We don’t often think about eating for brain health. But are we missing a trick? We have a look at some foods that studies have found to help improve functioning of this important organ.
We often take brain health for granted when we’re younger. But older, wiser heads will tell you to stop messing around and get some sudoku into your life.
Besides addictive Japanese puzzles, there are other ways to keep your brain sharp, especially when it comes to your nutrition. Let’s get stuck into some studies.
When it comes to brain health, just brew it. Well that’s according to recent studies which have supported beliefs that caffeine consumption has been favourable in the effects of cognitive decline. A CAIDE study reported that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day was associated with lower changes of developing dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.
Amazing on top of protein pancakes or porridge, a 2023 study led by researchers from King’s College, London and the University of Reading found blueberries to be just as beneficial to our brain health as our breakfasts.
In a randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of 61 healthy men and women aged 65 to 80, those who drank a concoction made with 26 grams of freeze-dried wild blueberry powder experienced better memory and an improved accuracy on attention tasks.
The researchers think it’s all down to the blue pigments in blueberries called anthocyanins, which are a type of polyphenols found in other brightly coloured fruit and berries.
These anthocyanins are thought to have antioxidant effects (basically, they can help protect cells from damage) which can help improve communication between brain cells. Blueberry smoothie, anyone?
In the grand scheme of micronutrients, choline is a relatively new kid on the block having only been acknowledged as a required nutrient by the Institute of Medicine in 1998.
Despite the late recognition, choline is nonetheless a VIN (very important nutrient) with several important functions in the body. It serves as a source of methyl groups, for example, which are needed for numerous steps in metabolism and is required for making acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter closely linked to memory & learning processes. A 2011 study found higher choline intake was related to better cognitive performance, while it is also important for fetal brain development, with inadequate intake linked to impaired memory function.
While choline is produced by the liver, it’s not in the amounts we require which makes it an essential micronutrient as we have to make sure we’re getting enough of it from our diet.
Is the gut your ‘second brain’? Recent research seems to suggest both are closely linked with bacteria in the gut being able to send signals through nerves to the brain. Gut bacteria can also stimulate immune system cells in the wall of the gut, which can then send signals through the nerves to the brain. It’s all connected you see, but what’s this got to do with fermented milk.
Well, fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut, contain live beneficial bacteria, which have been shown to have benefits on our overall gut health including digestion. Happy gut, happy brain.
Although the main job of magnesium is to help regulate energy levels, and aid muscle and nerve function, that’s not stopping it from having a side hustle.
It’s thought to help with stress and anxiety by regulating levels of the neurotransmitters glutamite and GABA. You can top up your magnesium levels by eating foods such as kale, spinach, flaxseed (and Huel – got to get the plug in there you know).
One interesting ingredient to consider in the best foods for brain health is curcumin - the active ingredient in spice rack mainstay turmeric. Studies have linked curcumin with improved memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease, while it’s also thought to boost your dopamine levels, with a 2020 review finding that curcumin could improve symptoms of depression when used alongside standard treatments.
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