Nutrition impacts every part of the body. A constant supply of nutrients is required by every cell to function at its peak but some organs are more sensitive than others. The brain has to carry out a number of different functions to maintain life and the coordinate the various processes and activities that allow us to function in life.
Understandably it also has some of the greatest nutritional demands. It needs a wide variety of nutrients that are available in a host of different foods. Therefore the foods that we eat can impact on brain function – some may even improve its functions.
What keeps the brain healthy?
There are several factors that contribute to brain health. Balanced nutrition and a good oxygen supply are paramount to sustaining brain tissue. However, there are various other factors that are also important. These other factors also contribute to overall health status and not specifically for one organ only. In addition, sufficient sleep, regular exercise and minimal psychological stress or toxins like alcohol are other factors for brain health.
Improving brain function depends on good brain health. However, the brain can also be ‘exercised’ beyond physical workouts or sporting activities. Various studies have shown that activities involving problem solving, creativity and decision making can also be beneficial to brain health when undertaken in a structured manner. All of these factors are modifiable meaning that it can be changed in some manner to improve brain health.
Read more on poor memory in pregnancy.
Brain Power Foods and Diet
The most important part about brain nutrition is eating a balanced diet and having meals regularly. Moderation is equally important. There are some foods that provide essential nutrients for brain activity and are therefore labeled as brain foods. However, this is of minimal benefit if not consumed regularly and are part of a health and balanced diet.
Missing meals or eating at irregular intervals are a bigger problem that not having enough of these brain foods. Breakfast is crucial for brain nutrition as it provides the fuel for the brain to function at its peak. This should not detract from the fact that lunch and supper are also important. Brain activity may reduce but does not stop with sleep and it therefore needs a constant supply of good nutrition.
Avocados are known for its high fat content which is fairly uncommon among fruits. It has both “good” and “bad” fats. These good fats include unsaturated fats like oleic acid which plays a role in brain biochemistry. It is therefore and important nutrient for brain health.
Avocados are also rich in vitamin E. This micronutrient has many benefits like being an antioxiant which protects cells against free radical damage. However, vitamin E does not only protect brain tissue but all tissues in the body. Avocados do have saturated fats which are considered as “bad fats” and therefore should not be consumed in excess.
There is significant attention towards the benefits of certain berries as a ‘brain food’. Blueberries and blackcurrants in particular are gaining ground for its brain health benefits and studies are verifying these benefits. These berries are high in antioxidants which can be help in slowing brain degeneration. Vitamin C is also abundant in berries and is also know to have a host of health benefits apart from its antioxidant activity.
Coffe is not often labeled a health food but studies have shown that it can have some benefits for brain health. Like any stimulant, caffeine boosts nerve activity and therefore also gives the brain a boost. Many people use caffeine on a daily basis for this reason.
However, this is a short-term benefit. The effects of caffeine quickly wear off without a repeat dose. Apart from caffeine, coffee may also contain other substances which are antioxidants and can therefore help in reducing brain tissue degeneration.
Nuts are packed with nutrients and while some may not be beneficial in large quantities, moderate consumption of nuts can be helpful for brain function. Walnuts have long been known for its health benefits and specifically as a brain food. It is abundant with certain fatty acids and other micronutrients like vitamin E. It not only has antioxidant benefit but also provides essential nutrients for brain development and nerve health.
Ranking high among the brain foods is oily fish. Other seafood may also be beneficial but oily fish is highly desirable for the amount of fatty acids it contains. Omega 3 fatty acids in particular play an important role in cellular health and nerve cells require these fats for its structure. This helps with brain function and studies have shown that it may even assist in slowing down nerve degeneration to some degree.
Seeds have become a popular health food and rightfully so. It is abundant in many micronutrients such a vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. The B-vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, tryptophan and zinc are plentiful in seeds and some of the more commonly consumed of these are flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. These nutrients help with nerve development, structure and even function like the transmission of nerve impulses.
An unlikely contender among the brain foods is sugar. Most of us hear about how harmful sugar is to our health and this is true when sugar is consumed in large quantities on a daily basis. This is a common and detrimental dietary habit which makes sugar harmful. However, this energy-packed carbohydrate can give the brain a short term boost by quickly supply a fuel source to power the brain’s activities. Natural sugars are a better choice that processed sugars.
While wholegrains have its own benefit, it is often combined with other brain nutrients like nuts and seeds to give a complete brain food. Wholegrains are a better energy source. It has a low glycemic index and provide a constant supply of energy to fuel the brain. Several substances in wholegrain may also have antioxidant benefits and wholegrains can also play a role in preventing atherosclerosis, which can narrow arteries and ultimately limit blood supply to the brain over time.