Brain Fuel: Tips for a Brain-Healthy Diet

 

There is strong evidence that there are specific foods we can eat to improve and protect our cognitive function. Brain health can be achieved by eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients such phytochemicals and anti-oxidants. It has been proven that following a heart-healthy diet is as good for the brain as it is for the heart. A heart-healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise and a healthy diet pattern to allow adequate blood flow to the brain.

For example, diet styles such as the Mediterranean and Dash-style diet have been researched and inked to improved cognitive function, memory and alertness. A diet style known as the MIND diet (MEDITERRANEAN- DASH Intervention for Neuro- degenerative Delay) is a combination of both the Mediterranean and Dash-style diet. This diet combination focuses on whole, natural, plant-based foods, with an increased focus on consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables, while limiting animal-based and high saturated fat foods.

The MIND diet has proven beneficial in lowering and slowing rick for and progression of Alzheimer disease (the leading cause of dementia). Research has shown that individuals who followed the MIND diet closely, lowered their risk of Alzheimer disease by up to 53%. Studies of individuals who are following the MIND diet pattern has been suggest that the MIND diet substantially slows cognitive decline with age.

Foods to Fuel Your Brain:

  • Green leafy vegetables & other vegetables
  • Nuts – unsalted
  • Dark berries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish & lean poultry
  • Olive oil
  • …and even small amounts of red wine

Brain-Fuel Nutrients:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids –
    • Found in fish, shellfish, and algae, but especially prevalent in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, menhaden, and sardines, is especially important to brain function.
    • Avoiding saturated and trans fat may be as important as consuming polyunsaturated omega-3 fats.
  • Vitamins –
    • Adequate consumption of vitamins and minerals (B,C,D,E) maintain brain function.
  • B Vitamins –
    • Found in animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and fortified breakfast cereals. Helps with energy production in the brain.
  • Vitamin C –
    • Found in many fruits such as cantaloupe, citrus fruits and juices such as orange and grapefruit, kiwi fruit, mango, papaya, pineapple.strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and watermelon. Helps with energy production in the brain.
  • Vitamin D –
    • Found in cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, raw milk, caviar, eggs and mushrooms.
  • Vitamin E-
    • Found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, blueberries, blackberries, avocados, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, and vegetable oils.
    • Reduces oxidation in the brain.
    • Supplementation with vitamin E must be done safely as taking more than 1,000 IU of vitamin E supplements per day may be unsafe, especially in individuals with cardiovascular disease.
    • Vitamin E supplementation may be risky for people who take blood thinners.
  • Lutein-
    • Found in egg yolk, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale and even avocado is a yellow-pigmented carotenoid linked to brain health and improved memory. May be most beneficial in combination with Omega-3-Fatty Acid consumption.
  • Polyphenols –
    • Found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, juices, and some herbs.
    • High in antioxidants, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Curcumin –
    • Curcumin is the polyphenolic compound curcumin that provides the yellow pigment to turmeric (often used as an ingredient in traditional Indian curries).
    • High in antioxidants, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Resveratrol –
    • Found in grapes, wine, peanuts, and some berries.
    • Helps to eliminate free radicals, improving brain health.
  • Catechins –
    • Found in green, white, oolong, black and Pu-erh tea.
    • Highest concentration found in green tea.
    • Potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Overall, consuming a well balanced diet that is rich in the protective nutrients listed above it the best way to fuel and maintain brain health!

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Carlyn Blevins for her contributions to this post.