Eating a healthy and nutritious diet is good for your physical well-being as well as for your mental health. Paying attention to your diet, especially “brain food” can pay off by protecting you against age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Consuming a daily dose of brain-healthy food gives you the best chance of getting all the nutrients required for cognitive health. Here’s a look at the good and the bad when it comes to “brain food”:
Research from the past several years suggests that consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids (found in olive oil, rice bran oil, avocados, and nuts), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs; found in nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy green vegetables), and supplements containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) decreases depression risk over time.
Low levels of PUFAs may increase the risk of developing postpartum depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); findings from trials have shown that these fats were used successfully to address ADHD symptoms. Increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption enhances working memory in teenagers.
Oily, cold-water fish like salmon, trout and mackerel are especially good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. 2 servings a week are associated with a modest but clinically significant reduction in stroke risk and psychotic symptoms.
Adhering to Mediterranean dietary patterns specifically a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and fish and high in unsaturated fat, is associated with a 30% reduction in depression risk when compared with meat and dairy-heavy diets and diets that are high in trans-fatty acids. Mediterranean diet along with exercise has also been associated with a lower risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease.
Consumption of flavanones found in high concentrations in grapefruits and oranges and lycopene that is a potent antioxidant found in tomatoes is associated with a lower risk for ischemic stroke. Polyphenols, namely anthocyanins, found in berries and other darkly pigmented fruits and vegetables may slow cognitive decline (a process linked to memory loss) by reducing oxidative stress.
Probiotics, which are live bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive system, are now often promoted as an important part of dietary supplements and natural food products. Studies suggest that depression is also associated with an alteration in the gut bacteria. Psychobiotics are good bacteria that have the potential to increase microbial diversity and treat the symptoms of depression. These bacteria are capable of producing and delivering neuro active substances such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin, which act on the brain-gut axis.
Coffee might be the original wonder drug. A study shows that people who drink coffee are 10% less likely to develop depression, possibly by altering serotonin and dopamine activity and through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Dark chocolate causes a reduction in blood pressure and lower risk for stroke. The flavonols in dark chocolate are likely to contribute to the reported benefits by scavenging free radicals. But always check the label, as some processed chocolate contains trans-fats and sugar, which should be avoided.
Various studies have shown how overly sweet, unhealthy foods affect the brain. Diets high in fructose can impair cognitive function. High fructose consumption can disrupt the signalling of the insulin receptors and reduce the action of insulin in the brain. Fructose consumption modulates the pathways involved in appetite regulation and encourages overeating. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar raises the risk for mild cognitive impairment in the elderly. Processed red meat is associated with a higher risk for stroke, while poultry was associated with a reduced risk. Meat quality might also be a factor.
For better brain health,
Include: Essential fats found in olive/ricebran oil, nuts, flaxseed, fish, moderate amounts (maximum 1-2 servings) of fruit, dark chocolate, probiotics, red wine and coffee, larger helpings of colourful vegetables. Increase physical activity. Sleep also seems to enhance memory and learning as it has been seen that the brain clears toxins during sleep.