- Natalie Collins
Food for thought - eating for our brains
We all know how eating well with well-balanced meals is important for our general health and wellbeing. We don’t need to be told how beneficial leafy green vegetables are for us. However, we might not know about the beneficial properties of some nutrients that have a positive effect on our brainpower.
In fact, our brain is directly linked to our guts so that the nutrients that are processed in our stomach and intestine have a direct effect on our neural activity, thus impacting positively or negatively our cognitive functioning and mental wellbeing. We can experience this both in the short term, with changes in our mood and in our ability to concentrate and process information, as well as in the longer term, with an impact on our brain functioning during ageing. Food can not only boost our memory and give us mental energy but also protect our brains from degenerative diseases.
“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain.” Martina Ratto, Beingwell's Cognitive Scientist
Most of the time we can find good nutrients for our brain in our everyday meals, with no need to take extra supplements, and we might be surprised to find them in some unexpected (and delicious) foods:
The reason why fish such as tuna and salmon are often called ‘brain food’ is because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce cognitive decline as well as having positive effects on memory. If Japanese cuisine is one of our guilty pleasures, that’s good news: Sashimi Saturday can still be part of our healthy habits - with some moderation on the salty soy sauce, and our brain will benefit in the long term as much as our palate will enjoy in the short term.
Although fish is a great source of omega-3, there are alternatives if we are vegetarian or if fish isn't to our taste: nuts like walnuts contain large amounts of it. We can insert a few walnuts into our diet either as a healthy snack during breaks or within salads for lunch. The Beingwell family love this walnut and banana loaf recipe.
Yes, chocolate can be good for us! Eating healthily doesn’t mean having to go without a little bit of chocolate. Dark chocolate is the right one to choose as it has got less sugar and fats. It is loaded with organic compounds that function as antioxidants, such as flavonoids. These can enhance cognitive performance and improve mood, acting as natural antidepressants. Very wisely J.K. Rowling identified chocolate as the best cure against Dementors!
Spices have the magic of making our meals tasty but also have the power of enhancing and protecting our brains. Different spices have all different beneficial properties for our wellbeing. For example, cinnamon is recognised to be able to maintain and preserve our memory, while turmeric is able to slow down cognitive decline. Our weekly curry night is also saved!
We can eat tasty food even avoiding high levels of fat and cholesterol in our diet, which are linked with developing brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, while increasing our risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, which are all known to contribute to memory loss.
The Mediterranean diet is often used as the prime example of a heart-healthy diet and benefits our brain fitness. This is because ingredients in the Mediterranean diet often include fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, olive oil, whole grains and cereals, which can improve our cognitive abilities and preserve them across the lifespan. Also, one glass of red wine per day (no more than that!) is another good source of flavonoids, like chocolate and green tea. Want more ideas on how to make simple changes? Have a read here.
If we were thinking that summer is not a good time to start improving our eating habits, we have no more excuses: whether we're on holiday on the Mediterranean coast or in Bridlington, we can find plenty of delicious food to feed our brains.
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