Written by Josh Horsman
We all know that eating healthy foods is good for our physical health. Most of us will try and follow a nutritious diet or limit our consumption of unhealthy foods to occasional treats in order to stay in peak physical condition. But you may not know that in doing this, you are also keeping your brain healthy too. Science has long suggested links between the foods we eat and the power of our brains, but in recent years, research has strengthened these links. It is now known that diet not only plays a role in helping your brain to function effectively in day-to-day life, but it can also help protect your brain from cognitive conditions like Dementia!
Here's a useful guide to some of the best brain-healthy diets and foods:
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet has been called the ‘world’s healthiest diet’ involves increasing your consumption of vegetables, fish and nuts, reducing your intake of red meat, sweets and white bread and use of olive oil. The diet’s nutritional benefits are derived from the high amount of plant-based proteins and promotion of healthier ‘monounsaturated’ fats over saturated fats.
A study, published in the Neurology journal found that, when measured over a 3-year period, those who stuck to the diet lost less ‘brain volume’ than those who didn’t. Brain volume is lost when the brain begins to shrink as part of the natural ageing process. Brain cells are slowly lost as part of this, and brain health and memory can be affected.
The Mind Diet
The MIND diet emerged from a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, where two prominent diets were combined - The mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. The researchers combined the elements of these diets which were thought to be beneficial for brain health and created the MIND diet. Some 960 participants were involved in the study, over a 5 year period, which ultimately concluded that following the MIND diet strictly decreased their likelihood of being diagnosed with Dementia by up to 52%! These results clearly add significant weight to the links between brain health and diet, and go some way towards proving that healthy eating can be a factor in preventing Dementia.
The MIND Diet itself isn’t really much of a diet at all, at least not in the same way as others you may have tried before. The diet only emerged in 2015, and so proper guidelines on how to follow the diet are still being developed. Instead the diet currently consists of a list of ‘healthy’ foods which followers are encouraged to eat, and a list of ‘unhealthy’ foods which should be avoided. See below for a full list. If following the MIND diet, you should aim to maximise your intake of the healthy foods and significantly reduce your intake of the unhealthy foods.
Other Brain-Boosting Foods
Here are some other foods which are notable for their brain-boosting properties:
Blueberries are a genuine superfood. Not only are they high in antioxidants which decrease the stress cells in the brain associated with ageing and cognitive decline, they have also been proven to boost concentration and memory, keeping your brain active and alert. Blueberries are also bursting with other nutrients such as vitamins C and E.
Often dismissed by dieters as a ‘fatty fruit’, Avocado is actually full of mono-saturated ‘good fats’ which help to decrease unhealthy cholesterol and defend your body against the risk of a stroke by keeping blood pressure low.
Folate in avocado also help to fight the formation of nerve fibres associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
It turns out your mother had a point when she told you to eat your greens all those years ago!
Broccoli is packed full of vitamin K, a powerful nutrient, rarely found in multivitamins, that boosts general cognitive health and brain function as well as helping fight of heart disease and certain cancers!
Broccoli is also full of choline which has been shown to improve and sharpen memory, and folic acid which defends your body against Alzheimer’s.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are not only another fantastic source of ‘good fats’ but also, even more importantly, packed full of nutrients like zinc and magnesium.
Zinc is essential to communication within the brain and directly improves the ability to learn and aids memory function. Magnesium, meanwhile, fight stress and improves brain function.