Food For The Brain

Published by Sydney O'Connor on

Brain disorders and cognitive decline are often accepted as factors of life. But, there are steps we can take through our diet and lifestyle to mitigate the risk of both. In this week’s nutrition cafe, Ann-Marie highlighted how we can help our brains through choices on what we put on our plates. 

Harmful Lifestyle Choices On the Brain 

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way- excessive drinking and smoking damages brain function directly. When thinking about the harmful effects of smoking we often think of it’s impact on the mouth, throat and lungs, but it’s also been found that smoking cigarettes can lead to a 70% increase risk in dementia. High salt intake can indirectly impact our brain, as it can increase the risk of strokes, which in turn increases the chance of dementia. Another thing you should consider is your vitamin B levels– low levels have been linked with depression and poorer brain health:

  • Vitamin B12 is one you might’ve heard of, and good sources include eggs, fish and milk. If you don’t consume animal products, it’s highly recommended that you supplement this vitamin. 
  • Folate is a B vitamin that helps us to use the energy from our foods, and can be found in leafy greens, kidney beans and chickpeas. 
  • Vitamin B6 also helps to use and store the protein and energy from our diet. It can be found in poultry, fruits and vegetables and oats, for example. 

Protective Lifestyle Choices For The Brain 

Fortunately, there are many steps we can take to protect healthy cognitive function. Here’s the ones we mentioned in the session:

  • Being active-whether you go for a walk, join in with one of our free classes, or do some vigorous housework, being active will improve mood, increase wellbeing, and improve your quality of sleep. Being active, and particularly learning new skills and trying new things, alters memory and learning mechanisms for improved cognition. So your brain gets a workout at the same time as your body!
  • Brain stimulation– anything that uses your brain in challenging and novel ways will be good for learning and memory. This can include puzzles, reading and even socialising!
  • Healthy diet- variety of nutrients is essential for a healthy body, and thus a healthy brain. Check out our previous blog on this. 
  • Omega 3 fatty acids– the dry weight of the brain is almost 60% fat, so it follows that healthy fats like omega 3 fatty acids will be beneficial for brain function. You can find omega 3 in olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs and oily fish, and proper intake is linked with lower levels of depression. 

The Mediterranean Diet 

If there’s one way of eating that incorporates all of these healthy brain food habits, then it’s the Mediterranean diet. Research shows that it also lowers the risk of various cancers and cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet consists of mostly:

  • Fruits and vegetables 
  • Legumes 
  • Healthy wholegrains 
  • Fatty fish- herring, pilchards, salmon, sardines, spats, trout, mackerel. Tuna doesn’t count!  

This doesn’t mean you have to skip your Sunday roast, or abstain from bacon buttys, but incorporating more of these foods into your diet can do your brain and body a favour in the long term. 

The Gut 

Most commonly, the gut is known for its role in digesting fiber, producing vitamins (B vitamins, K), defending against harmful bugs and playing a role in immune function.  

However, increasing research shows that there is a link between the gut and the brain which goes both ways, how we eat affects our brain and how we feel affects our gut. Did you know that 90% of ‘feel good hormone’ serotonin is located in the gut?

How we can keep our guts and brains happy and healthy:

  • Eating fermented foods like yogurt which contain probiotics (helpful bacteria essentially!)
  • Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and getting plenty of fiber and prebiotics (types of fiber that feed the helpful bacteria) 

Tips On Healthy Aging :

This weeks recipe:

Fish Pie 

Table from the British Nutrition Foundation on Living Long and Healthily 

I’m sad to say that this was the final nutrition session with Ann-Marie, those who have followed along will agree that it’s been an absolute pleasure! If you missed any of the previous sessions, you can catch up on them here:

Week 1: What Is A Healthy Plate?

Week 2: Fiber Facts

Week 3: Staying Strong

Week 4: Hydration Facts

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