Our resident nutritionist, Alex Dobbs gives us her insights on how eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short term and long term brain function.
Did you know that by eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you can nourish your brain and protect it from oxidative stress? Food has a big impact on how we feel, think, work and exercise. So firstly, let’s take a look at the brain itself.
The brain is the most important organ in our bodies. It keeps our heart beating, our lungs breathing and all our systems functioning. It operates using neurotransmitters, messengers that send vital signals around the body. And these require proteins and many other substances found in vegetables, fish and meat to function optimally. That’s why it is critical that we keep it working with a healthy diet. Essentially it is the master command centre for our bodies, and if we feed it right it will do its job right.
Eating 3 meals per day with maybe a few healthy snacks thrown in will ensure you get all these nutrients in your diet. Antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting our brain. We require antioxidants to help with cell repair and reduce cell damage caused by daily living.
So which foods can we eat to improve and maximise brain function?
The brain is made up largely of fatty tissue and water – so, ensuring you are always well hydrated is the first step. When you feel a bit tired during the day have a glass of water, wait 10 minutes and see how you feel more alert.
Then we can help the brain along by eating antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, turmeric (curry), dark raw chocolate and brightly coloured fruit and vegetables. Which wholefoods specifically are good for a healthy brain? Whole grains, oily fish, nuts and seeds, all vegetables but especially fresh seasonal veggies, fruits,
meats of high quality and yoghurt.
Next, let’s look at fat. Countless studies prove that eating a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA) will protect your brain health and may even improve it. Ensure you eat fatty fish in the form of mackerel, wild salmon, sardines, etc. at least 3-4 times per week. Green leafy vegetables and grass-reared meats also count. And consider taking a quality fish oil supplement.
What to avoid
Did you know some foods can actually deteriorate brain function? Alcohol is the prime culprit here and caffeine is a close second. The latter not improving our concentration or ability to function, contrary to popular belief. A study has shown that alcohol and caffeine together actually slows reaction time more than alcohol alone!
Next, a diet high in sugar and refined carbs should really be avoided. The brain feeds on glucose, but it requires not just that. And feeding our families junk and convenience foods rather than healthy home-cooked balanced meals can actively contribute to a lowering of intelligence, studies have shown.
Similarly, trans fats can have a detrimental effect on brain health too. And while trans fats from animals aren’t generally a cause for concern, it’s hydrogenated vegetable oils that are a problem. These can be found in margarine, frosting, snack foods, ready-made cakes and prepackaged cookies.
And finally, not a food, but lack of sleep is a large contributing factor to diminished brain function. We all know we don’t function as well when we are tired. Getting the right amount of sleep (7-8 hours per night) and respecting our Circadian Rhythm is essential for brain growth, development and repair.