Did you know what you eat impacts more than your weight and physical condition? It affects your emotional well-being, too. This is why it’s important to emphasize the best foods for brain health each and every time you’re meal planning!
The brain is the most crucial part of your body. It controls just about everything – your muscle movements, heartbeat, breathing, hunger, happiness and more. It does this even when you are asleep. Isn’t it great that eating certain foods can boost its power?
Why Should You Eat Healthy for Your Brain?
For many, the term “health” means just physical well-being. However, it’s best to take a holistic perspective of your health. It’s helpful to consider multiple facets including emotional, physical, and mental health, because they all affect one another!
You need to eat the best foods for brain health in order to:
- Stay focused on a task
- Improve clear thinking
- Boost cognitive performance
- Enhance memory
- Prevent the risk of brain damage
- Lower your risk of depression, mood swings
- Reduce your risk of degenerative conditions of the brain
But First: What Foods Should You Avoid for Optimal Brain Health?
It turns out that what we eat influences your brain in many ways. Studies show that teens who eat fast food, red and processed meat, sugary soft drinks, fried and refined food reported poor cognitive performance.
Another example of a dangerous sweetener is aspartame, a type of artificial sweetener. Eating foods containing aspartame or using it as a sweetener to your beverages has deteriorating effects on the brain. Research shows that chemicals in aspartame cross the blood-brain barrier, act as stressors and increases the risk of damage to the brain. Also, studies report that aspartame intake also increases the risk of depression and mood swings.
Many studies confirm that high intake of sugary foods is not only bad for your weight and heart; it also severely impacts your brain. One study observed the link between high blood sugar levels and risk of dementia among the participants. Researchers found that the risk of dementia was higher even in those without diabetes.
In short, if you don’t choose healthy foods, you are at risk for:
- Mood swings
- Poor cognitive performance
- Alzheimer’s, dementia, or memory loss
But the good news is that, with healthy dietary choices you can protect your brain and reduce the risk of many degenerative brain conditions. For instance, many studies show that taking omega-3 fats and curcumin has fantastic brain-protecting effects.
The 4 Best Foods For Your Brain
Now that you know what you eat is a big deal! Let’s take a look at specific foods and how they boost your brain power, increase happiness and keep you healthier too! Check out this evidence-based list.
Besides their nutritional significance, berries contain important phytonutrients which boost brain power. The potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of berries make them a superfood for your brain. The Nurses Health Study (conducted jointly by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health) found that women (70+ years) that consumed at least 1- 2 servings of strawberries per week had reduced cognitive loss.
A review of several studies shows that berries help prevent memory loss and boost brain function. According to researchers, berries improve the communication between brain cells due to their antioxidant effects. It leads to improved memory, recalling abilities, and other cognitive activities.
Note: Choose organically grown berries to avoid pesticides and other toxins which can be harmful to your brain. The EWG recommends choosing organic berries since conventionally grown berries are sprayed with pesticides.
2. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolates are true brain-boosters, and they are called so for solid reasons. Additionally, these types of chocolates are high in cacao, which contributes to its characteristic bitter taste. Cacao in its raw form is high in the “bliss molecule” anandamide.
Anandamide is part of your brain’s endocannabinoid system, and its job is to keep a state of balance to your mind. It keeps you from being in a continuous state of sorrow or anxiety.
Anandamide regulates everything about your emotions like happiness, satisfaction, fear, and your ability to cope with stress and anxiety. Research confirms that elevated anandamide levels exert anti-depressant like activity in the brain. Studies on rats found that anandamide lowered depression symptoms in five weeks of treatment.
Fortunately, raw cacao contains plenty of anandamide, and it also has MAO (Monamine oxidase enzyme) inhibitors. MAO inhibitors prevent the breakdown of anandamide by enzymes. Another plus is that raw cacao has an fantastic combination of nutrients that help increase the level of serotonin, another neurotransmitter. Serotonin contributes to well-being and feelings of happiness.
Note: If you are choosing chocolates to boost your anandamide levels, go for raw chocolates that are not heat-treated. Choose dark chocolates over regular ones as they have lower sugar. Always look for dark chocolates and raw cacao that are least processed for beneficial effects.
3. Healthy Fats
Be sure to include plenty of healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and avocado to get enough of the essential (omega-3) and monounsaturated fats. Omega-3: Research confirms that omega-3 helps counteract neurological and cognitive disorders. Fatty fish, especially deep-caught ones are abundant in the omega-3 fat – DHA, which is crucial for your brain.
They provide ALA, a type of omega-3 fat which your body converts to DHA.
You also can take algal oil to get a direct DHA. Algae are the base of the food chain; smaller fish eat these algae and store it in their body. The bigger fish like salmon, eat the smaller ones and store DHA in their tissues. Algal oil is your best bet if you want to avoid sea contaminants like mercury, PCB’s, dioxins from fish consumption.
Monounsaturated fats from avocado is your best bet if you are looking for a treasure trove of brain nutrients. Besides its brain-nourishing fat, avocados are also rich in folate and vitamin K which are essential for proper brain function. Other sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds. Including enough monounsaturated fats help protect astrocytes, a type of nerve cells that carry information.
4. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that keep your brain young. Green vegetables are rich in brain-protective nutrients like folate, vitamin K, E, Betacarotene, kaempferol, and lutein.
A study from Rush University found that people who ate at least one serving of green leafy veggies were 11 years younger in cognitive age when compared to those who rarely or never ate green leafy vegetables.
Also, most dark greens like collard, broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts, and asparagus are abundant in the B vitamin -folate. You need folate to support brain function and the cell structure. Folate does this by reducing the production of beta-amyloids the toxic proteins. Presence of too many Beta-amyloids leads to plaque formation in the brain and increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Another protective component is the flavonoid Kaempferol present in cruciferous vegetables and a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Kaempferol plays a crucial role in inhibiting the production of the enzyme that breaks down anandamide.
You Know the Best Foods for Brain Health…
So Now What?!
The above list is by no means a comprehensive one. You need to include a variety of wholesome foods and rainbow-colored produce to boost your brain power and emotional well-being. Examples include fermented foods, spices like turmeric, herbs like rosemary are all brain-boosters in their unique ways.
Take a comprehensive look at many ways you can improve the health of your brain. Besides food choices, your lifestyle habits also count toward keeping you sharp and happy.
Here are a few more tips for keeping your brain sharp:
- Keep your brain physically active – challenge yourself to learn something new, engage in real-world socialization (nope, social media doesn’t count here!).
- Allow your brain to calm down and re-wire with pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and mindfulness.
- Volunteering, pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill – all of these activities help you stay sharp, happy and healthy.
Cheers to healthy living!