How to improve brain health
Whether you want to optimize your nutrition during exam season or simply want to stay sharp in your next work meeting, paying attention to your diet can really pay off. Although there is no single ‘brain food’ that can protect against age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s’ or dementia, and there are many other medical conditions that can affect the brain, paying attention to what you eat gives you the best chance of getting all the nutrients you need for cognitive health.
Maintaining weight and staying fit shouldn’t be the only goal, but we also need to make sure we eat the right foods so that our body functions at its best and our organs stay healthy too. I would now like to throw some light on the high-powered organic engine of our body- The Brain!
Our brain regulates innumerable complex functions in our body and is constantly working even when we sleep! It stores an incredible amount of information in the form of images, texts and concepts.
We need to ensure that we constantly supply the fuel that our brain needs for its round the clock functioning. The best fuel for our brain is- Glucose, which is obtained from the carbohydrate-rich foods that we consume- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.
Apart from this main driving fuel, our brain also requires certain specific nutrients just like our heart, lungs or muscles do, to run efficiently.
Nutrients like Vitamin E, iron, folate, essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA), vitamin C, B12, zinc, etc. play a vital role in our cognitive functioning.
Let’s have a look at the foods that are particularly important to keep our grey matter happy:
Research has shown that eating nuts can improve markers of heart health, and having a healthy heart is linked to having a healthy brain. Also, another large study found that women who ate nuts regularly over the course of several years had a sharper memory, compared to those who didn’t eat nuts.
Several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E, may explain their brain-health benefits.
Vitamin E shields cell membranes from free radical damage, helping slow mental decline.
While all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts may have an extra edge, since they also deliver omega-3 fatty acids.
This fruit is one of the healthiest ones you can consume and one of my all-time favorites. While avocados often get a bad rep because of their high fat content, it’s important to note that these green powerhouses are packed with monosaturated fats or the “good” kind, keeping blood sugar levels steady and your skin glowing.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body which means they must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA. Good plant sources include linseed (flaxseed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils. These fats are important for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and our general wellbeing. What makes oily fish so good is that they contain the active form of these fats, EPA and DHA, in a ready-made form, which enables the body to use it easily. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers.
Pumpkin seeds contain powerful antioxidants that protect the body and brain from free radical damage.
They’re also an excellent source of magnesium, iron, zinc and copper
Each of these nutrients is important for brain health:
Zinc: This element is crucial for nerve signaling. Zinc deficiency has been linked to many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression and Parkinson’s disease.
Magnesium: Magnesium is essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels are linked to many neurological diseases, including migraines, depression and epilepsy.
Copper: Your brain uses copper to help control nerve signals. And when copper levels are out of whack, there’s a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
Iron: Iron deficiency is often characterized by brain fog and impaired brain function.
The research focuses mostly on these micronutrients, rather than pumpkin seeds themselves. However, since pumpkin seeds are high in these micronutrients, you can likely reap their benefits by adding pumpkin seeds to your diet.
Not all chocolate is created equal; in fact, dark chocolate can actually be good for you! Chocolate is chockfull of flavonols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They can also help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the brain and heart.
But don’t go wild munching on Hershey’s Kisses just yet. Most of the chocolate you see on supermarket shelves is highly processed with few benefits. The rule of thumb is the darker the chocolate, the more health benefits.
These are antioxidant powerhouse which protects the brain from oxidative damage due to the free radicals which can prevent premature ageing, Alzheimer’s and dementia. The flavanoids in the berries also improve the nervous impulse transmission; improve memory, learning, and all cognitive functions.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables:
Vegetables like collard greens, spinach, and broccoli are good sources of B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, iron, folic acid, fibre, etc. These nutrients protect against free radicals and excavate the heavy metals that can damage the brain.
Folic acid is linked to lowering the levels of homocysteine (a non-protein amino acid) in the blood, which otherwise may trigger the death of nerve cells in the brain.
It’s a list of simple foods that are easily available and we do consume these on and off. We can now pay a special attention to them and consume them more often to keep our Brain super-healthy!