While the continuous buzz from fad diets, new alleged “superfoods,” and must-try weight loss supplements can be overwhelming, connections between your diet and the health of your brain are undeniable. Despite what those Instagram ads promise, there’s no magical solution to combat the fact that cognitive decline is real. However, what is true is that our behaviors (a big part of those being diet) can vastly accelerate — or decelerate! — the aging process of your brain.
“Your brain is involved in everything you do,” Dr. Daniel Amen, physician and founder of Amen Clinics, said during a TEDx Talk. “How you think, how you act, how you get along with other people.” And even though your brain is only around 2 percent of your body’s weight. It is very energy intensive and uses 20 to 30 percent of the calories you consume.
“Of the breakfast that you had this morning, or the lunch you had this afternoon, almost a third of it goes to feed 2 percent of your body’s weight,” he said. “Your brain is the most expensive real estate in your body.”
On average you will lose 85,000 brain cells a day and according to Amen Clinics, you can tweak your diet to slow down the aging process.
The Standard American Diet, also known as the “SAD Diet,” which is a combination of high carbohydrates, processed sugar, and saturated fats, is not only associated with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It is associated with depression, attentional problems and Alzheimer's disease, says Amen.
“Food is medicine or it is poison.”
So, what are some of the top foods to help boost cognitive function and promote long-term brain health?
The 7 Best Brain Foods:
1. Eggs: Eggs are rich in B-Vitamins, which can help slow cognitive decline, says Bill Bradley, registered dietitian and CEO at Mediterranean Living.
“They help lower levels of homocysteine, which can be linked to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Eggs also contain choline, which creates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood and memory.”
2. Turmeric-infused foods: The major ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been linked to positive effects on the brain, says Brian Jones, Fitness Expert and CEO/Founder of Best in Edmonton.
“The blood-brain barrier can be crossed by the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemical curcumin. In studies, it has lessened Alzheimer's and depressive symptoms. More research is required, but it might help postpone the effects of aging on the brain. Even if adding turmeric to your food may be advantageous,” he said.
3. Fish rich in omega 3: The gray matter in your brain, which aids in memory processing, naturally declines with age, said Jones.
“The amount of gray matter in your brain can be boosted by omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines are a few examples of fish and seafood products you should incorporate into your diet.”
4. Whole grains: These include whole wheat bread, oats, brown rice, quinoa and more.
“Whole grain foods provide vitamins and minerals like folate (folic acid), magnesium and selenium that are important for keeping your body healthy overall so that it can better protect against damage in the brain as well as support its growth when you're young,” said Amber Dixon, and I’m the CEO of Elderly Assist Inc., an organization that focuses on providing assistance to the elderly/seniors people.
5. Spinach: This leafy green vegetable is packed with vitamins A, C and E — all essential nutrients for preserving brain health in general. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin — carotenoids that help protect vision from age-related macular degeneration, Dixon said.
6. Dark chocolate: This is one of the best things you can eat to keep your brain sharp. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which help to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain. It also contains antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, which can damage cells in your brain.
7. Walnuts: A 2015 study from UCLA linked higher walnut consumption to improved cognitive scores on tests. Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been linked to lower blood pressure and cleaner arteries.
Foods to Consume in Moderation:
The list of foods to avoid — or consume in healthy moderation — is broad and includes a number of refined carbs including but not limited to white bread, white pasta, butter, breaded foods, fried foods, fast food, industrial foods, and foods that contain large amounts of processed sugar, said Physiotherapist Marco Castenetto.
There are additional lifestyle changes you can make that can help you improve brain function. These include increasing physical activities like aerobic exercises which can improve cerebral blood flow, memory performance, and improve intelligence, said Castenetto. Or increasing water intake and ensuring your sleep schedule is regular.
A healthy diet is important for reasons beyond brain health, keep in mind that incorporating many foods labeled as “brain healthy” into your diet can result in a reduced risk of high blood pressure, strokes, cancer and more. As Dr. Amen says: “You are consuming the nutrients that are helping you or the toxins that harm you.”
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