Most people understand that diet affects your weight and physical appearance. It is possible, however, that you’re depriving the most important part of your body, the brain, if you’re avoiding certain foods. And this can have a significant effect on brain function.
Dr Lisa Mosconi sums up research into diet and brain function simply: ‘If your job depends on your brain, then it depends on your diet’. Mosconi goes on to say that a person’s diet doesn’t just affect their working performance. It also impacts thought, action, behaviour and emotion.
This means that the benefits of having a healthy brain go beyond business and employment. A healthy brain can improve your mood, motivation and problem solving skills. Consider this, the brain is 80% water and when dehydrated by just 2% will begin to shrink and slow, affecting attention and memory. Similarly, not giving your brain the nutrients it needs will lead to decreased cognitive performance.
With this in mind, this article will provide the reader with a detailed list of 7 foods that are good for your brain.
Firstly, and a familiar brain-food, is fish. Salmon, mackerel and other fatty fish are the best for cognitive function due to their unique nutritional contents. The main components that help the brain are omega-3 fats (for general brain function), choline (for forming memories) and vitamins B6 and 12 (for maintaining the nervous system).
In a separate study, Mosconi found that people who eat fish just once a week are 70% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life, with Omega-3 being the most prevalent nutrient. For vegans, don’t panic. There are a number of alternative sources including seeds, olive oil, almonds (see below) and more.
Along with other dark or leafy greens, spinach is an excellent choice for brain and body function. Research has shown that those with higher levels of homocysteine were at greater risk of developing alzheimer's disease. High homocysteine levels are attributed to a low intake of folate and vitamin B12, both of which are found in spinach and leafy greens.
When it comes to your brain, B12 plays a more important role than you might think. It is used to maintain sheaths that cover the central and peripheral nervous system and ensures a fast nerve-impulse transmission. Spinach is also one of the best vegetables for protein and is often included in ‘super food’ lists.
Another ‘super food’ that makes it into this brain-boosting list are blueberries. They are frequently revered for their effects on physical performance and high levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants. But blueberries do even more than that!
An experiment into alzheimer's was conducted on aging rats and showed that those who were fed blueberries displayed increased short-term memory and motor-skills. The research was expanded to human trials and found that ‘consistent supplementation with blueberries may...forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration’. This means that middle-aged readers should seriously consider adding blueberries to their diet.
Dried raisins are an easy and beneficial snack to eat throughout the day. They are filled with boron, a nutrient that is advantageous for energy levels, bone and muscle health, the immune system and the brain.
In a similar study to the previously mentioned, just 3.2 milligrams of boron was found to increase the attention and memory of participants by up to ten percent. Raisins are considered one of the healthiest snacks you can have, but it isn’t the only source of boron. Apples and nuts are also rich in the nutrient and can improve brain function.
Broccoli is another vegetable that usually finds itself on healthy food lists. As well as having a relatively high protein content, broccoli also contains a plant pigment called lutein, which has been linked to ‘crystallised intelligence’.
Psychologists split intelligence into two types; fluid and crystallised. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve new problems, independent of any knowledge from the past; while crystallised intelligence is used to solve problems based on memory and experience. Research shows that lutein can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease because of this.
As mentioned earlier, almonds contain omega-3 which benefits general brain health. However, almonds have another nutrient that helps brain function.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant which has been found to decrease cognitive decline in later life, including attention and memory. Almonds are also filled with B vitamins and fatty acids, which can lower cholesterol and the chances of high blood pressure.
Almonds provide a combination of Vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and calcium, which is proven to increase testosterone production. This is especially useful for middle-aged men as testosterone levels begin to drop due to a hormonal change known as andropause (similar to menopause).
7. Raw cacao
Raw cacao is another food that can help your body. For the brain, raw cacao has been shown to be beneficial in the following ways: protection (encouraging proteins that protect nerves) and growth (producing another protein that is used to grow and repair damaged nerves).
High-flavanol cacao also dilates the blood-vessels, increasing blood flow to the brain and body. This effect is shared with blueberries and is part of the reason they are considered to be a ‘super food’.
These seven foods are hugely beneficial and can certainly be good for your brain. Research into the effects of their contents shows that they can lower the risk of mental degeneration in later life as well as improve short-term cognitive function. It is important to remember that regardless of what you eat, if your brain is dehydrated then it will not function to its full capability. So make sure that while you’re filling your diet with brain-healthy foods, you are also drinking plenty of water.