Author: Jeevitha Ramesh
“The food we eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
We are what we eat. This does not mean we transform into the food we eat, but our nutritional choices certainly play a crucial role in our overall health. The food we eat influences our physical, mental and even emotional well-being. A poor diet can cause conditions such as hypertension, heart and blood vessels diseases, obesity, and diabetes. We can say that nutritious foods are not just good for bodies; they are also good for the brain as well. The brain is the control center of the human body as it regulates the heartbeat, breathing, thinking and other aspects of an individual. It is, therefore, necessary to keep the brain in peak working conditions.
Our brain absorbs nutrients from the foods we eat just like our body. Unhealthy diets can increase the risk of psychiatric and neurologic conditions, such as depression and dementia, whereas healthy diets can protect us against such conditions. The foods we consume can help in maintaining brain health. It can decrease the risk of developing neurological problems or cognitive issues like memory loss, attention problems, etc., in later life.
The right foods improve brain function like memory, concentration, focus, attention, etc. For example, foods with antioxidants protect the brain from oxidative stress caused by unstable molecules (free radicals), and other foods with vitamins (Vit E) can boost brain development.
As there is no magic pill to improve the brain capacity and keep it active, there is no single food that can ensure a healthy brain as we age. Nutritionists emphasize a healthy dietary pattern that includes many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains as the most important strategy to follow for a healthy brain.
Research shows that the best brain foods protect the heart and blood vessels, as they help in carrying the right amount of oxygen to the brain for its optimal functioning. Let us now look into some of the "superfoods" that can help to boost brainpower.
Green, leafy vegetables:
Green vegetables like Broccoli, spinach, etc., have ample amounts of nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. These vitamins act as neuroprotective and help the brain against mental decline.
The fat-soluble vitamin K present in green vegetables helps in sphingolipid formation, which is a type of fat that helps to form new brain cells and maintain brain structure.
Broccoli has anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants, which help in rebuilding the damaged neural cells in the brain.
Flavonoids, the natural pigment present in blueberries give brilliant colour to the fruit. It helps improve memory, attention and learning by enabling communication between brain cells.
A study at Harvard's Brigham women's Hospital showed that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years.
Blueberries also have antioxidants that help against stress, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
Fruits like oranges, kiwi, guava, and strawberries have high vitamin c. This vitamin C helps in producing noradrenaline (helps in controlling hypotension) in the brain.
Study shows that having foods with high levels of vitamin C is associated with improvements in focus, memory and attention.
Whole grains like barley, oatmeal, and brown rice have vitamin E, which is used to protect and preserve healthy cells.
Vitamin E preserves brain function and prevents neurodegeneration by protecting brain cells.
A 2014 study found that high amounts of vitamin E helped people with mild Alzheimer’s disease.
Nuts are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats, and also improve memory.
All nuts have a positive impact on brain health, but walnuts seem to have an edge.
Walnuts are high in alpha-linolenic acid, it is a type of omega-3 fatty acid.
Research shows that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved heart health by lowering blood pressure and clean arteries. A healthy heart is linked with a healthy brain!
Nuts with vitamin E like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, etc., are shown to protect brain cells against free radical damage and slow down mental decline.
Dark chocolate has a good amount of cocoa. Cocoa has flavonoids in it, which will help in improved blood flow to the brain. Also, benefit overall mental performance.
The brain can be susceptible to oxidative stress, which may contribute to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. Antioxidants in cocoa help the brain against such stress.
Cocoa also helps neurons and blood vessels to grow in parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. Also stimulates blood flow within the brain.
The bottom line is that many foods can help keep the brain healthy. By strategically including these foods in our diet we can help and support brain health, improve mood, alertness, memory, and focus. In addition to this, including aerobic exercise, taking up new challenges, playing games (like chess or sudoku), engaging in social activities can keep the brain active and healthy.
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