Eating a nutritious and balanced diet is not only good for our physical health but also our mental health. But which foods are particularly beneficial to our cognitive function?
Whilst there is no single ‘super brain food’ to keep us sharp as a tack as we age, there are certain foods rich in beneficial components such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants which have long been linked to support brain health and therefore often referred to as ‘brain foods’.
When people think of brain food fatty fish is often the first to come to mind.
Fatty fish are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids – an essential fatty acid that must be obtained through the diet. Omega-3 fats are part of the polyunsaturated fat family and are not only important for healthy brain function but also in the prevention of heart disease and stroke and may help control eczema and rheumatoid arthritis as well as play protective roles in cancer.
There are three main omega-3 fats including:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) & Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), often referred to as marine omega-3s as they are commonly found in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel – aim to include in your diet twice per week
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is your plant-based omega-3, found in vegetable oils including canola as well as ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, hemp an chia seeds
If you’re not a fish fan you can obtain your EPA and DHA through microalgae supplement however it is always best to check with your doctor if this is the right option for you.
Coffee lovers rejoice! You’ll be glad to know that caffeine also made the cut. The caffeine in coffee has a number of positive effects on the brain including:
- increasing your awareness, improving mood as well as concentration.
Don’t be fooled into thinking more is better though, studies have found that one double shot coffee in the morning is sufficient.
Blueberries and other berries such as blackberries contain a protective compound called anthocyanins – promoting anti-inflammatory and antioxidant affects – which have shown to improve short-term memory loss.
Low GI wholegrain cereals, grainy bread, rice and pasta provide a slow release of glucose (the body and brains main fuel source) slowly into the bloodstream to the brain thereby providing a rich energy source. Eating low GI wholegrains across the day will aid in concentration and focus for longer throughout the day than white based breads and cereals.
Turmeric is a yellow spice commonly used in curry powder. The active ingredient curcumin is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound associated with improving memory, reducing depression and aiding in new brain cell growth.
Broccoli is full of beneficial plant compounds including antioxidants and vitamin K which has been linked to enhancing cognitive function and protecting against brain damage.
Incorporating a variety of these foods regularly into a healthy diet can improve your brain health and as such can translate into better mental function. In additional to what we eat, regular daily exercise can also keep our brain sharp by improving cognitive function, slowing down the mental aging process as well as helping us process information more effectively.
Making yourself a priority and ensuring you are getting a varied nutritious diet, fitting in time for movement and exercise, reducing stress and improving sleep are all steps we can make to improve our mental health and capacity.
If you’re struggling day to day and want to feel more alert and energised its time to invest in yourself. Renee Martin is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Activate Health and Fitness and loves nothing more than helping people get the most out of their food and diet. Contact her today for more information.
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