Best Foods for Brain Health
It’s not something we often think about, but what you eat affects your brain’s ability to function. I remember my mom telling me this in regards to what I read or watched on TV, “Garbage in, garbage out.” This also applies to your body!
If you fuel your body with food devoid of vital nutrients, you cannot expect it to run at full capacity, especially your brain--the epicenter of activity. A well-balanced diet is essential to a healthy brain.1
Experts recommend that you eat a diet full of antioxidants and omega-3s to keep your brain healthy and happy. Certain foods can actually help slow and prevent age-related memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. An observational study found in Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that the MIND diet, a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets was beneficial to brain health.2 While you may not want to commit yourself to yet another diet, you can easily incorporate the elements of this diet into your daily meals. The essential elements of this diet include eating vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Instead of grilling up a burger, grill some fish or lean chicken. Limit your dairy intake and make sure that the grains you eat are unprocessed. Instead of grabbing white sandwich bread the next time you’re at the store, look for a loaf full of whole grains and low in sugar.3
Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. For those of us who haven’t studied the brain, this may sound like a lot of jargon. Basically, your brain has a delicate balance of chemicals that allow it to run and for cells to communicate with each other. 40 percent of the fatty acids in your brain cell membranes are what is known as DHA, one of the fatty acids found in fish. Supplying your brain with the DHA it needs allows the brain to transmit signals between cells.4
Leafy greens--think kale and spinach--and cruciferous vegetables--broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and brussels sprouts to name a few--are also crucial to your brain health. The antioxidants found in these vegetables help to protect against the free radicals. According to a Harvard Medical School study of 13,000 women, those who ate cruciferous veggies reduced their brain age by 1 to 2 years.5 Another study by Rush University Medical Center found that eating green leafy vegetables can also lower your cognitive age.6 A younger brain shows signs of better memory and stronger functioning.
Antioxidants help to protect your cells from oxidation, the “waste” produced when your body uses oxygen. This waste, otherwise known as free radicals, can have an impact on aging and cognitive decline. Eating foods rich in antioxidants protects your brain cells from free radicals and keeps your brain young.7
Other great sources of antioxidants include avocados, oils, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and berries.8 Extra-virgin olive oil contains an antioxidant called polyphenol that can help prevent and even reverse age-related memory loss. Blueberries, according to research from Tufts University, contain the antioxidant anthocyanin which helps to protect your brain cells from oxidation.9 Other foods high in antioxidants include prunes, raisins, plums, oranges, red grapes, cherries, alfalfa sprouts, beets, onions, red bell peppers, and eggplant.10
Curry can help fight against inflammation in your body, which can reduce your risk of stroke. Try spicing it up once a week by adding a curry sauce to your chicken or vegetables! Add a side of brown rice, which is high in fiber, and you will have a brain-healthy meal. The fiber found in whole grains helps to stabilize your blood glucose levels. The main fuel for your brain is glucose and having stable glucose levels in your blood ensures that your brain will never run out of fuel.11
Try adding more fermented foods to your diet as well. Fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, and pickles act as natural probiotics, meaning they have good bacteria in them that can have a positive effect on how your body digests food, which can actually be related to a good mood! The different systems in our body are much more connected than we think about on a regular basis. Taking care of your gut is a great way to take care of your brain as well.12
Finally, stay hydrated! Three-quarters of your brain is actually water. Keeping yourself hydrated will help your brain run like a well-oiled machine.13
Check out some of our favorite brain-boosting recipes:
1. Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, "Brain Foods: The Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function," Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9.7 (2008): 568-78, US National Library of Medicine, Web, 9 Oct. 2016.
2. Meghan Rabbitt, "4 Best Foods For Your Brain," Prevention, Rodale, Inc., 27 May 2015, Web, 09 Oct. 2016.; Michael Roizen, MD, “Food for Brain Health,” Neurological Institute, Cleveland Clinic: Michael Roizen, MD, n.d, Web. 9 Oct. 2016
3. Eva Selhub, MD, "Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food," Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publications, 16 Nov. 2015, Web, 09 Oct. 2016.
4. "The Best Foods For Your Brain," Prevention, Rodale, Inc., 28 Mar. 2014, Web, 09 Oct. 2016.; Michael Roizen, MD, “Food for Brain Health.”
5. "The Best Foods For Your Brain."
6. Meghan Rabbitt, "4 Best Foods For Your Brain."
7. Eva Selhub, MD, "Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food."; "Eat Healthy," Brain Health, Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, n.d., Web, 09 Oct. 2016.
8. "The Best Foods For Your Brain."
9. Meghan Rabbitt, "4 Best Foods For Your Brain."
10. "Eat Healthy."
11. "The Best Foods For Your Brain."
12. Eva Selhub, MD, "Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food."
13. "The Best Foods For Your Brain."