Want a Healthy, Happy Brain? Eat These FoodsLisanne Wellness Center
What you eat impacts a lot more than just the number on the scale. Of course, what you eat significantly impacts your physical health — things like your weight, your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, and your metabolism — but it also affects your brain.
Your brain is a complex organ that has the ultimate control over the rest of your body. It is the powerhouse that regulates your mood, emotions, cognitive abilities like memory and attention, and motor control, while simultaneously interpreting stimuli from your surroundings. Your brain functions best when it is provided with top-quality fuel. If you think of food as this fuel, you can see how your brain would prefer nutrient-dense whole foods to sugar-laden processed ones.
Many studies have demonstrated a link between a diet high in processed foods and refined sugars and impaired brain function, whereas healthy diets are associated with protective effects such as slower cognitive decline and decreased risk of developing dementia.
Dementia is a broad term that refers to an array of cognitive and behavioral issues such as poor memory, attention, orientation, communication, and reasoning. It is most common in older adults but is not a part of normal aging. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting more than 5 million Americans.
While there is still a lot of research to be done regarding prevention and treatment of dementia, it is never too early to take steps in protecting your brain health. You can start today by adding these foods to your grocery list.
You might have heard that blueberries contain powerful antioxidants. Blueberries contain high levels of flavonoids, substances that reduce harmful oxidation which can lead to cellular and tissue damage. Brain tissue is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage due to its high lipid content.
Studies have demonstrated increased levels of oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s disease brain tissue and suggest a correlation between consumption of antioxidant-rich foods (like blueberries!) and neuroprotective effects such as prevention of memory loss, maintenance of brain cells’ response to stimuli, and blood vessel protection. Boost your antioxidant intake by incorporating blueberries (and other berries like goji, elderberry, and cranberries) into smoothies, salads, healthy muffins, Greek yogurt, or oatmeal.
Pre and Probiotics
Your gut plays a significant role in digestive health, immune function, and managing inflammation, so it’s important to keep the healthy bacteria that reside here happy! You might not think that your digestive system has much to do with your brain, but they are intricately connected; a properly functioning gut will protect against brain inflammation. Incorporate a variety of prebiotics and probiotics for optimal digestive, and ultimately brain, function. Prebiotics refer to non-digestible carbohydrates that act as “food” for probiotics. Prebiotics are found in fibrous foods such as asparagus, bananas, artichokes, and whole grains. Probiotics are live microorganisms (frequently bacteria) that are good for your health. They help restore a healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your digestive system and are commonly added to dairy products like yogurt, kefir, milk, and cheese. Look for the most effective bacteria, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, on ingredient lists. You can also take a probiotic supplement like Probiotic Defense or Flora Max.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your body and brain need fat to function, but the type of fat you eat makes a big difference when it comes to health. Replace saturated fats (like those found in red meat and processed foods) with healthier unsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of “healthy fat” that your body doesn’t make on its own so it must be consumed in food. Omega-3 intake is linked with numerous health benefits including brain function. The brain contains a high concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to be important for healthy cognitive and behavioral function. Researchers believe that DHA (a type of omega-3) is particularly important for protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The best sources of this healthy fat are oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and sardines. Also make sure to add nuts (especially walnuts), seeds, eggs, avocado, and flaxseed oil to your diet and take a supplement like OmegaPure RX
Nuts and Seeds
In addition to fats, nuts contain other healthy nutrients like vitamin E, folate, and fiber. Walnuts seem to top the list when it comes to brain-boosting properties, likely due to their high concentration of DHA, but tree nuts, in general have shown potential for combating cognitive decline. One cohort study of 16,000 women found that long-term nut intake was associated with better cognitive function while another study showed that almonds enhanced memory in rats. Seeds pack a powerful punch of many healthy nutrients that are related to brain health. Try adding flax, chia, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds to your salads, baked goods, and smoothies or combine them with nuts for a healthy trail mix treat!
Dark Leafy Greens
You can’t deny the health benefits of leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli, and arugula. There’s plenty of evidence that these vegetables (full of important vitamins and minerals) are related to decreased risk of cognitive decline in addition to protecting against a laundry list of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. They are also key components of the Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, a low intake of saturated fats (olive oil is the main source of fat), a moderate intake of fish, low to moderate dairy consumption (mostly yogurt and cheese), and a low intake of red meat and meat products. There is mounting evidence connecting a Mediterranean diet with a lower risk of disease, including Alzheimer’s disease. Sticking to this type of diet may help to delay or prevent the onset of dementia.
As the population ages, so will the number of individuals affected by dementia. There is no cure for dementia, and current treatment strategies are primarily behavior management and medication to reduce symptoms and slow deterioration. Making lifestyle changes, such as diet, is key for maintaining good health, both physical and mental.
For more information about keeping your brain healthy and happy while minimizing your risk of dementia and other cognitive diseases, contact Lisanne Wellness Center at