We all know by now the profound impact food consumption has on our health. High consumption of healthy options and the reduction of poor quality processed foods can prevent, or reverse, heart disease. But what role does our diet play in how are brain works? Can a healthy diet help cognitive function, memory and our ability to pay attention? Research of the last few years says unequivocally, YES!
Multiple studies are showing that there are foods that boost different functions of the brain. For instance, drinking green tea appears to be one of the healthiest drinks for enhancing mental processes. According to a study last year by Drs. Dietz and Dekker, it stimulates memory, focus, and concentration. It even seems to help reduce stress.
Good for the brain
Just like with our heart and immune system health, it’s the natural foods seen in traditional, non-western diets that seem to be good for the brain as well. Nuts, seeds and olive oil are all good. The main nutrients in these foods, oleic acid and polyphenols are integral to brain and they keep our central nervous system in good working order. These foods are all anti-inflammatory and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Nuts have vitamin E and B6 and they are high in fiber. A study from 2015 showed that those who eat walnuts demonstrated better memory and quicker reaction times than those who avoid walnuts.
Omega 3s fatty acids are important to all aspects of health. Salmon, mackerel and herring all contain a lot of omega 3s. This fatty acid activates nerve growth and as we said, it is an anti-inflammatory so is helps suppress inflammation in the nervous system. This can also be taken by supplement but like any vitamin or supplement, it is best ingested with food. For those who don’t want fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and olive oil also contain omega 3s. Just be careful about overconsuming as some of the foods are very high calorie.
This should come as no surprise: Multiple studies have shown that high consumption of fruits and vegetables are crucial to maintaining a healthy mind and they slow brain aging, too. Vegetables and fruits reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and stroke. That in and of itself prevents mental deterioration! (According to a study done in 2013 by Larsson, Virtamo and Wolk, vegetables improve cognitive functions, such as verbal skills, in the elderly.)
The following chart will give you a good idea as to which foods help with different aspects of brain nutrition.
Your mental state
According to Dr. Konstantin Yakimchuk of both Harvard Medical School and Karolinsk in Stockholm, diet can influence brain function and cognitive abilities at any age. He also cites studies that various healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, can prevent mental decline and dementia. These diets are also protective against stroke; they reduce the chances of having one by 46%, and strokes are a main cause of cognitive decline. Eating any diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and omega-3 foods is also suggested for people suffering from depression. Evidence exists that depression is associated with inflammation in the nervous system, and these diets help decrease the inflammation. The depressed individual may have some relief as a result.
Our food consumption literally effects every major function in our body. By understanding how it influences brain health, we can do our part to keep our heads in good thinking and functioning order. We all know that dementia and Alzheimer’s have been increasing. Death rates from these diseases climbed 55% over the 15 years, beginning from 1999. But we can take steps to protect our brains just as we do our hearts and by doing so we will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”