If you are anything like me, you allowed yourself to indulge in 2020 due to the seemingly endless lockdown. It’s easy to justify eating unhealthy food when you’re living in survival mode, but using the pandemic as an excuse to forego sensible choices can be detrimental for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
I have set New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier in the past, but my intentions were usually rooted in vanity, and my willpower quickly faded. This year, it’s less about looking my best and more about feeling my best. I want to use food as medicine for good health, a clear mind, and energized body. Not unhealthy food as a mental band-aid. Which comforts me at the moment but eventually makes me feel tired, lazy, and unmotivated.
I went on a mission to gather all the information I could about how my diet affected my mind and body and was surprised by what I unearthed.
“The food you eat can either be the safest, most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison” – Ann Wigmore
The bad news was that my dietary choices were having an adverse and potentially long-term impact on my brain health. The good news is that we are not stuck with the brain we have, and every day is a new opportunity to make a change.
World-renowned neuroscientists have proven that what you eat changes your brain chemistry, and the key is to consume foods that enable your brain to retain its size, structure, connect more neurons, remove toxins, and construct new cells. So, if you want to reduce mental fatigue, improve your mood, solve problems more quickly, have more energy, enhance your memory, and have a better overall quality of life, a healthy diet is essential.
The building of new brain cells is called neurogenesis and the foods we ingest become the physical building blocks for this process. Research shows many dietary components such as curcumin, resveratrol, polyphenols, sulforaphane, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and flavonoids spark this vital process. They can also boost your immune system, which is essential during this global health crisis.
Such nourishing and antioxidant-rich elements can be easily found in foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and fish. These essential vitamins and minerals can also help your body ward-off common toxins and free radicals, which destroy cerebral cells and increase brain fog.
Neuroplasticity works alongside neurogenesis. It’s how your brain adapts, grows, and restructures by creating additional links to neighboring neurons. While strength in numbers is good, strength in connectivity is critical as well. As we age, many of our neurons perish, and those we retain will become slower. Neuroplasticity means cells become better over time at making more connections. Many of the same food groups that encourage neurogenesis also foster neuroplasticity. So your diet not only impacts how many brain cells you have but also how they communicate.
Our brains are incredibly adaptive, and given the right care, they can stay healthy and sharp well into old age. Here are a few of the best brain-boosting foods everyone should have in their diet.
Many berries contain potent antioxidants making them great for brain health. These compounds can boost communicability between cells, reduce inflammation, improve memory, increase neuroplasticity, and diminish or delay age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
Choose rich-colored red, purple, and blue berries as they are packed with flavonoids, a type of polyphenol with antioxidant qualities.
Blueberries top the list when it comes to brain health and increased neurogenesis. They are one of the most nutrient-dense berries and rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese. Blueberries are loaded with water, which makes them hydrating as well. Blueberries are low in calories and sugar too. Blueberries have also been shown to lower the risk of dementia, reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s, and prevent age-related memory loss.
Avocados, classified as a single-seeded berry, are high-ranking wholesome foods too. Our grey matter is primarily composed of fats, so we need to consume plenty of these beneficial monounsaturated elements to replenish and nourish the brain. Doing so can also contribute to a healthy blood flow, which is essential for the brain. Lower blood pressure is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities.
- Dark Chocolate
Like berries, chocolate is rich in flavonoid antioxidants.
The flavonoids in chocolate are absorbed in the brain region that supports memory and learning. Researchers believe this may help slow down age-related mental decline and enhance memory retention. Additionally, chocolate is known to boost our mood.
Look for dark, low-sugar, high-quality cocoa chocolate, which contains more antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids.
There are countless vegetables to choose from, but some are especially rich in nutrients that promote brain health and function.
For example, broccoli is packed with antioxidants and is high in vitamin K. This vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat packed into brain cells, and proven to reduce cognitive decline in the elderly. Broccoli’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and sulforaphane qualities also help protect the brain against damage and reduce neurodegenerative disease risk.
If you are not a fan of broccoli, opt for other leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and arugula, which are also rich in brain-healthy nutrients.
- Fish, Nuts, and Seeds
Some of the key roles performed by Omega-3 fats throughout the body include building cell membranes, promoting cell health, and preventing brain deterioration.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, but if you are concerned about the mercury content in some seafood or vegan, nuts and seeds are a better option.
Studies have shown that nuts and seeds are a good source of vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, and numerous antioxidants, aiding cognitive function and preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
Hemp seeds are a prominent source of omega-3 fatty acids and contain more protein than chia seeds or flaxseeds. They also provide essential amino acids, which are crucial for the production of neurotransmitters.
Brazil nuts contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and polyphenols, so they have neuroprotective properties. They are also high in selenium, a deficiency of which is linked to neurogenerative disease.
Almonds are rich in riboflavin and L-carnitine, helping prevent neurogenerative diseases. Research by both the UCLA and The Harvard School of Public Health have hailed walnuts for their cognitive boosting abilities.
Beans contain countless nutritional benefits, including hefty doses of antioxidant polyphenols, and have been proven to be brain super-stars. Black, white, garbanzo beans, and lentils all have a particularly high number of polyphenols.
- Grains – Bread
The frontal lobes are responsible for higher cognitive functions such as memory, emotions, impulse control, problem-solving, social interaction, and motor function. They are incredibly sensitive to drops in glucose. By opting for carbohydrates that release glucose more slowly and consistently, you can achieve a steadier level of attentiveness.
Choose wholegrain or wholewheat options because they contain the entire seed of the plant, delivering you nutrient-rich, brain-friendly vitamins B and E, antioxidants, minerals like zinc and magnesium and healthy fats, and fiber. Fiber is linked to lower blood pressure, and anything good for your heart is good for your brain.
“Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments” – Bethany Frankel
The bottom line is your choices have a direct and long-lasting effect on the most powerful organ in your body, your brain. Eating the right food is one of the most important things you can do to stop your brain from aging and live a healthy, happy, and productive life.