Brain health is often overlooked when people think about maintaining a healthy diet. Recently, the world has been on a hunt to discover superfoods that improve physical well-being; goji berries, avocados, and kale are some of the most well-known superfoods. The most popular diets often focus only on these superfoods and their effects on muscle generation and fat loss. However, very few people outside of the medical community realize that a healthy diet supplements brain health equally.
Just like in other parts of the body, the brain requires blood flow to its tissue to stay oxygenated and well nourished. Aside from oxygen, the human blood carries amino acids, calcium, minerals, vitamins, and iron throughout the body. All of these nutrient levels effect the function of the tissue they reach. By incorporating these foods into your everyday diet, you will enhance the quality of blood that reaches your brain, which can increase your memory capacity, mood, concentration, and brain health.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and other berry fruits are strongly believed to improve brain health and function. A study published in 2012 found that the high amounts of flavonoids that are found in berries allowed for a reduction in the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
The specific flavonoid that gives blueberries their color, anthocyanin, is believed to promote brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Some research has suggested that the incorporation of anthocyanin into your diet results directly to elevated BDNF levels in regions of the brain responsible for storing memories. Even more encouraging, these high BDNF levels are believed to assist with consolidation, the conversion of short-term memories into long-term memories.
Berries are very rich in brain specific antioxidants as well. Antioxidants are a class of chemicals that help to neutralize free radicals, which can become cancerous. There are thousands of different types of antioxidants, all of which function optimally in different parts of the body and to neutralize different types of free radicals. It is believed that berries contain specific antioxidants, which help to protect against aging of the brain.
Including walnuts in your everyday diet has been connected with waste removal in the brain. The brain, much like any other part of the body, creates lots of waste byproduct from its metabolic reactions. This waste must be cleared away for the rest of the processes to continue properly. In the rest of the body, the lymphatic system is responsible for disposing of this waste. In the brain, however, there is a complicated circulation of cerebrospinal fluid that is necessary to clear the waste out. Research has found that a diet rich in walnuts promotes that brain waste disposal activity.
Eating almonds regularly has long been associated with improved memory and concentration. Almonds are rich in proteins that help both to provide short boosts of energy as well as to repair damaged brain tissue. Almonds are also rich in vitamins E and B6, which are associated closely with memory processes.
Nearly all nuts are very dense in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are very closely tied to maintaining brain health. A study published by the Lancet found significantly significant data that those who consumed low levels of omega-3 fatty acids were much more likely to have lower IQs than those who do. Numerous studies have also found that low amounts of omega-3s are found in severely depressed people, especially in those that have tried to commit suicide.
Eating fish, especially oily fish, is a great way to improve brain health. Like nuts, fish are especially high in omega 3-fatty acids. Unlike nuts however, oily fish contain these oils in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is the primary structural component of brain cells and the cerebral cortex. As the human body ages, the production of DHA decreases, and thus the construction and repair of brain cells decreases. Because oily fish has omega-3s that are already in the DHA form, consuming fish can rapidly improve brain health.
Studies have shown that eating fish only once per week results in a 14 percent larger hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for learning and memory consolidation. The same study showed that consuming fish once per week resulted in a 4 percent larger orbital frontal cortex. The orbital frontal cortex is the brain's center for decision-making. This study overall concludes that eating fish, even just once per week, improves memory, mood, and decreases risk of depression.
Adding spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, or mustard greens to your diet is associated with improved brain health. One of the major reasons for this is because all of these vegetables contain massive amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K standardizes and regulates the calcium levels in the brain. The impairment of calcium regulation in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s-like deterioration. Vitamin K plays such a vital role in this regulation that certain screening tests to detect early onset Alzheimer’s measure vitamin K levels.
In addition, these brain superfoods are absolutely loaded with folate. Folate, also known as folic acid, has been rigorously studied. Folic acid is associated with mental and emotional health. A study in published by the BMJ medical journal in 2002 reported how essential folic acid is to proper brain function. Their conclusions stated that deficiencies in folic acid lead to the onset of dementia; that it has profound roles in affecting mood and social behaviors; and that when the metabolism of folic acid is blocked, it results in cognitive dysfunction.
The Mediterranean diet has been gaining popularity recently, and in 2013 was named the healthiest diet in the world. It has already been found to vastly increase heart health and reduce stroke risk. It is this same diet that researchers now are discovering has neurological benefits, too. This diet revolves mainly around olive oil, nut, and legume consumption, along with fruit, vegetable, and red wine intake; essentially a combination of our brain superfoods list.
It is now believed that the foods included in the Mediterranean diet work in combination act to improve overall brain health. In 2015, Columbia University published a cohort study revolving around 674 elderly participants. They concluded that the subjects who adhered the closest to the Mediterranean diet had larger brain volume, larger white matter volume (learning and brain function), and larger gray matter volume (muscle control and sensory perception). A person with larger brain volume is also better positioned to resist the onset of dementia. Neurology Journal published in 2016 that participants who ate a Mediterranean diet had larger cortical volumes. The cortex is associated with thought, language, memory, and attention. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are both associated with a loss in cortical volume. A study published in 2017 by Neurology concluded that those who ate large amounts of olive oil, vegetables, and fruits experienced brain shrinkage at half of the natural rate. These studies confirm that these foods in combination act to protect from dementia, improve memory, and improve brain health.