When you think of your body’s health, you first think of your heart or muscles. But isn’t your brain, the control centre of your body, unarguably the most important of all body organs? Just as you think twice about what you’re eating when you consider heart health, you need to pay attention to what you’re eating for your brain’s health too. This is sound advice from the author and she goes on to detail out foods good for our brain health. As we get older brain health becomes even more critical so eat for your brain health too. Team RetyrSmart
Best foods for brain health and memory
If you could do with a little help in keeping your grey cells alert and productive, here are the best foods that benefit brain health, boost cognitive function, and improve memory.
A new study suggests that eating leafy greens every day helps maintain a sharper mind and slows down brain ageing. Spinach, collard greens, and kale stand out from the bunch of leafy vegetables owing to key nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin B9 or folate, and lutein.
One of the main functions of vitamin K is to regulate calcium in the body — bones and brain. A study by the University of North Carolina showed that individuals with low levels of vitamin K have dysregulated calcium in their brains which in turn causes some of the brain damage in Alzheimer’s. This fat-soluble vitamin also aids in stroke prevention and is vital for cognitive function.
# Folate plays a number of roles in the body and brain and is necessary for making DNA, cellular detoxification, neurotransmitter functioning, and formation of the nervous system during development.
# The carotenoid lutein is known for its role in eye health, but research has shown it is beneficial for brain health too.
Apart from eating leafy greens, saying yes to cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables contain compounds called isothiocyanates and indoles, which prevent oxidative damage and fight cancer cells in ways that nutrients present in other vegetables cannot. These vegetables are also rich in carotenoid antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin that are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. As these antioxidants accumulate in the brain, they provide protection against free-radical damage and slow down age-related cognitive decline.
Packed with nutrients, here are some super-fruits that can boost brain health.
Blueberries are one of the fruits with highest antioxidant levels; antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by free radicals or unstable molecules. The antioxidant compounds in blueberries belong to a family of polyphenols called flavonoids. Anthocyanins, a group of flavonoids, are responsible for much of the beneficial health effects offered by blueberries. Research has shown that blueberries protect the brain from oxidative stress, thereby preventing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and reducing effects of other age-related brain and cognitive conditions. The combination of nutrients in blueberries further boosts memory and protects the brain from possible future memory lapses.
Raspberry is another super-berry that keeps the brain healthy and functioning well by fighting inflammation of the neurons and protecting against neurological damage. Raspberries are rich in potassium that is linked to increased blood flow to the brain, enhanced cognition, improved concentration, and increased neural activity.
Eating strawberries increases the number of new neurons made in the brain and the number of branches of neurons. Studies also show improvement in brain signalling and the functioning of neurotransmitters.
# Grapes, raisins, and currants
Grapes are known to increase cardiovascular function by contributing to greater vascular flexibility, less clotting, and improved blood flow. By boosting blood and oxygen supply to the brain, this fruit helps keep the brain healthy and functioning well.
Raisins are a great source of boron which is a trace element that boosts memory, increases attention, and improves hand-eye coordination. Blackcurrants are packed with the antioxidant anthocyanin that acts similar to medicines used to treat mood disorders and diseases like Parkinson’s. Cognitive tests have shown blackcurrant drinks to improve attention and mood and reduce mental fatigue.
# Vitamin C-rich fruits
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, an important vitamin that is found in higher concentrations in the brain than the rest of the body. This vitamin has antioxidant activity and apart from preventing damage to the DNA and slowing cell ageing, it is also important for the differentiation and maturation of neurons, plays a role in forming the myelin sheath that protects neurons, and boosts impulse transmission. As such, vitamin C is crucial for cognitive function. The vitamin is a cofactor in the synthesis and release neurotransmitters.
Tomatoes are abundant in carotenoids too. These molecules safeguard fat in the body, and since the brain is mainly made of fat, you know this is one antioxidant you can’t do without. Tomatoes contain lycopene and beta-carotene — powerful antioxidants that eliminate free radicals and help avoid inflammation. Additionally, lycopene regulates genes that influence inflammation and brain growth while beta-carotene helps prevent heart disease which affects brain health positively in two ways. Studies show compromised blood flow from a damaged heart to give rise to mental difficulties later in life, and that sufferers of heart attacks are prone to bouts of clinical depression.
Oranges are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B1 or thiamine, vitamin B6, and flavonoids. Deficiency of thiamine affects the nervous system and can give rise to confusion and memory loss, and cause dementia and other nervous system issues. Studies of patients with Alzheimer’s disease show low amounts of thiamine and dependent enzymes in the blood and brain, suggesting the role of this vitamin in brain health. Studies show reduced neurotransmitters and abnormal EEGs in the presence of lower amounts of vitamin B6 in the body. Clinical symptoms of B6 deficiency also include depression and confusion, linking the vitamin to cognition and brain health. Hesperidin and naringenin are important flavonoids in citrus fruits that maintain cell health in brain tissue as they can cross the blood-brain barrier to the greatest extent. Flavonoids reduce inflammation and maintain or improve blood flow to the brain, impacting cognition positively.
Another fruit rich in vitamin C is kiwi. It also contains other components such as potassium, folate, and various antioxidants that provide neurological benefits. Other vitamin C enriched fruits are mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and strawberries.
Herbs and spices
Yes, herbs and spices that you thought just add to the taste of food can actually boost brain health, power up your productivity, and improve mental focus!
# Rosemary is packed with carnosic acid which has antioxidant properties and fights free radicals that present a barrier to cognitive functioning. Ingested in small doses, this delightful herb can improve concentration and slow down memory decline. The herb can also be used as an essential oil in aromatherapy — inhaling its vapours improves efficiency and proficiency of carrying out mental tasks and also helps in memory retention.
# Parsley is loaded with essential nutrients that have numerous health benefits. This herb can reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis, strengthen the immune system, and boost overall health. Most importantly, parsley has shown great effects on the brain — it strengthens connections between brain cells and reduces neuronal damage.
# Thyme contains the flavonoid apigenin which is known to improve neuron formation in the brain. This herb is also rich in other flavonoids naringenin, luteolin, and thymonin, and is densely packed with health-supportive nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, copper, manganese, and dietary fibre.
# Turmeric is known for its ability to reduce inflammation and provide healing. This golden spice contains curcumin, an antioxidant that benefits brain and overall health. According to research, turmeric clears the brain of protein fragments called beta-amyloid, the build-up of which forms Alzheimer’s-related brain plaques. In other words, turmeric helps ease Alzheimer’s symptoms and staves off the disease.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are extremely nutritious and have immense health benefits when eaten along with a healthy diet.
# Walnuts top the list of best nuts for brain health. Resembling the brain, these nuts are significantly concentrated with DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that helps protect brain health in newborns, improves cognitive functioning in adults, and prevents age-related cognitive decline. According to a study, supplementing diet with walnuts can improve mood too.
# Peanuts are an excellent source of vitamin B3 or niacin that is important for overall health. preliminary research suggests peanuts help stave off Parkinson’s. Other studies link B3 deficiency to a higher incidence of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
# Almonds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E which neutralises the effect of free radicals. This nut is packed with lean protein that repairs brain cells. Zinc present in almonds boosts immune system function and acts as an antioxidant to fight free radicals that break down brain cells.
# Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc that plays a critical role in regulating communication within the brain and helps improve memory and cognitive function. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A present in pumpkin seeds protects the body from the effects of oxidative stress and slows down the effects of ageing.
Tea and coffee
Freshly brewed tea contains enough caffeine to enhance memory, focus, and mood. Tea leaves also contain compounds like theophylline, theobromine, and epigallocatechin gallate that can cross the blood-brain barrier and boost brain health. L-theanine is an active ingredient in green tea that boosts mood and has a calming effect without inducing drowsiness. Studies show that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine reduce mental fatigue, increase reaction time and alertness, and improve memory. Black tea promotes rapid stress recovery by bringing the levels of stress hormones in the body to normal. Certain catechins in tea also show anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant activity.
Coffee is a wonderfully healthy beverage containing several bioactive compounds like caffeine, chlorogenic acids (CGA), cafestol, kahweol, and trigonelline that contribute to overall health. Most of these are antioxidants that fight damage caused by free radicals. Caffeine, the main active ingredient, stimulates the central nervous system and is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. It also fights fatigue, improves mood, reaction time, attention, learning, and general mental function. CGAs are polyphenol antioxidants that benefit biological pathways like blood sugar metabolism, preventing age-related mental decline. Studies associate regular, moderate coffee consumption to a lower risk of Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease.
Research suggests that the stomach plays a role in brain health with beneficial gut bacteria being capable of altering mood and offering anti-depressant benefits.
# Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish of fermented vegetables and seasonings. The probiotic bacteria in kimchi help fight anxiety and depression and boost brain health.
# Pickles or dills are fermented foods that are loaded with probiotics. Munching on them can have a positive influence on brain health.
# Kefir is a dairy product similar to yoghurt that is made from kefir grains, a combination of yeast and bacteria, and goat’s milk. Kefir is rich in lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and antioxidants that make it a natural and potent brain food. It enhances usual functions like focus, reflexes and memory retention, and cures depression, anxiety and attention-related disorders.
# Tempeh is usually eaten as a substitute for meat. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh is a complete protein with all amino acids and it is also an excellent source of vitamin B12. Tempeh helps you maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which is linked to reduced anxiety and depression.
# Sauerkraut translates to ‘sour cabbage’ and is a fermented dish that fuels healthy gut bacteria. Moreover, it contains the chemical choline which is important for the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and throughout the central nervous system.
While eating the right diet plays an important role in boosting health, don’t forget that genetics, level of physical activity, lifestyle, stress, and environmental factors, all play a role in determining the state of your mind and brain health. Apart from improving your diet, do get regular physical exercise and keep your grey cells stimulated with brain exercises. Easy brain exercises you could perform are recalling items from a list, doing math in your head, drawing a map from memory, learning a foreign language, playing tennis, golf, or any game that gets both your mind and body going, refining motor-skills by assembling puzzles, knitting, or drawing, identifying individual ingredients in a meal, and more!