What is a brain food? Food is food, right? Wrong. There are so many foods and ingredients out there today that are assisting the progression of cognitive health conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Eating the wrong foods day after day might just get you one step closer to a slower brain. But don’t worry, it’s not too late to start fueling the brain with the right foods now!
Foods that Aid in Brain Health
Super rich in cocoa flavanols (a type of polyphenol), dark chocolate has been shown to reverse signs of cognitive aging and improve blood flow to the brain. Not only that, it may instantly boost your mood and increase the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Try to stick with chocolate that is 75% Dark Chocolate or higher; the higher the percentage the less sugar in it!
Oh avocados, the fruit of the gods. Studies from Tufts University have found eating just one avocado a day can help with cognitive function and even eyesight! That’s because they are packed with lutein, fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids which help protect nerve cells in the brain known as astrocytes. These provide support to information-carrying nerves.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal, a type of phenol that has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Be diligent about finding the highest quality brands and look for darker bottles that protect its delicate compounds. You know an EVOO is high quality when it has an earthy, grassy taste to it.
Dark Leafy Greens
A recent report in the journal Neurology found that a diet containing approximately only one serving of green leafy vegetables per day is associated with slower age-related cognitive decline! Just imagine what eating three or more servings of spinach and other leafy greens (like kale and collard greens) per day could do to your mental aging process.
Flavonoids, the natural plant pigments that give berries their brilliant hues, also help improve memory, research shows. In a 2012 study published in Annals of Neurology, researchers at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week delayed memory decline by up to two-and-a-half years.
Foods that may negatively affect brain health
Excess intake of sugary drinks has been found to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which has been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Higher sugar levels in the blood have also been found to increase the risk of dementia, even in people without diabetes. Recent research has shown the relation of high sugar/high processed foods on both the waist line AND memory impairments. In addition, higher sugar levels in the blood can increase the risk of dementia, even in people without diabetes.
Refined Carbohydrates (Carbs)
Refined carbs are typically found very high on the glycemic index, meaning your body digests them quickly. When eaten in large quantities, these foods have been found to have a very large glycemic load (GL). The GL refers to how much a food raises your blood sugar levels, based on the serving size. These foods high on the GL may impair memory and intelligence, as well as increase the risk of dementia.
Many cooking oils are made with a variety of harmful processes that alter the state of the oil to create trans fats along with harmful chemicals called aldehydes. Trans fats have been associated with heart disease and dementia. Aldehydes, in short, hurt the brain’s ability to produce energy. Other industrial oils to avoid are corn, soybean and grapeseed oils. Healthier alternatives include extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that are naturally found in animal products like meat and dairy, however what we are concerned about are industrial produced (think of as man-made rather than found in nature). Studies have found that when people consume higher amounts of trans fats, they tend to have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, poorer memory, lower brain volume and cognitive decline.
What do all of these categories have in common? They are all highly processed!
These foods are usually high in calories and low in other nutrients. Highly processed foods tend to cause weight gain, while also having a negative effect on your brain health. This goes to show that your optimal functionality both physically and mentally come from eating whole, natural foods that your body wants.
Let’s review, shall we?
So, we aren’t here to tell you to never eat your favorite foods again and only eat the ones listed in the “Foods that Aid in Brain Health” category. Nor do you have to eat ALL of the brain foods listed to get positive effects from them. If you make little choices and/or changes every day to eliminate ONE and add ONE from these lists, you’re already on the road to a healthier brain.