Your brain is always working and burning energy. While the brain represents just 2% of a person’s total body weight, it accounts for 20% of the body’s energy use. Even while you are at rest, your brain is hard at work. This constant work requires a steady stream of fuel, and the foods you choose to fuel your body make a big difference in terms of optimizing brain function. Food can affect the structure and function of your brain as well as influence your mood. While research on this important topic is still ongoing, there are a number of recommendations that you can incorporate into your diet now in order to start reaping brain health benefits.
FOOD AND BRAIN HEALTH
Inflammation and oxidative stress can cause damage to brain cells, leading to a decline in brain function. Inflammation can be caused by a number of factors, including exposure to environmental toxins, infections, stress, and poor nutrition. Oxidative stress is caused by free radical damage. Free radicals are produced as a type of waste product when the body uses oxygen. While your body is always producing free radicals, antioxidants can help to neutralize them and prevent them from causing harm. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are plentiful in a healthy and balanced diet. An unhealthy diet, on the other hand, lacks these health-promoting compounds and can even supply substances that cause further damage to your body cells, including those in your brain.
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FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN, EAT MORE…
- DHA. A type of omega-3 fatty acid, DHA has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. The best source of DHA is oily fish, such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Aim to include at least two serving (3 oz.) of oily fish per week. If you aren’t able to eat fish, consider taking a fish oil supplement.
- Antioxidants. Antioxidants are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and herbs and spices. Including a wide variety of plant foods in your diet ensures you take in a wide variety of helpful antioxidants.
- Polyphenols. Polyphenols are a type of plant antioxidant that can exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Some of the best sources include berries, citrus fruits, teas, onions, and flaxseed.
- Probiotics and probiotics. A healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut can help to reduce inflammation in the body by regulating the immune response and producing or inhibiting various anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory substances. Gut bacteria also help with the production of a variety of neurotransmitters involved in brain function and overall mood, including serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia. You can promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria by eating a balanced diet that includes prebiotics (non-digestible carbohydrates that act as “food” for gut bacteria) and probiotics (good bacteria that naturally live in our digestive tract). Food sources of prebiotics include vegetables, whole grains, and fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir. Food sources of probiotics include milk, yogurt, cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, and pickled vegetables.
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FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN, EAT LESS…
- Added sugars and refined carbohydrates. A high intake or refined sugars can cause harm to the brain by worsening your body’s regulation of insulin as well as promoting inflammation and oxidative stress. High sugar intake may even have an effect on mood disorders, such as depression. Avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates by minimizing your intake of table sugar, syrups, jams, desserts, baked goods, processed foods, and white breads and pastas. Stick with healthier carbohydrates sources instead, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains.
- Trans fats. A high consumption of trans fats has been linked to increased inflammation in the body as well as impairments to memory function. Trans fats are also known to increase the risk of heart disease, so it is best to avoid this type of fat totally. Avoid any food products that list “hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list and limit your intake of processed foods (as natural, whole foods will never contain artificial trans fats).
- Total calories. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, and consuming only the calories you need, can help to decrease inflammation in the body as well as decrease your risk of diabetes and heart disease (both of which can further increase you risk of poor brain health). While maintaining a healthy weight can be challenging, it’s important to educate yourself on your personal calorie needs (which is largely dependent on your physique and physical activity levels) and appropriate portion sizes. Also, engage in regular physical activity as often as possible.
Ready to make your health a priority? Join the 30-day no sugar challenge and cut sugar from your diet!
5 Simple take-away tips:
1. Include a half cup serving of berries every day (fresh or frozen are both great choices).
2. Sip on polyphenol-rich tea in the afternoon or evening (green, black, or oolong).
3. Eat two servings of fatty fish per week.
4. Include at least one cup of leafy greens each day (spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage).
5. Swap out salt and sugar for herbs and spices.