Brain food matters! We all know by now that what we eat has an affect on our health, and it turns out the food we eat has an awful lot to do with how our brain functions.
Keeping our brain healthy is important because this amazing (and very complex) organ is the control center of every activity going on. While research is expanding, scientists are learning more and more that nutrition and what we choose to eat takes a toll on our brain health. For many years food has been viewed as a means for energy and building material for the body, however, as time and research advances scientists are discovering the ability food has in prevention and protection against disease. Evidence has demonstrated that the abundance of certain nutrients from our diet can help improve cognitive processes and overall brain health.
Food has many roles when it comes to our health and the way we feel. According to a recent article from Science Direct poor nutrition and dietary habits are major contributors to oxidative stress that can cause the brain to become vulnerable and lead to neurological dysfunctions. The knowledge base of the brain and nutrition is always expanding and I can’t be on the topic of the brain without mentioning the gut as scientific studies have provided and continue to provide evidence that there is a strong (complex) connection between these two powerhouses in the body. The gut helps control inflammation and immune response and the brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut (source). In addition, certain gut hormones (leptin, ghrelin, and insulin) have been found to influence emotions and cognitive processes. Therefore, the gut plays a big role in molecular mechanisms such as processing new information, staying focused, and overall mental functioning (source). Focusing on nutrient-rich foods like healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals helps provide a good source of energy and protection for the brain and gut-brain connection.
A few select nutrients from scientific studies that benefit cognitive functioning include: vitamin B (6, 12, and folate), vitamin D, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, flavanoids, curcumin, calcium, zinc, selenium, and monounsaturated fatty acids (good fats). That said, let’s get to a few of my favourite foods that support brain health!
I LOVE blueberries! They are my favourite berry to nosh on when fresh and in season. I like to buy them organic and in bulk when they’re in season, then I typically will freeze half the batch for adding into smoothies. Blueberries come packed with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants— like folate and gallic acid, which makes them the perfect food for protecting the brain from degenerative disease and oxidative stress. Recent clinical research demonstrated that berries can help prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions. In addition, berries are capable of modulating signal pathways involved in inflammation, cell survival, and neurotransmission. So pack them in everybody!
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Get those greens on your plate and increase your brain power! Green leafy vegetables come packed with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help fight inflammation in the body. In addition, greens can help prevent dementia. According to a 2015 study that evaluated over 950 adults for an average of 5 years, those who ate one to two servings of leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collards daily experienced slower mental deterioration than those who ate no greens at all. I always feel much more optimal when I’m consistently incorporating leafy greens into my diet, and I like sneaking them into big yummy salads or my smoothies— both are such easy and delicious ways to get them in!
Avocados are one of my top favourite foods! I love how versatile and healthy this fruit is. This green fruit comes packed with monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and folate— which are all nutrients that help protect brain health. In addition, avocados contain a good source of vitamin C, essential nutrients, phytochemicals, and are the lowest in sugar when compared to any other fruit. They also add a great boost of nutrition and creamy texture to smoothies! I often replace banana with 1/4 an avocado in my smoothies for a low sugar, high fiber option.
4. Bone Broth
Bone broth is known to be one of the most healing foods for the gut, and in turn, the brain. The health benefits are plentiful and range from boosting immunity, nourishing healthy bones/joints, and healing leaky gut syndrome. Bone broth contains a high amount of collagen and research suggests it helps reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract. Furthermore, bone broth is high in healing amino acids, like glycine and proline, which help support proper immune function and improve memory. Of course, you want to make sure you are consuming quality reliable sources of bone broth. I either make my own so I know exactly what is going into it or if I am purchasing bone broth I will make sure it is organic, grass-fed/finished, and sustainably sourced.
Salmon is by far one of the most nutritious foods to support brain health, and it’s also one of my favourites as I love seafood! I grew up eating a ton of quality, fresh seafood of all sorts thanks to my Uncle who is now a retired fisherman. Salmon comes jam packed with omega-3 fatty acids that help improve memory and overall brain health. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids exhibit brain protecting properties and represent a potential treatment for a variety of neurodegenerative and neurological disorders. According to an article from Science Direct, over the last 30 years, several groups have generated data indicating that concentrations of specific brain lipids highly depend on dietary intake. Preclinical results show that treatments with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids improve cognition, provide neuroprotection (and even neurorestoration), reduce neuroinflammation and influence neuronal function. If you’re a fan of seafood, make salmon one of your top picks to support brain health.