We often hear from clients their main goal is to eat healthy, feel fit, lose weight, and look and feel confident in their own bodies. Rarely does a client walk through our door looking for tips to improve their brain function to prevent depression, anxiety, or even Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to note that nutrition plays a critical role in your brain health. Eating certain foods can help improve memory, reduce “brain fog”, and overall help reduce the risk for depression or other mood disorders. Let’s face it, the happier we are, the more likely we are to exercise and eat healthy. It’s also good to note there are key nutrients that can help our brains function properly.
It's a great time to start thinking about brain health, as depression and anxiety often set in around the time of the Holidays. Continue reading to learn more about the top 10 foods that can help your brain function properly.
We can’t stress enough the importance of fish consumption. The reason it benefits your brain is due to its high EPA and DHA omega-3 content. These types of fats cannot be made in the body, thus you must consume them. Every cell relies on omega-3’s to carry out essential functions in the body. In regards to brain health, it helps activate and enhance brain activity, thus providing your brain essential nutrients to function properly. Aim for a 4 ounce serving twice per week of salmon, cod, haddock, tuna, or halibut. Not a fish lover? Consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement of up to 1,000 mg per day. Allergic to fish? Skip down to #4 on nuts and seeds; there is more than one way to consume omega-3’s, however, fish is one of the best sources.
Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, you name it. Berries are full of antioxidants which have been shown to reduce aging in the brain. Realistically, people should consume antioxidant rich foods on a daily basis. Help yourself to these healthy and sweet treats. Need more information on how to eat berries? Click here for 5 new ways!
3. Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins
Spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, anything green and leafy provides a substantial amount of antioxidants which, again, can delay aging in the brain. They are also full of fiber, which benefits the gut microbiota. Research indicates a strong gut microbiome can impact neurotransmitter responses and even reduce inflammation, which in turn can help protect the brain against aging.
4. Nuts and Seeds
Unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts) and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, sunflower) provide essential vitamin E which is an antioxidant to prevent aging and improve brain function. Walnuts, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds provide additional options for omega-3 intake.
This delicious, creamy fruit is high in monounsaturated fats. These types of fats help improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure. Healthy, constant blood flow to the brain helps it work properly. It is also high in fiber, which again can impact the gut microbiome. Try replacing butter with avocado on toast in the morning, adding to smoothies, or simply eating it as a snack. They are high in calorie, so make sure to consume the proper serving size (¼ of a large avocado).
6. Whole Grains
If you’ve ever seen the dinosaur inspired animated movie “We’re Back A Dinosaur’s Story” you know what “Brain Grain” is. This is a good way to remember that whole grains can offer our brain (specifically our memory and mood) support. Whole grains provide essential B vitamins which help to reduce inflammation and promote energy in the body and brain. They are also rich in fiber, which can improve the gut microbiome as well. Try combining brain boosting foods by toasting whole wheat bread or an English muffin, add ¼ avocado as a spread, and have ½ cup berries on the side.
7. Dark Chocolate, Green Tea, and Coffee
Rich in flavonoids, which is a class of phytonutrients, dark chocolate, green tea, and coffee help improve cognition and could reduce inflammation. Black coffee and green tea have been shown to improve memory and potentially reduce the risk for dementia. All three are great can be incorporated into your eating routine daily. Limit coffee to 3 cups or les per day, and avoid sugar-filled chocolate.
Here’s where we get to mention a little bit about vitamin D. Research indicates vitamin D can impact mood and overall brain health. However, the only great source we can obtain vitamin D is through direct sunlight. There are some foods that contain vitamin D, including eggs. This protein packed food is also good for providing the brain vitamins B and E. Make sure to eat the yolk; this is where the nutrients are. Like the avocado, eggs still need to be eaten in the correct serving size. Aim for no more than 2 eggs per day.
9. Yogurt & Other Probiotic-Rich Foods
Consuming adequate amounts of probiotic-rich foods have been shown to reduce inflammation, anxiety, and sign of distress in regards to brain health. Having a good balance of good bacteria in the gut improves the Microbiota-Brain-Gut-Axis which can help reduce inflammation in the body and improve mood and memory. A good healthy dose of yogurt or kefir daily can take care of this recommendation. Remember, prebiotics (think fiber) help “feed” probiotics. Remember to consume green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruit (specifically berries) in addition to yogurt or kefir daily.
10. Red Wine
Raise a glass for the health benefits of resveratrol! This antioxidant has been shown to reduce cell damage and prevent plaque buildup in the brain. What does all this mean? It helps reduce aging, boosts memory, and improve mood. A 5-ounce serving of red wine is preferable, as it has the most amount of resveratrol. Women can have one drink per day, and men two. Not a wine drinker? Go ahead and have the same serving of grape juice daily.
Looking for more information on how some of these nutrients impact the brain specifically, how it affects us throughout the lifecycle, how much to consume, and even herbs and supplements that can help reduce depression and anxiety? Keep an eye out for our next blog post which will dive deeper and into more specifics!
If you are interested in learning more, click here to meet with a Registered Dietitian!
Cleveland Clinic Healthy Brains. (n.d.). Retrieved from Food and Nutrition: Useful Tips For a Healthy Brain: https://healthybrains.org/pillar-nutrition/
Dennett, C. (2017, February). Brain Health: Exploring the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis. Today's Dietitian, p. 14.
Harrar, S. (2012, January). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. Today's Dietitian, p. 22.
Swift Madonna, K. (2017, October). Integrative Nutrition Therapy for Mood Disorders. Today's Dietitian, p. 36.