Eating a healthy diet is important to our overall wellness, but did you know the food we eat can directly impact our brain health?
This article will explore the relationship between diet and cognitive health, and will outline the best foods and supplements for better brain health.
Nutrition and Brain Function: Are They Related?
There is a strong correlation between nutrition and brain function.
The saying “you are what you eat” particularly applies here. There are several compounds found in food that can reduce inflammation, improve memory, enhance cognition, and even boost mental energy.
For example, omega-3 fatty acids are an important structural component of brain cells. Plus, their anti-inflammatory properties help reduce inflammation and support cognition.
Additionally, there are several vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that play an important role in supporting optimal brain function.
Brain Function and Daily Wellness
Imagine waking up every morning feeling more alert, energized, in a good mood, and with enhanced focus.
Many people struggle to wake up feeling this level of refreshed and energized. But if you did, you probably would be more productive and feel more vibrant. An improved mood would likely lead to stronger relationships and an overall improved well being.
All of this can be achieved with better nutrition to support optimal brain health and function.
The brain is a complex organ that requires particular nutrients to function at its best. Eating the right foods can keep your brain in optimal shape, so you can reap the benefits of better brain health.
Eat These Foods for Better Cognitive Health
The following section will list several foods that everyone should be including in their diet for better brain health.
Dark Leafy Greens
Spinach, kale, collards, and swiss chard are just a few of many leafy greens that are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for brain health. These greens are loaded with vitamin K and vitamin E. Vitamin K has been linked to improved memory and cognitive function, while vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and protects cells from oxidative damage (1).
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are a few of the top nuts and seeds for better brain health. Because of their high omega-3 and vitamin E content, they have the proven ability to enhance cognitive function and even protect against cognitive decline. Vitamin E can protect brain cells from oxidative damage and stress which can be particularly supportive of brain health as we age (2).
While many berries contain antioxidants and phytonutrients for brain health, blueberries seem to provide the most cognitive benefit. They’re packed with antioxidants like anthocyanins which can improve memory and their consumption may even reduce the risk for developing dementia. Studies show that consuming blueberries regularly can reduce inflammation in the brain and improve performance on cognitive tasks (3).
Fatty fish, particularly salmon, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial building blocks for brain cells and reduce inflammation. Research suggests that those who consume diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids have better memory and slower rates of cognitive decline (4).
There has been significant research on the benefits of green tea. The flavonols found in green tea have been shown to improve cognitive function and increase blood flow to the brain. Enjoying a few cups daily has been shown to offer maximum benefit. Plus, green tea is loaded with antioxidants that support overall brain function.
Avocados are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are the most health-supportive type of fat, particularly for the brain. Did you know that the brain is mainly made of fat? This means that it’s crucial to fuel the body with plenty of healthy fats to support the structure and function of our brains. In fact, the brain is nearly 60% fat, and scientists have concluded that fatty acids are among the most vital compounds for optimal brain health and performance (5).
The active compound in ginger, gingerol, contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Consuming ginger regularly can help improve memory, mood, and mental alertness. In fact, ginger may even help increase serotonin and dopamine levels.
Avoid These Foods to Reduce Brain Fog
While it’s important to include brain-boosting foods and compounds into your diet, it’s also important to limit those foods that can impair brain health and contribute to cognitive decline.
A diet high in processed foods, refined grains, simple sugars, hydrogenated oils, and artificial additives can lead to inflammation in the brain and can negatively impact brain health.
Processed foods tend to not be very nutrient-dense and often contain many pro-inflammatory ingredients. Inflammation can not only wreak havoc on brain health, but also can impair the health of the gut lining and may weaken the immune system.
When it comes to the idea of a balanced diet it’s important to remember that no one food needs to be completely off-limits.
After all, no one food can make or break our health. Rather, it’s more about the big picture of how you choose to fuel your body on a regular basis.
With that being said, it’s totally okay to choose a fun food once in a while – even if that food contains some unhealthy ingredients.
Just be sure that most of the time you’re fueling your body with good nutrition to support your brain, and overall health.
Supplements for Brain Health
In addition to eating a wide variety of foods for brain health, incorporating a few supplements may take your health to the next level.
Plus, with busy lifestyles, it’s not always easy to ensure you’re getting adequate nutrients through food on a daily basis. However, with the addition of a few supplements, you can help meet your body’s needs and support your brain health.
The following section will list a few of the best supplements for brain health.
L-theanine: L-theanine is a compound found in tea leaves that promotes relaxation while also boosting energy. Consuming L-theanine can boost alertness and cognition without leading to jitters or an energy crash.
Functional Mushrooms: Lion’s mane and reishi in particular are a couple mushroom varieties that have particular benefits for memory and concentration.
Omega-3 Supplements: While you can get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado, you may not be consuming enough of these foods on a daily basis. Taking an omega-3 supplement can help you cover your basis and ensure you’re reaping the anti-inflammatory and brain-boosting benefits of this essential fatty acid.
Vitamin D: Many people are low in vitamin D, which can impair the brain from functioning optimally. If you live in an area with limited sunlight, or follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, taking a daily vitamin D supplement might be helpful.
It’s clear that there’s a strong relationship between nutrition and brain function. Including many brain-supportive foods and supplements in your diet can directly improve and support your cognitive function, memory, mental energy, and even your mood.
Taking steps to incorporate some of the foods listed in this article can help preserve your brain function as you age, and can help you lead a more productive, fulfilling, and healthy life.