There’s no single superfood that can guarantee good brain health nor any magic supplement that will stop cognitive decline. However, there are certain foods that contain nutrients your brain loves and it’s a great idea to include them on a regular basis.
When nutritionists talk about brain food, salmon is usually top of the list and for very good reasons. Salmon is rich in the essential Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in the brain. DHA is vital for brain cell function, structure and repair and is found in its highest concentrations there. Low levels of DHA in adulthood are linked to reduced cognitive function and a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Include salmon (or other fatty fish like tinned tuna or sardines) 2-3 times a week to reap the benefits. Pan-sear or bake salmon and toss through a nicoise-inspired salad with baby potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, olives, Spanish onion and lemon for a delicious brain boost.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects your body from free radicals and oxidative stress. The brain is very sensitive to oxidative stress and higher levels are linked to a decline in brain function. Studies have shown that people who get enough vitamin E each day have improved cognition. Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E with a handful giving you almost 50% of your daily vitamin E needs. Add these to muesli, trail mixes or sprinkle them over yoghurt.
The chemical compounds, anthocyanins, that give blueberries their purple hue also reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Blueberries seem to protect against brain ageing, increase brain cell signalling and improve memory. So add them to your bowl of granola, smoothies or simply enjoy them on their own.
Some parts of the brain are particularly sensitive to inflammation and this can cause premature brain ageing. Foods which have an anti-inflammatory effect may prevent this decline. Surprisingly, one of the best foods for your brain exerts its positive effects through your gut. Your gut bacteria love the fibre found in oats and produce anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) as they break it down. Enjoy overnight oats for breakfast or add them to a smoothie.
You’ve probably been told all your life that broccoli is good for you, but do you know why? Studies suggest that the isothiocyanates and sulforaphane found in broccoli can protect neurons in the brain as well as repair them if they become damaged. Broccoli also contains choline which seems to increase memory and brain function in adults. My favourite way to eat broccoli is roasted with olive oil and served as part of a feta, toasted almond and spinach salad.
Our Mindology contributor Kate Spina is a holistic nutritionist, award-winning chef, eating disorder survivor focussed on intuitive eating, mental health nutrition and gut health.
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