This is a Brain Health subject I can sink my teeth into, literally! I hear the word ‘food’, and I’m all ears, especially if chocolate, coffee, or my favorite, salmon, is in the same sentence. It gets even better when these tasty words also translate to brain health. Researchers, thankfully, have proven that some edibles do help your brain functions ‘cook’ better.
While ‘Healthy Diet’ is the secret ingredient to better health overall, certain nutrients seem to play a better role in the brain than others. Foods containing antioxidants or flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, Vitamins B, C, D, E, and K, and other nutrients, are the keys to look for in brain-healthy foods. Shall we ‘jump straight to the recipe’? These are some winners that have made it past the ‘Chopped’ judges straight to the prize, better brain health.
Fish. Those high in the prescribed omega-fatty acids include salmon, tuna, cod, halibut, and haddock.
Nuts. Walnuts are the best, known for the same omega acids as fish, and rich in vitamin E. When choosing your favorite crunchy, opt for dry-roasted, no salt. These qualities can also be found in chia, flax, pumpkin, and hemp seeds.
Whole Grains. Reach for the whole wheat or whole grain bread or pasta instead of ‘white’. Oatmeal, quinoa, barley, and brown rice are other options. Whole grains help with cardiovascular health, a plus for blood flow to the brain.
Berries. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries are ideal for their flavonoids, which might ward off cognitive decline by helping the brain form new neural connections and ridding it of those harmful ingredients, free radicals.
Chocolate. We chocoholics always knew this, even before the scientists did, but now we have proof. Chocolate is packed with antioxidants, as well as magnesium, zinc, and fiber. And like coffee, it has the added caffeine that can help the brain remain alert short term and improve focus. It also can elevate your mood (that was a no-brainer).
Avocados. Rich in vitamins C and E, copper, folate, and monounsaturated fats (the good kind). The best part is that they are so versatile that they can be included in so many culinary creations or served on their own.
Leafy Green Veggies. When Mom said, “eat your vegetables,” she knew she was doing something right, although she may not have known why. While all vegetables have health benefits, the leafy green ones, including spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, and most lettuces, have a nutrient-rich cocktail of flavonoids, beta-carotene, and vitamin E, that help slow down the brain’s aging process and rid the body of free radicals.
Beans. No, soaking them in club soda doesn’t prevent the, well, you know. But beans pack a wallop in nutrition. Aside from being an excellent source of protein and fiber, they are one of the best sources of folate and antioxidants.
Coffee and teas. Not to be over-indulged in, but the caffeine, like chocolate, helps the brain focus and remain alert.
Turmeric. This yellow ochre ground spice with a buttery flavor has long been recommended for bone health, anti-inflammatory properties, and helping the immune system better function. Turmeric has now been shown to help oxygen get to the brain, boosting memory. Cinnamon and ginger are also excellent sources and make dishes even more enjoyable.
How do these foods help the brain function more effectively? Each nutrient plays an individual role in how it helps the brain, just as each ingredient in a recipe leads to the overall success of a dish. Therefore, it’s essential to include as many of these ‘ingredients’ as often as possible to keep your brain successful.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Helps lower the levels of beta-amyloid, which causes plaque to build up, disrupting neural connections, leading to dementia. They may also help to produce increased levels of feel-good serotonin hormones.
B-Vitamins: All the B vitamins play a role in the brain, including reducing inflammation and boosting neurotransmitters’ production.
Vitamin C: Another antioxidant, it also helps the brain’s blood vessels, reduces oxidative stress, and protects the brain’s neurotransmitters, thus protecting memory functions.
Vitamin E: Like antioxidants, it helps to protect brain cells and may improve cognition.
Vitamin K: One of the components that helps our body form blood clots naturally when needed and aids in bone health, Vitamin K is another antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative stress and protect the brain.
Folate: Lacking in folate can lead to depression, mental fatigue, and impede cognitive functions, and is important in the brain's formation of neurotransmitters.
Antioxidants and flavonoids: Important in protecting the brain’s cells, as well as the enzymes and vitamins in your body from free radicals.
Monounsaturated fats: Aids in blood flow and production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, essential in retaining memory.
Staying sharp longer requires effort. Exercise, mental stimulation, and a healthy lifestyle are all part of the recipe. However, leaving out a well-balanced diet of foods known to help with brainpower is like leaving the tomatoes out of the marinara sauce!