You cannot understate the brain's role in the body. Each food a person consumes has an impact on the brain’s development, maintenance, and function that will eventually determine how the body functions. Whether you're concerned about your child's cognitive health or thinking of improving your mental health, diet is relevant to the brain.
Your brain equates to roughly 2% of your body weight but uses ~20% of your daily energy. It is important that you provide it with the right nutrients to allow it to function at its peak. Thankfully, many of the nutrients that are part of a healthy brain diet are easily accessible for most people. Studies show that foods enriched with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, flavanols, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids are brain boosters.
1. Eggs: Improve concentration and cognition
Eggs contain vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. Combined these compounds have the “superpower” to reduce the blood's homocysteine level. High homocysteine content in the blood may make you vulnerable to health conditions such as stroke, cognitive impairment, feeling lethargic and Alzheimer's disease. A study carried out on seniors with minor cognitive impairment suggests that the consumption of high amounts of vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid lowered the concentration of blood homocysteine; leading to a reduced rate of brain shrinkage compared to the control group.
Other vitamins that can boost brain function are B1 (Thiamine), B3 (Niacin), and choline. Choline is found in the egg yolk and is a precursor of the brain signaling molecule acetylcholine, that plays an important role in memory and concentration.
2. Fatty Fish (Such as Salmon): Promote health brain function
Some fatty acids cannot be formed by the body leaving us no choice but to ingest them through food or supplement. Fatty fish contain large quantities of the Omega 3 EFAs (essential fatty acids). The two main omega-3 EFA’s we usually hear about are DHA and EPA, with new research suggesting each provides different health benefits.
Other fatty fish in which you can find high concentrations of EFA’s are trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers. You can also find these fatty acids in soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds, as well as their respective oils. These EFAs are beneficial to your brain, heart, joints, and general well-being.
Current research suggests that dementias such as Alzheimer’s may be associated with low DHA levels , while heart health may be affected by low concentrations of EPA. Thankfully fatty fish like salmon are enriched with DHA and EPA, which are also associated with stress reduction and with boosting the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for euphoria.
3. Leafy Greens: Improve memory and focus
Leafy greens contain high concentrations of folic acid and magnesium, two essential nutrients for brain function. They are great brain boosters shown to improve memory and focus, and they may even alleviate depression and insomnia. Mood swings caused by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are also moderated by the levels of folate and magnesium in the body. Maintaining adequate levels of these nutrients is important to support brain development in the young and to mitigate cognitive decline as we age. Recent research even suggests that a diet rich in magnesium improves overall life expectancy.
4. Blueberries: Increase blood flow and may reduce cognitive impairment
Most berries are beneficial to brain health, with darker fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and red grapes providing greater benefits. The reason for this is that the darker fruits have higher concentrations of polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants. Blueberries especially the wild varieties, contain some of the highest quantities of brain-boosting ingredients. Blueberries contain vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and phytonutrients, which increase blood flow in the body. The nutrients also increase oxygen absorption in the brain for focus and concentration. Research suggests that daily consumption of blueberries over a 12-week period improves memory and reduces the risk of age-related cognitive impairment. Blueberries may also reduce anxiety and depression with their antioxidants and anti-inflammation properties.
5. Nuts: Improve cognitive performance
Nuts contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. This nutrient reduces cognitive impairment, inflammation, and oxidative stress which play a role in age related cognitive decline and dementia. According to recent studies, eating a handful of nuts twice a day can improve brain health and keep your reaction speed up to par later in life. If the cognitive health benefits of nuts were not good enough, another study suggests that daily consumption of nuts may reduce certain genetic aspects of aging, improving lifespan by up to two years of those in the study.
There are many suggested diets on the internet that claim to increase brain function and overall cognitive health. With that said, we understand that everyone’s body is different and that there is not a single diet that would be best for everyone. We suggest that you consume everything in moderation and that you can add some of the amazing foods listed above to your current diet for long-term cognitive health. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the palate for a specific food listed, as there are many alternatives that provide similar benefits. Do your research and consult a physician when necessary.