The phrase 'you are what you eat' couldn't be more relevant when it comes to eating for brain health. We can build our diets to change how we look, whether for weight management or skin, nail, or hair health. However, we need to look inside our brains, AKA the body's control centre, which regulates every single process in our body, from head to toe.
Nourishing our control centre will improve our health in more ways than I can outline in this article, including boosting longevity and improving or delaying neurological conditions like Parkinson's, dementia and Alzheimer's.
Eating the right foods to boost brain health can also improve sleep, mental clarity, focus, mood and productivity, to name a few benefits.
Have I caught your attention? Would you like to boost your brain health to become the next Einstein? OK, I can't promise that, but if you would like a bit more focus and productivity in your day, or you wish to focus on hormonal balancing or getting a good night's sleep, read on for a few brain-boosting foods…
You will undoubtedly find fatty fish at the top of every brain-boosting food list. Fatty fish contains DHA, an eicosanoid that helps build our brains right from conception in the womb through to old age. DHA is vital in delaying neurodegenerative diseases and improves cognition and memory1.
Fatty fish contain the most potent sources of dietary DHA, with three servings per week as the adequate intake for brain health. If you would like a controlled and potent dose of omega 3, whether for a neurological boost, preservation or pregnancy to help with foetal brain development2, supplementing may be a good option.
When you think of fatty fish, keep the acronym SMASH in mind when heading to the supermarket3:
Fats will be an ongoing theme throughout this article, seeing as a whopping 60% of our brain is comprised of fats4. Unsurprisingly, dietary fats help build and sustain the brain to help it carry out its endless tasks. Fats in the diet help nourish and 'fill' the brain, helping to reduce grey matter, which shows up on brain scans to indicate brain cell death.
Our hypothalamus, found deep within our brain, controls our pituitary gland, the 'master controller' of our hormones. Since our brains are 60% fat, healthy fats are so great for hormone health and necessary5. Take advantage of healthy fats if you focus on weight loss or management.
Hormonal imbalances can stall weight loss (especially around the middle); therefore, fats help you support your hormones to reach your health goals. This is increasingly important as women head towards menopause to help preserve body composition.
Berries, particularly blueberries, are high in anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that reduce oxidative damage in the brain caused by inflammatory processes6. Anthocyanins have been found in brain cells and have been shown to help neurons fire and communicate with one another, fascinating7!
The brain is as much at risk as the body when it comes to inflammation. Commonly, people think of the body when it comes to inflammation, such as the cardiovascular system or microbiome. However, it is essential to remember that the body is entirely linked. The brain and the body are connected by more pathways than we can imagine. If the body is inflamed, the brain is inflamed.
Another brain-boosting antioxidant, turmeric, is a fantastic herb for brain power.
Curcumin, the active turmeric compound, gives the golden spice its remarkable health properties. Curcumin may potentialy8:
- Help support the blood-brain barrier
- Inhibit brain cell death
- Decrease neurotoxicity in the brain after physical trauma
- Preserve brain function
Curcumin is incredibly difficult to ingest in a high enough dose to provide therapeutic effects. Although turmeric teas and turmeric root are great for anti-inflammatory benefits, I highly recommend supplementing with turmeric if you are looking for a potent, effective dose.
For those on a plant-based diet, walnuts in particular are potent sources of omega 39, and if you admire a walnut for a moment, you can tell that it’s even shaped like a brain. Nature is funny like that.
Although they are found in smaller amounts than walnuts, other nut sources of Omega 3 are:
- Brazil nuts
It is also essential to preface the above by stating that you need to have the enzymes available to convert ALA from nuts into DHA and EPA in the body. Some individuals genetically lack that enzyme. Therefore it may be worth considering supplementing with algae for your omega-3 brain-boosting needs.
Eggs, how I love thee eggs. Eggs are one of the most bioavailable and nutrient-rich sources of protein and healthy fats. Don't let the old-school notion of them containing 'too much cholesterol' deter you. Eggs are medicine inside a shell.
Eggs are one of a few rich sources of dietary choline, which is an often-overlooked nutrient required for healthy brain development. Choline creates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter shown to affect mood and memory10 and is difficult to find in adequate amounts in plant foods.
We are beginning to understand that the brain and gut are connected through a two-way communication process called the gut-brain axis11. And what a powerful process this is. Exciting research is beginning to uncover links between microbiome diversity and neurological and mood disorders.
Bone broth is a wonderful food which has been shown to have gut-healing properties. Inflammation in the gut, whether that be through the food we eat, medication or how we live (hello, modern living), can lead to what is known as increased intestinal permeability. A more popular term for this is called 'leaky gut'. This condition occurs when the tight junctions that form our gut lining are impaired, allowing inflammatory proteins to enter the blood system and affect our health and immune response.
Bone broth may repair the intestinal lining to help reduce inflammation and neuroprotective properties. Bone broth, in my humble option, is a superfood and one you should consider incorporating into your diet, especially if you suffer from gastrointestinal upset.
Protein pops up in almost anything I write, mainly because it helps to boost our health in every way imaginable. Our microbiome digests and metabolises amino acids from protein to create virtually every single neurotransmitter found in our brain and gut12.
I have, first hand, seen the improvements in individuals' wellbeing and mood when they increase the protein in their diet. Nutrition will never fail to surprise me. Protein helps to build neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are incredibly important for our mental health and function.
Consider adding a source of protein to each meal for brain-boosting benefits:
- Grass-fed beef
- Oily fish
- Beans and legumes
- Greek yoghurt
- Free-range chicken
Incorporate a few of the above foods in your daily diet for brain-boosting power. Please let us know if you incorporate the above foods and feel the benefits! We'd love to hear from you.