Foods That Feed the Brain ... and those that don't
Updated: Aug 6
What is the brain? It forms 2% of total body weight, and needs 20% of its blood and energy. The brain and spinal cord regulate non-conscious processes and coordinates most voluntary movement. It is the site of consciousness, allowing us to think and learn.
Does the food we eat have a big impact on the brain? Yes, countless studies prove that we can really help our brains stay alert and well by eating the right foods. Food can have an enormous effect on how we feel, think and walk through each day.
What should we avoid, which foods can deteriorate brain function? Alcohol is the prime item here, and caffeine actually a close second. It does not improve our concentration or ability to function, contrary to popular belief. A study has shown that alcohol and caffeine together actually slows reaction time more than alcohol alone! A diet high in sugar and refined carbs should really be avoided. The brain feeds on glucose, but it requires not just that. If you feed your body (and your growing children) junk and convenience foods rather than healthy home cooked balanced meals you will actively contribute to a lowering of intelligence, studies prove. Lack of sleep is not a nutrient factor, but definitely a large contributing factor to diminished brain function. We all know we don’t function as well when we are tired. Getting the right amount of sleep (7-8 hours per night) and respecting our Circadian Rhythm is essential for brain growth, development and repair. Smoking and living in a polluted environment also play negative roles in brain health.
What foods can we eat to improve and maximise brain function? The brain is the master command centre for our bodies, and if we feed it right it will do its job right.Firstly, the brain is made up largely of fatty tissue and water – so, ensuring you are always well hydrated is the first step. When you feel a bit tired during the day have a glass of water, wait 10 minutes and see how you feel more alert. Fat is a hugely important and well researched area of brain health. Countless studies prove that eating a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA) will protect your brain health and may even improve it. Ensure you eat fatty fish in the form of mackerel, wild salmon, sardines, etc. at least 3-4 times per week. Green leafy vegetables and grass-reared meats also count. Do consider taking a quality fish oil supplement. The brain operates using Neurotransmitters, messengers that send vital signals around the body. These require proteins and many other substances found in vegetables, fish and meats to function. Only a quality wholefoods diet can supply all of these on a daily basis. Eating 3 meals per day with maybe a few healthy snacks thrown in will ensure you get all these nutrients in your diet.
Antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting our brain. Can we feed our brains specific antioxidants for better protection? We require antioxidants to help with cell repair and reduce cell damage caused by daily living. Our bodies actually make a vast majority of them, but we can help the brain along by eating antioxidant rich foods such as berries, turmeric (curry), dark raw chocolate, brightly coloured fruit & vegetables.
Which wholefoods specifically are good for a healthy brain? Whole grains, oily fish, nuts and seeds, all vegetables but especially fresh seasonal veggies, fruits, meats of high quality, yoghurt, ... fermented foods, in my opinion, may have a beneficial effect, too.
There is a proven link between gut health and brain health, so look after your gut and the brain should look after itself ...
Anything else worth mentioning? Yes, do get enough sleep and rest in the day. It is essential for brain health and recovery. 7-8 hours of sleep is average, and ideally between 10pm-6am to respect our Circadian Rhythm. Think positive! Who, by worrying, has ever added a single day to their lives? Or: It is vital to be confident and positive, keep thinking positive thoughts and encouraging our brain to work hard. This will breed positivity and good mood. Also train your brain – use it or lose it. You can find scientifically proven brain trainer apps and games online these days. Keep challenging yourself. Playing the piano, Bridge, actively engaging in a sport, and being socially active are essential for a healthy happy brain.