Tag Archives: brain health

How to eat for Brain Health

We all want a healthy, functioning brain for as along as possible. How we eat and drink really does impact it.
 
Studies on cognitive function and brain health show that overall a wholefood plant-based diet with a limited intake of animal and high saturated fat foods is the way forward. A big piece of research on this is call the MIND diet. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago created the MIND diet –  this identified food groups and nutrients from the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet that had been linked to lower risk of dementia.  Over 900 older men and women’s diets were analyzed and  people who stuck closely to a MIND diet were 53% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over the 4.5-year study period, compared with people who adhered least to the diet.
 
10 brain healthy foods identified by the MIND diet:
Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables
Nuts
Berries
Beans/lentils/soybeans
Wholegrains
Seafood
Poultry
Olive Oil
Wine (in moderation).
 
5 foods identified to not be good for brain health by the MIND diet:
Red meat
Butter and margarine
Cheese
Pastries and sweets
Fried or fast food
 
See you can see that a brain healthy diet really does go along the lines of a Mediterranean diet and general healthy eating. Other research on 447 adults showed that they performed better in cognitive tests after four years on a Mediterranean diet compare to a control diet.
 
Here is my meal plan published in the Daily Mail as part of Twinstitute for BBC2.
 
Let’s dig a bit deeper….there are some specific nutrients that have been highlighted as improving cognitive function.
 
B vitamins and folate :  shown to have a link to improved cognitive function, possibly by decreasing homocysteine levels. The evidence is not robust but suggestive. For example a study on elderly people with an increased risk of dementia showed that high doses of B vitamins slight brain shrinkage over 2 yrs.
Specifically looking at vitamin B12, cohort studies have suggested that dementia rates are highest in those with a lower B12 status.
 
Omega 3’s: the brain comprises 60% fat and is one of the fattest organs in the body. With such a high percentage of fat in the brain it’s no surprise that fatty acid’s are important nutrient. Specifically we need to know which fatty acids are important. The research we have suggests that it is the omega three fatty acid‘s to focus on. These have the potential to slow cognitive decline. Fit to focus on therefore our fish, shellfish, algae and the plant foods walnuts, linseeds and chia seeds.
 
Antioxidants including Vits A,C and E: Oxidative stress is one of the primary reasons are brain function declines. Therefore antioxidants are of upmost importance. This brings us back to the good old fruit and vegetables once again proving that we just need to be eating more of them. There has been some research looking specifically at berries and berry juice linking this to increasing memory scores, also the famous avocado for its vitamin E content. Similarly flavonoids found in red wine, dark chocolate, green tea can also help fight oxidative stress. There are some small scale, low power studies that look at blueberries, green tea and red wine that suggest these can be helpful. We have some limited research suggesting that nut intake (specifically walnuts) is associated with better brain function. This fits in with the Mediterranean diet, they contain antioxidants including vitamin E and so it makes sense.
 
Water: about 75% of the brain is made up of water therefore dehydration even in small amounts can have a big affect. Therefore staying hydrated is key.
 
So top foods to eat more of?
Oily fish
Green tea
Plenty of fruit and veggies
Green veggies
Colourful berries
Nuts, seeds including walnuts
Avocado
Wholegrains
Drink water
 
And then a little of the red wine plus dark choc makes a perfect combination.

 

 

Eating to boost your brain.

There is a huge connection between diet and brain function, how we eat can literally improve our cognitive function, our thinking, our mood, our memory. Which is fantastic news, as it doesn’t have to be expensive or too complicated. 

Here I review some of the evidence on the diets that improve our brain health and give some simple top tips of foods to eat more.

© Andrey KiselevID 7721961 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The Brain Positive Diets:

  1. Mediterannean diet – this is known to be a good way to eat for heart health, but did you know that eating for your heart health will also help your brain function? A study on 447 adults over 4 years looked at mediterranean diet (fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, fish and lean protein with moderate red wine) plus 1 litre a week of olive oil and 30g mixed nuts per day. When compared to a control group there was better performance in cognitive tests. 
  2. Mind Diet – this is a tweaked version on the Med diet, with a greater emphasis on berries and leafy greens. Following the diet has been linked to a reduction in cognitive age of 7.5yrs and a reduction in Alzhiemers risk.

The Brain Positive Foods:

Oily Fish – those all important omega-3’s are key for cognitive function. Studies have shown a link between eat  fish slowing cognitve decline.  Yes you can get some of these from plant based foods but the conversion rate is not as good so if you do eat fish, this is the better option. Other foods that contain omega 3’s are shellfish, algae and caviar.

Nuts – at least 5 servings of 30g per week seems to be the key. Some research suggests a positive affect with mixed nuts and other research focuses on walnuts.

Wholegrains  – these usually have a more beneficial effect on blood sugars giving more consitent glucose levels for the brain. They also contain B vitamins which may help slow brain shrinkage and improve cognitive function. 

Beans, pulses and meat – these contain good levels of the B vitamins which are thought to help brain function. Organ meats contain a good level of Vitamin B12 which has been shown to be correlated to a reduced dementia risk.

Fruit and Veggies – oxidative stress is one of the primary mechanisms of age related brain decline. The brain is vulnerable to free radical damage and so eating food with a good mix and level of antioxidants will help. There are numerous studies looking at the correlation between eating more fruit and veg and brain function. Folate is another key nutrient for brain health and is found in those leafy greens. Vitamin E in seeds, nuts and avocado is a key antioxidant.

Berries – Some small scale but interesting studies suggest a link where having berry juice or more berries in the diet may improve your memory.  It’s definitely worth a try!

Flavanoids – these powerful micronutrients are found in red wine, green and berries. There is an indication that maybe flavanoids could help reduce dementia and cognitive decline.

Green Tea – again these are small scale studies but 2 cups a day may help your brain function.

Top 10 brain foods to eat:

  1. Leafy Green and fruit and veg in general.
  2. Nuts, especially walnuts.
  3. Berries.
  4. Beans and Pulses.
  5. Wholegrains.
  6. Oily fish, seafood, caviar and seaweed.
  7. Lean meat, poulty and organ meat.
  8. Seeds and avocado
  9. Moderate Red wine and Green Tea.
  10. Dark chocolate in small amounts.

So you can see that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, with wholegrains plus some oily fish and lean meat is a positive way to eat for your brain. Add in regular nuts, seeds, beans and pulses then smaller amounts of red wine, green tea and dark chocolate and you are onto a winner. It’s a no-brainer 😉 

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