The human brain is one of the most important organs in the human body. It is a very complex organ that controls our thoughts, memory, mood, sleep, movement and the functioning of our vital organs. This requires a lot of energy!
This is where nutrition comes into play. When we eat food it is broken down into energy that will either be used right away or stored for later use. Every cell within the body uses this energy, but in different ways. Carbohydrates are the main and preferred fuel source for the brain. Think of the brain like an expensive car - it operates best with premium fuel and conversely, can operate poorly on lower quality foods. High intake of refined sugars has been linked to oxidative stress, which can damage cells in the body like brain cells. Where as eating nutrient dense foods, i.e., foods high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants help to prevent oxidation, protecting cells from damage. Here are 5 nutrient-dense foods that are beneficial for a healthy brain:
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, cod and trout, are not only a great source of protein, but also omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy unsaturated fats are imperative for normal brain functioning and maintenance throughout our lifecycle. They have also been shown to help get rid of damaging clumps in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Try to eat fish at least twice a week to get good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for fish with less mercury like salmon and cod. If fish is not an option, try other food sources like walnuts, flaxseed and avocados, or even an omega-3 supplement.
Just like fatty fish, walnuts have a high amount of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But unlike other nuts, walnuts contain a significant amount of the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This may be why walnut intake has been positively associated with memory, concentration and cognitive functioning. A study from UCLA showed that adults with higher intake of walnuts scored better on cognitive test scores.
3. Green Leafy Vegetables
Just one serving of green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli have been linked to slowing cognitive decline. These foods are rich in many nutrients like vitamin K, folate, and carotene, which may have protective properties for the brain.
The pigment that gives berries color are flavonoids, which have been show to help improve memory. In 2012, Harvard researchers found that women who ate more strawberries and blueberries showed a delayed memory decline for up to two and a half years. Flavonoids have antioxidant properties, which may be how they help protect and improve our memory.
5. Coffee and Tea
The caffeine in coffee and tea may do more than give us a jumpstart in the morning! Caffeine intake has been positively associated with test scores on mental functioning tests and the ability to recall memories.
The brain never sleeps and constantly needs fuel to support daily functions. In addition to eating enough calories and carbohydrates each day, incorporating these foods can ensure the brain is functioning at its best.
The brain is the control center for the body, so why not ensure that it is performing at its best?
Learn more about healthy eating and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Kyler Denis, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern