Does brain food exist?

Good and bad foods for the brain



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


06 September 2019

How does food affect your brain?

Certain foods can affect the brain both positively and negatively. There are a number of ingredients that are thought to help improve mood, concentration and even memory, for example, such as:

  • Cranberries
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Eggs.

On the other hand, there are foods that could be problematic for brain health, the most significant of which are:

  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Fast food.

Read on to discover more about what effect these foods have on the brain, plus you'll learn some simple tips to help brain health at the same time.

Good food: Cranberries

Cranberries are rich in antioxidants which may help to protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. Although free radicals occur naturally as a result of energy production, too many can have negative effects on the body. Exposure to free radicals has, for example, been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer's Disease.1

As well as cranberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries all contain lots of antioxidants. If you are looking for the ultimate brain food, a regular berry smoothie may, therefore, be beneficial!

My Top Tip:

 

Biotta's Wild Mountain Cranberry Juice is made from organic, hand-picked berries. 

It has a naturally tart taste, that is sweetened just a touch with the addition of agave nectar and a birch leaf infusion.

 

Find out more about Biotta's range. 

Good food: Salmon

Oily fish including salmon, mackerel and sardines contain plenty of omega-3, a polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 is known as a building block of the brain because it is crucial for brain development in youngsters. In addition, there's evidence to suggest that getting enough omega-3 could slow cognitive decline as we get older.2

Omega-3 and antioxidants could lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's, for example, according to initial research.3 This work is only in the early stages, though, so more research would need to be completed in order to reach firmer conclusions.

For vegans and vegetarians, some additional sources of omega-3 include sunflower seeds, avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and almonds.

Good food: Spinach

There are various reasons why green vegetables like spinach are considered good brain food. First of all, this ingredient is rich in magnesium which has a relaxing effect on the nervous system. This could promote better sleep and mood, as well as helping to reduce symptoms of anxiety in some cases.

Research has also indicated a link between the consumption of green vegetables and a reduced risk of cognitive decline and memory loss.4

On top of this, there is some evidence to suggest that eating a Mediterranean-style diet could reduce the risk of developing memory problems and dementia.5 A Mediterranean-style diet includes lots of fruit, vegetables (including spinach!), legumes, cereals, wholegrains and oily fish, plus it is low in saturated fat and refined sugar. The idea is that this kind of diet, rich in fresh foods, can reduce inflammation in the brain and, therefore, improve memory. Here, inflammation refers to chemical changes in the brain rather than swelling.

Good food: Eggs

Eggs are last in my list of good foods for the brain. These are important because they contain B vitamins and folic acid which may help to reduce homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is a type of amino acid, and too much of it could be associated with cognitive impairment.

B vitamins are also essential to the development and proper functioning of the brain, plus they support the nervous system and, in turn, our mood.

Top tips for looking after the brain 

 

  • Drink plenty of water – more than 80% of the brain is made up of water which explains why even slight dehydration can lead to symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, etc.
  • Exercise – this will release endorphins which are known as feel-good hormones for their ability to boost mood.
  • Try Jan de Vries Mood Essence – this contains a combination of gentian, zinnia, hornbeam and more. It helps to support mood when we are feeling unhappy or despondent.

Bad food: Cakes and biscuits

Eating lots of high-sugar foods, including cakes and biscuits, can have a negative effect on the brain as these induce cravings.

This starts with the taste buds on our tongue which are covered in small receptors that detect sweetness. After eating something sugary, these receptors send messages to the brain's cerebral cortex which processes different tastes. This initial signalling activates the brain's reward system (a complicated network of chemical pathways) and so we get the feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction.

Too much sugar, however, can overload this reward system, meaning the benefits are relatively short-lived. In the long-run indulging in these types of foods may eventually lead to cravings, increased tolerance to sugar and, ultimately, higher consumption of sugar as that initial sugar high becomes addictive.

Remember, a bit of cake every so often won't do you much harm – everything in moderation, after all. However, do look out for hidden sources of sugar in your food. Glucose, fructose, dextrose and sucrose are all examples of sugars that may be tucked away in your food without you realising (to name a few!).

Bad food: Fast food

In regards to the brain, one of the main problems with fast food is that it can contain trans fats. This is an unsaturated fat which is naturally found in foods like meat and dairy and, as long it is eaten in moderation, is fairly unproblematic. However, now that it is found in fast food, as well as margarine, some ready meals, pre-packaged cakes, biscuits and more, this means our consumption of trans fats can end up being quite high - and this is where issues come in.

Research seems to indicate that a higher intake of trans fats can lead to an increased likelihood of short-term memory problems,8 as well as a higher chance of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's as we get older.9

Fast food also tends to be high in saturated fats which could lead to higher serum cholesterol levels. This, in turn, may put us at an increased risk of Alzheimer's Disease, according to some research.10

This research is in the early stages but since there are other negative effects associated with eating a diet high in trans fats, such as heart problems and high cholesterol, there are lots of reasons to work on reducing your intake.

References

1 https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/ars.2019.7762 
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16216930 
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3393525/ 

4 https://n.neurology.org/content/90/3/e214 
5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23680940#targetText=Studies%20were%20included%20if%20they,and%20cognitive%20function%20or%20dementia.&targetText=CONCLUSIONS%3A%20Published%20studies%20suggest%20that,risk%20of%20developing%20Alzheimer%20disease
6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20838622 
7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935890/ 

8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074256/ 
9 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197458014003558 
10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3393525/ 

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