When a new year rolls around, it’s tempting to try and overhaul our diet and eating routines. But now that you are 3 weeks into the new year, you might already be feeling some diminished motivation for your plans. Dramatic changes are typically challenging for most of us to sustain, while incremental changes can have long-lasting sustainability. So let’s look at a way to make some small eating changes that can have a big impact on your brain health.
Below are some foods that are especially brain healthy. The benefits listed focus on the ways the food is particularly helpful for the brain, and many of these brain healthy foods have additional unlisted benefits for other organs and your overall health. Every brain is different and there are no perfect “super foods” that are guaranteed to work for your particular brain and body. But the brain healthy foods included here have been shown in clinical studies to have a positive impact on brain functioning overall.
Brain health impacts emotional health. Adding brain healthy foods into your diet can help increase your mental clarity, your emotional management, your physical energy and overall health. And since your brain acts as a control tower for your emotions, feeding it the right nutrients is an important piece of your overall mental health approach. Set aside any urge for a major diet overhaul for right now. Are there some foods listed here that you could easily start including?
Helps keep healthy blood flow to the brain for optimal processing
Good source of monounsaturated fats, which increase the production & release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that is critical for learning and memory
Aim for ¼ to ½ avocado per day
Help stabilize glucose levels (blood sugar levels) which the brain depends on for fuel.
Contain Vitamin B which make the neurotransmitters that pass signals between nerves
Lentils and black beans are ideal for overall health; chickpea (garbanzo), kidney, pinto, or white beans also helpful.
Aim for ½ cup per day
Increase brain plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections to enhance learning and memory
Protect your brain from oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation and reduced functioning
Can improve or delay short term memory loss
Can reduce the effect of brain-aging conditions
Aim for 1 cup per day
Rich in vitamin K, which enhances cognitive function and helps improve brain power
Contains vitamin C and flavonoids, which boost brain health
High in choline, which has been found to improve memory
High in glucosinolates that help slow the degeneration of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter needed to properly keep the brain and memories sharp
Lowers the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
Aim for 1 cup per day (about 10 florets)
Contains cocoa (cacao), which is rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that combats oxidative stress (which contributes to cognitive decline and brain diseases).
Cacao flavonoids may also encourage blood flow and neuron & blood vessel growth to assist with memory and learning.
Researchers concluded that eating dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao) can improve neuroplasticity, which is required for learning new things.
Enjoy about 1 to 2 ounces or 30-60 grams per day
Contain Omega-3s, which are vital for maintaining normal brain function
Contain Vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells from damage associated with oxidative stress (a major contributor to neurodegeneration)
Egg yolks are rich in choline, which is essential for the memory-boosting neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Choline also helps in fetal brain development during pregnancy
Egg yolks help the body to absorb bethane, a chemical that produces hormones related to happiness.
Eat 1-2 eggs per day or up to 7 per week
Extra virgin olive oil
Contains powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols that improve learning & memory, and also reverse disease/aging-related learning and memory impairment.
Helps fight against ADDLs, proteins that are toxic to the brain and can lead to Alzheimer’s by attacking memory-associated synapses.
Improves autophagy, the brain cells’ ability to eliminate toxic waste
Note: olive oil is not an ideal option for cooking at high temperatures, as it hydrogenizes and begins decomposing. The best way to get the full benefits of olive oil is to eat it at room temperature, like on a salad or drizzled over veggies/meat.
Aim for 1-2 tablespoons per day or up to 4 tablespoons
Green Leafy Vegetables
Contain folate, phylloquinone & lutein, which slow the rate of cognitive decline
Good sources of vitamin E, which protects brain cells from oxidative stress
Contain vitamin K, which enhances cognitive function
Darker is better: spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, romaine lettuce
Eat ½ cup if cooked or 1 cup if raw, per day
Rich in zinc, which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.
Contain stress-busting magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, the precursor to the “good mood” chemical serotonin.
Contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats which are important for overall healthy brain function and may help to relieve depression.
Aim for about 30 grams (¼ cup) per day
Salmon, Sardines, Trout, Mackerel (fatty/oily fish)
Rich in Omega-3 fats (in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)), which help keep your brain running smoothly, reduce brain fog, improve focus, and improve memory.
Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of dementia
Note these essential fatty acids can’t be made by the body, so we need to get them from our diet.
Aim for about 3-4 ounces (up to ½ cup) twice per week
Contain a powerful antioxidant Lycopene, which helps to protect against the type of damage to cells that is connected to the development of dementia, notably Alzheimer's.
Store tomatoes at room temperature to increase the levels of lycopene during the ripening process
Choose cooked tomatoes (cooking helps break down the tomato’s cell walls so the body can better absorb the Lycopene)
Eat with a little olive oil to optimize absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and biotin
Aim for about ¾ cup 3 times per week
Turmeric (a spice you can add to foods, or you can drink turmeric tea)
Contains curcumin, an antioxidant that protects cells against damage caused by free radicals.
Has strong anti-inflammatory properties to reduce inflammation
Shown to help improve memory
May help improve mood and emotion management
Have ½ to 1 ½ teaspoons daily (up to 4 grams)
Contain high levels of antioxidants and zinc which help protect & shape cognitive development and maintain healthy brain function.
Rich in vitamin E, which protects brain neurons and helps to prevent cognitive decline
High in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which helps lower blood pressure and protects arteries for better blood flow to the brain
Other nuts also great for overall health: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini.
Aim for about 1 ounce daily (about 14 walnut halves, or any of the following: 24 almonds, 18 medium cashews, 12 hazelnuts, 8 medium Brazil nuts, or 1 Tablespoon of nut butter)
Release a slow and steady supply of glucose to the brain, which increases the ability to concentrate and focus throughout the day
Good sources of vitamin E, which protects brain cells from oxidative stress
Choose wholegrains with a low glycemic index (GI) that is below 55
Choose 'brown' whole grain options like brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta
Have up to 3 servings daily. One serving is 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal, pasta or rice or 1 slice of bread or 2 tablespoons of wheat germ
Although the health benefits listed have been studied and documented, everyone responds differently to foods, so communicate with your physician or nutrition specialist about the foods that are best for you.
Beyond adding brain healthy foods to your diet, you can also optimize brain function (and emotional health) by paying close attention to getting quality sleep, staying well hydrated (your brain and body are about 75% water and well-hydrated people score better on brain power tests), getting regular exercise or physical movement, reducing stress through the practice of yoga, mindfulness, or meditation, and limiting use of alcohol and other substances. Sources for this article:
http://jimkwik.com/kwik-brain-005/ (10 min video)