, such as high blood press, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety2.
But where does food come into this? Well, our gut helps to maintain our body’s immune response, and therefore levels of inflammation, in check. And, gut-based hormones that make their way to the brain or created in the brain have the ability to influence cognition and cognitive function; this includes things like processing information, maintaining focus during a task and recognising that we’re full (after eating).3
Furthermore, foods that are dense in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins and minerals can help to protect our brains from age-related decline and neurodegenerative diseases and conditions. Therefore, by consuming a diet rich in this key nutrients, we can boost both the health of our gut and our brain – the combination of which will help to stave off cognitive decline and brain health-related issues as we age. But which foods are good for your brain? Actually quite a few! While I’ll not list them all in this article, I’ll cover the vast majority of foods that are researched-backed and scientifically proven to have a positive impact on your grey matter.
Brain Food #1: Avocados
Is there a more healthy food than the avocado? According to social media, there isn’t! A quick trawl of Instagram, Facebook et al. and you’ll be presented with numerous posts that depict a jazzed-up avocado…with some form of fancy filter no doubt (!). All of the (supposed) health gurus out there love an avocado (!) (and posting photos of them on social media), but are they really that healthy? Do they have a positive effect on brain health? In short, yes (to both).
Avocados are jam-packed with monounsaturated fats, which are widely recognised as being ‘healthy’ fats due to their ability to keep blood sugar levels in check and give your skin a radiant glow. They contain a plethora of nutrients, such as:
Vitamin K and folate: These essential nutrients help to stop blood clots from forming in your brain (which is crucial for stroke prevention), in addition to enhancing cognitive function – particularly concentration and memory.
Vitamin C and B vitamins: These two essential vitamins are not stored by the body and, therefore, need to be consumed on a daily basis, with avocados provided decent hits of both.
Plus, avocados also have the lowest sugar content and highest protein content of any fruit. Pretty impressive, huh?
Brain Food #2: Beets
Beets are one of the most divisive foods I’m aware of. Some people love them; some people hate; some people are even scared of them! But, whichever way you want to look at it, beets are a cerebral superfood. Period.
Why? Because they have the ability to decrease levels of inflammation in the body, are brimming with cancer-fighting/protecting antioxidants, and help to purge your blood of nasty things like toxins. The nitrates that naturally exists in beets have also been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which can improve cognitive performance. Furthermore, beets also have a product effect on exercise performance. They truly are an all-rounder where body and brain health are concerned.
Brain Food #3: Broccoli
Does anyone else vividly remember being told to eat their broccoli because it was good you? I’m sure every kid has a memory similar to that! Well, Mom was right, broccoli is something you should be eating if you want to boost the health of your grey matter (and the rest of your body for that matter). Brimming with vitamin K and choline, it will help to keep your memory intact and functioning optimally.
Moreover, it’s also teeming with vitamin C. In fact, a single cup of broccoli will provide you 150% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also full of fibre, meaning you’ll feel fuller more quickly, which will stop you from overeating. I know broccoli may seem like a boring and bland food choice, but add a little cheese or a few herbs and spices and you’ll find it much easier to get down!
Brain Food #4: Celery
Celery is synonymous with being one of the lowest calorie-dense foods in existence (just 15 calories per cup), but that doesn’t stop it be a potent cerebral-boosting dietary choice. It contains high levels of antioxidants and polysaccharides, both of which have anti-inflammatory properties, to help with joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome and general bodily inflammation. Being jam-packed with nutrients, it’s a superb snack choice for those trying to lose weight and improve their health.
Brain Food #5: Coconut Oil
Another super-charged brain food packed with healthy fats, coconut oil, is a versatile food that can be used in a variety of ways. Plus, it’s a natural anti-inflammatory; therefore, it can help to suppress cells and toxins responsible for inflammation, not to mention helping with memory loss and ridding your body of bad bacteria that reside in your gut4.
Brain Food #6: Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Genuine extra vermin olive oil is a bonafide brain food. Period. It is full of potent antioxidants called polyphenols that have a myriad of positive effects, including enhancing memory and learning and reversing disease- and age-related alterations to the brain5. Furthermore, it may also help to combat against ADDL’s – proteins that have toxic effects on the brain and can cause Alzheimer’s diseases.
However, extra virgin olive oil isn’t the best choice for cooking as it will hydrogenize and decompose at higher temperatures; therefore, consuming EVOO cold is the best way forward if you’re seeking to reap the rewards of ifs plethora of health benefits.
Brain Food #7: Rosemary
Rosemary oil is a very popular oil that has a wide array of health benefits, but did you know that the herb is also jam-packed with goodies? Carnosic acid – one of the main consistent of rosemary, has been shown to protect the brain against neurodegeneration, which it does by defending the brain against free radicals – free radicals that are associated to neurological conditions and diseases, strokes and ageing of the brain6.
Moreover, it can also prevent deterioration of eyesight and improve ocular health thanks to its abundance of antioxidants and potent anti-inflammatory properties7.
Brain Food #8: Walnuts
As much as I hate to use a pun, it seems like eating walnuts can, er, stop you from going nuts. Research indicates that eating walnuts every day can help to enhance cognitive health, thanks to their high levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – all of which boost mental alertness and potential even stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Why Diet Plays a Huge Part in Boosting Your Brain Health and Improving Cognitive Function
Well, it turns out that ‘you are what you eat’ after all. Not literally, of course, but making the right choices with regard to diet will – according to the research presented above – have a significant effect on both long and short-term brain health and cognitive function. But it’s not only diet and nutrition that you should pay attention to. Ensuring that you’re physically active several times per week, sleeping consistently well (or as well as possible), decreasing your alcohol intake and staying away from cigarettes, will also have a huge impact on both brain health and overall health. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to suffer from any form of brain condition, be it age-related tor not.
Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog; we really do appreciate it a lot! If you’d like to learn more about brain health, cognitive function, nootropics (‘smart drugs’), and everything related to our grey matter, feel free to head over to our homepage and browse our blog posts. Or, alternatively, use the search function if there’s a topic you’re specifically interested in.
If you can’t find information on a specific brain-related topic, get in touch and we’ll try and write a blog post on it!
1. Zhang, J.-M. & An, J., 2007. Cytokines, inflammation, and pain. International anesthesiology clinics. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2785020/
2. Psychology Today. (n.d.). The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease. (online) Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201404/the-gut-brain-connection-mental-illness-and-disease
3. Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, (online) 9(7), pp.568–578. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/.
4. Galvin, J.E. (2012). Optimizing diagnosis and management in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Neurodegenerative Disease Management, 2(3), pp.291–304.
5. Farr, S.A., Price, T.O., Dominguez, L.J., Motisi, A., Saiano, F., Niehoff, M.L., Morley, J.E., Banks, W.A., Ercal, N. and Barbagallo, M. (2012). Extra virgin olive oil improves learning and memory in SAMP8 mice. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease: JAD, (online) 28(1), pp.81–92. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21955812/.
6. ScienceDaily. (n.d.). Rosemary Chicken Protects Your Brain From Free Radicals. (online) Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071030102210.htm
7. Rezaie, T., McKercher, S.R., Kosaka, K., Seki, M., Wheeler, L., Viswanath, V., Chun, T., Joshi, R., Valencia, M., Sasaki, S., Tozawa, T., Satoh, T. and Lipton, S.A. (2012). Protective effect of carnosic acid, a pro-electrophilic compound, in models of oxidative stress and light-induced retinal degeneration. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, (online) 53(12), pp.7847–7854. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23081978/