The brain is arguably the most important organ in the body but, when it comes to nutrition at least, it often gets side-lined in favour of improving our cardiovascular health or lowering our blood sugar levels. That’s why today I’m taking a look at how what you eat can impact your brain and 11 incredible foods that can help to boost your brainpower!
What we eat can affect every organ in our body and the brain is certainly no exception! Food products such as caffeine and alcohol are obvious examples for how the brain can be affected by the foods we put into our body but what kinds of foods are good for the brain?
Well first, as mentioned in the video above, it’s important to understand what your brain is made from and, surprisingly, fats come to forefront here. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 60% of your brain is fat, mingled with glucose, amino acids, protein and micronutrients which should already hint at the food groups you should be focusing on!
However, not all fats are equal. In fact, processed trans-fats and sugar can have a negative influence on your brain as they keep you stimulated when you should be resting. Some studies are even suggesting that trans-fats might worsen your memory!1
Another piece to add to this argument is that certain types of food can also trigger an inflammatory response from your body and your brain does not like inflammation. Some instances of chronic inflammation can impact your brain, even being associated with mood disorders like depression.2
As I’ve already mentioned, your brain is primarily formed from fats, glucose, micronutrients, amino acids and proteins. When it comes to keeping your brain healthy and supporting your cognitive function, these are the types of food you should be concentrating on:
Healthy fats: Healthy fats help to provide fuel for your brain, which is just as well as, despite its size, the brain relies on almost a fifth of your body’s metabolic energy. In fact, a diet high in monounsaturated fats is even thought to increase your levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in cognitive functions like learning and memory!3
Omega 3 & 6: Taking off from the importance of healthy fats comes omega 3 & 6 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids can help to lower inflammation and have a long history when it comes to supporting brain function – you need them to produce certain brain chemicals and to encourage new cell formations!
Antioxidants: Your brain, like most of your other major organs, is also susceptible to damage by free radical molecules. These nasty little molecules attach to healthy molecules of fat in nerve cell membranes, disrupting their natural functions and causing oxidative stress in the process, which can prematurely age the brain! Antioxidants can help prevent free-radical damage and combat oxidative stress so it’s important you consume plenty of antioxidant-rich fruit and veg to keep your brain healthy!
Protein: Protein is crucial for all cell activity throughout the body, including your brain! Your brain needs protein to communicate as most of your neurotransmitters are formed from amino acids, a key component of protein. Protein is also essential when it comes to building enzymes and hormones, which can again impact your brain.
Arguably one of the top foods associated with the brain – there’s even a physical resemblance! Walnuts are incredibly rich in antioxidant vitamin E, which can help to fight the nasty free radicals that are associated with damaging brain cells.
They also contain a variety of chemical compounds and polyunsaturated fatty acids that can help to supply your brain with nutrients. Research even indicates that walnuts can help to reduce inflammation!4
Vitamin C is crucial when it comes to your immune system and your production of collagen, helping to keep your skin and joints healthy. However, some research is now also indicating that vitamin C may play an additional role when it comes to your brain.
One study examined the effects of vitamin C deficiency and the role it plays in brain cognition. It found that low levels of vitamin C in mice often led to increased levels of oxidative stress and impaired cognition, making vitamin C deficiency a possible risk factor for age related brain degeneration.5
Fortunately, blackcurrants are an excellent source of vitamin C and some research has even indicated that blackcurrant juice could improve mental performance!6 So, there’s all the more reason to make sure you’re including plenty of these potent currants in your diet.
Definitely in fashion at the moment, similar to walnuts, avocados are a great source of vitamin E as well as vitamins C & K and folate. While the antioxidant properties of vitamins C & E can help to protect the brain from oxidative stress, vitamin K and folate play another important role – they can help to prevent blood clots!
Avocados also contain monosaturated fatty acids – these can help to encourage healthy blood flow to the brain, improving your cognitive abilities! This same component has also been associated with lowering cholesterol levels and may be able to work with vitamin K and folate to protect against blood clots – not too shabby!
Beetroots have already been connected with a myriad of health benefits, from helping to lower your blood pressure to promoting a healthy heart and fighting inflammation. Similar to avocados, they’re rich in folate and contain plenty of manganese and iron.
However, while plenty of emphasis has been place on their anti-inflammatory benefits, research is starting to wake up to their potential when it comes to supporting your brain health. One study even found that drinking beetroot juice before exercising can support the regions of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotion.7
This is primarily thought to be because of beetroot’s high content of nitric oxide, a potent molecule which can help areas of the body that need more oxygen, like the brain. If you’re interested in trying beetroot juice, you could try Biotta’s Beetroot Juice, which I often recommend for those looking to improve their endurance!
Our friends over at Jan de Vries spoke extensively about the benefits of turmeric in their blog ‘6 fantastic uses for turmeric’ and the spice is definitely top of mind for a lot of people at the moment. This is primarily due to curcumin, a bioactive ingredient in turmeric that is famous for its anti-inflammation qualities.
Research is also now starting to look at how turmeric may be able to benefit the brain, with animal studies indicating that aromatic-turmerone may be able to increase neural stem growth in the brain, encouraging self-repair!8
That’s why I’d definitely look at increasing your dietary intake of turmeric but, if you are considering a supplement, it might be worth having a look at BetterYou’s Oral Turmeric Spray, which is simple and convenient to take while delivering maximum absorption so you don’t lose out!
Dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, is chockfull of flavonoids, which can help to improve blood flow to the brain.9 This content of antioxidants is also thought to help protect the brain from free-radical damage – amazing!
However, before you go and pick up a bar of Bourneville from your local supermarket, with dark chocolate, quality makes all the difference.
That’s why I always try to opt for a dairy-free alternative made with organic cacao. Cacao is prepared using unroasted cocoa beans that are then cold-pressed to retain their natural level of enzymes and antioxidants! Most of the health benefits associated with dark chocolate come from cacao but luckily cacao powder is readily available in most healthfood stores and supermarkets!
The fantastic health benefits of coconut oil have been well documented and publicised, with the oil going from an exotic treat to a food cupboard staple. This is because your brain cells depend on the quality of fats that you are consuming – hardly surprising considering the brain contains around a quarter of your body’s cholesterol!
This is good news for fans of coconut oil, though, as it’s rich in medium chain triglycerides, which can help to fuel the brain, providing a source of vital energy as the liver can break them down into ketones.
This is good news for your brain as your body can convert ketones into energy without having to involve insulin. This is important as some studies have shown that sufferers of Alzheimer’s sometimes lose the ability to create insulin.
Pumpkin seeds make for an excellent healthy snack and are great for incorporating into meals, whether it’s sprinkling them over your porridge or adding them to your baking. Their health benefits aren’t exactly a secret either – they’re loaded with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for healthy brain function and development!
Pumpkin seeds also contain plenty of magnesium and zinc. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 chemical reactions and it helps to convert tryptophan, an amino acid, into serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that can help to support your mood and sleep! Zinc, on the other hand, is believed to play a vital role in memory formation, helping to regulate communications between neurons and the hippocampus.11
Kale is a wonderfully nutritious food, brimming with antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and K. This naturally helps to protect the brain from oxidative stress but kale also contains another super-nutrient – lutein.
You’ve perhaps heard us mention lutein before – it’s a key ingredient in our Vision Complex. This particular nutrient lingers in our eye and brain tissues but the body cannot produce lutein on its own so we are dependent on dietary sources.
Studies are starting to be conducted concerning the benefits of lutein for the brain, with some seeing it as a potential brain-booster, improving cognitive performance. Other studies often found that higher lutein levels were often linked to better cognitive performance in older and middle aged adults.12
Wholegrains are always at the top of my recommendations list. Unlike their processed counterparts, wholegrain foods still contain all their original vitamins and minerals, as well as a healthy dose of dietary fibre and omega fatty acids, which helps to promote healthy digestion and energy levels.
It’s this slow steady release of energy that’s important for your brain, while the omega fatty acids, I mentioned earlier, can help to promote healthy brain function. Arguably one of the best things about wholegrains is the variety – rye bread, buckwheat noodles and spelt flower are all different types of wholegrains that boast the same inherent goodness and brain boosting capabilities!
When it comes to super-fruits, blueberries are arguably the best known and are highly prized for their impressive content of free-radical fighting antioxidants. Most of their health benefits can be attributed to a compound called anthocyanin, which also gives blueberries their tell-tale blue colour!
A number of studies have even indicated that blueberries may be capable of delaying age-related cognitive decline, with one six year study elucidating that blueberries and strawberries may be linked to slower rate of cognitive decline13 whilst another seemed to hint that blueberries might even be able to help with short-term memory!14