There is strong evidence all over that proves what we eat impacts our health. A healthy dietary pattern that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains improves heart health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
You may have heard the saying “You are what you eat.” The foods we choose to eat daily have an overwhelming impact on our bodies. Is it possible for certain foods to also boost our brain health? The answer is yes! Certain foods can improve brain functions, such as our concentration and memory.
Check out these top foods that can help your brain beam and easy ways to add them to your meals:
Eating a colorful variety of vegetables is important for adding fiber and nutrients into our diet and fueling both gut and brain health. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-boosting nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline. When it comes to brain power and overall health, green veggies should be filling most of your plate at every meal.
Typically consumed as a healthy meat alternative, fish is also good brain food. It is full of omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats, which are beneficial for both learning and memory. The goal is to eat fish at least twice a week and choose those varieties low in mercury like salmon, cod, and canned light tuna.
It never hurts to add color to your plate! Ensuring meals have a variety of fruits and vegetables is key to a balanced diet for both your body and mind. Berries are a great choice to add as they are a source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also contain flavonoids, which are the natural pigments that give the berries their dazzling color. Research shows that eating berries can improve memory, so grab some blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries the next time you are at the store.
These are a healthy, plant-based sources full of iron, zinc, protein, and fiber – all benefitting brain development. A versatile and nutritious class that includes beans, peas, and lentils has been linked to better memory and thinking skills. Most recommendations call for at least three servings per week. We can boost intake by having a few meatless meals each week or including them on the side with a small portion of an animal-based protein.
Many shy away from avocados due to their high-fat content, but it’s important to know that avocados are full of goodness. They are packed with monounsaturated fats (the ‘good’ fat), which have been shown to keep our brains healthy and stabilize blood sugar levels. They are also high in protein, low in sugar, and packed full of vitamins which are all good for our brain health.
Another healthy habit that goes a long way is swapping out refined carbs with whole-grain options. Whole grains are complex carbs that break down slowly in our bodies and release sugars gradually (that is a good thing!). They have plenty of health benefits, including positive impacts on our brain health. Skip the simple carbs that are loaded with sugar and opt for healthier alternatives like steel-cut oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread and pastas.
It turns out that munching on a few walnuts a day may help improve your cognitive health. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which are known to improve mental awareness. They are also a great source of protein and healthy fats. Diets rich in these types of foods have been linked to lower blood pressure – a win-win combination for both our heart and brain! Go ahead and grab a handful of walnuts or other nuts such as almonds, pistachios and cashews.
You are welcome! For those with a sweet tooth, we have something for you too. Chocolate is full of flavonols, which are known to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But don’t go grabbing any kind of chocolate at the store. Most is processed and not considered healthy for the body or mind. Make sure you select a minimally processed dark chocolate with at least 70 percent of cocoa to get your sweet tooth fix and its brain benefits!
It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of adults over the age of 50 take a supplement to improve their brain health. Marketing of these products promises enhanced memory and sharper focus. Among the most used supplements marketed to improve brain health are those that fall into the category of ‘nootropics.’ They are considered non-addictive substances that help the brain work more efficiently.
These include supplements made with ingredients such as:
But the question is, are these claims true? The main issue with all over-the-counter supplements is the lack of regulation and research. Currently, there is not enough evidence on isolated vitamins or minerals and their impact on brain health. Still, this doesn’t mean that the brain supplements don’t work - do your research and talk with your doctor before adding anything to your regime.
Many find it easier to take a pill, rather than make lasting lifestyle changes. But overall, your best bet is to invest in making long-term habit changes like increased exercise and following a more plant-based diet. These can help improve brain health long-term more than any supplement!
Caffeine in your morning cup of joe or tea may offer more than just a short-term attention boost. Several research studies have shown more caffeine consumption led to better scores on mental function tests and can help solidify new memories. But before taking the initiative to add in several cups to boost brain health, check with your doctor!
Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. It helps to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, balance blood sugar and reduce mental stress, all of which can help your brain and heart.
Strong social interactions have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy. Connecting with loved ones, friends, and community groups is a great way to reduce stress, and depression and have fun!
Consecutive hours of sleep play an important part in your brain health. During sleep our brain works to repair itself, so don’t skip the shuteye our bodies and mind need. If you struggle to get quality sleep talk to your healthcare provider.
Any mentally stimulating activity can help to build up your brain. Try reading a book, taking a new course or trying word puzzles. Experiment with things that require manual skill such as drawing, painting, sewing, and crafts.
Just as there is no magic pill to prevent health decline, there is not a supreme brain food or activity that can guarantee a sharp brain as you age. We emphasize that a healthy diet, along with other healthy habits like exercise and sleep is the goal. If you are not ready to commit to a total health overhaul, incorporating some of the tips discussed above can still have a lot of benefits.