We all want to protect our brain for as long as possible – but did you know that the brain is the most energy-hungry organ in the body. Despite weighing just 1.5kg, it steals roughly 25% of the body’s energy requirements. Much like a performance car, the brain functions best when it runs on premium fuel, provided by the food we eat.
Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, phospholipids and plant antioxidants have all been demonstrated to support brain cell integrity and cognitive function.
In my last blog I highlighted the role ‘good’ fats play supporting the brain and in this one I want to show you the other foods scientists know keep your brain healthier for longer.
More foods for great brain health
Berries aren’t only delicious, they also work wonders for cognitive function thanks to the high levels of powerful antioxidants they contain, specifically anthocyanidin. Anthocyanidin has been shown to boost memory, neural function, and coordination by improving communication between brain cells, increasing plasticity – the creation and strengthening of neural pathways – which helps with memory and learning, and reducing cognitive decline. As a rule of thumb, the darker the berry, the higher its antioxidant content, with blueberries and blackberries winning.
Beans and Lentils
Legumes like chickpeas, beans, lentils, and split peas are a good source of folic acid, which can improve verbal and memory performance, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It makes sense, after all getting enough folic acid during pregnancy is vital for foetal brain development and preventing neural tube defects.
Such as spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, bok choi, Brussel sprouts and kale are an excellent source of magnesium, a vital mineral that protects the brain against stress and aids relaxation in preparation for sleep. Some green vegetables also contain glucosinolates, which break down in the body to produce isothiocyanates. These isothiocyanates may reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of degenerative brain conditions.
Thanks to its caffeine content, people often use coffee to keep them alert when they’re flagging. Some research last year suggested that there’s another reason it might be helpful… Coffee may increase your brain’s capacity for processing information. Proper coffee is also a source of antioxidants and has been linked to the prevention of cognitive decline and brain conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Soybean products like tofu, miso & soy sauce are rich in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are linked to a reduced risk of dementia and other age-related cognitive problems. The polyphenols they contain – isoflavones, including daidzein and genistein – are antioxidants, and you’ve these are great for brain health.
For similar reasons, the same is true of dark chocolate. The brain is very susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline, and foods with high levels of antioxidants fight the free radicals that cause this damage. In studies, cacao flavonoids encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in the parts of the brain related to memory and learning. A study in 2018 looked at what happened when people ate dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) and concluded that it helped brain plasticity, which is crucial for learning.
Cinnamon is a helpful spice to keep in your kitchen cupboard for lots of reasons. Studies have shown that the compounds in cinnamon may be beneficial for Alzheimer’s prevention. In Alzheimer’s, “plaques” and “tangles” damage brain cells, and cinnamon may prevent the formation of both the plaques and the tangles.
Curcumin, the compound found in this golden spice, is popular for many in the fight against getting older, specifically for its anti-inflammatory properties. You may already be taking it if you have arthritis or other aches and pains. It also protects long-term cognitive function, memory, and mood, as well as combating degenerative processes in the brain. After all, all ageing is in some way linked to inflammation.