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What is the best food for the brain?
The big question that arises is what is the best food for the brain? While research on diet and brain health is still limited, there exists something known as the MIND diet which may be the most beneficial.
What is the MIND diet?
The MIND diet is short for Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay. It is a diet which incorporates mediterranean food with dietary approaches that help combat hypertension (DASH).
An aging research study with 923 senior citizens conducted over nearly five years led nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris to develop this diet. Their study found that participants who followed this diet had a staggering 53% lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s as opposed to those who did not follow the diet.
Although there exists a list of over 100 foods that are a part of the MIND diet, 10 brain-boosting superfoods in particular have been identified as brain-health powerhouses. These include –
- Dark chocolate (with at least 85% cocoa)
- Sweet potatoes
- Garbanzo beans
- Fish with omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout,herring, mackerel)
- Red wine
- Green tea
Why is dark chocolate considered a brain-boosting superfood?
Dark chocolate is abundant in antioxidants and flavonoids, which enhance blood circulation to the brain, thereby promoting cognitive function and heightened mood. In fact, in a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, researchers discovered that consuming two cups of hot chocolate containing flavonoids can enhance blood flow to the brain for 2-3 hours. This improvement in blood flow resulted in a remarkable 30 percent increase in scores on a working memory speed test. This finding is particularly significant for older individuals, as it may aid in preventing mental decline.
Another benefit of consuming dark chocolate is that it contains magnesium. It’s important to have enough magnesium every day to stay healthy. This is because the nutrient helps with things like high blood pressure, inflammation, and insulin resistance. It can also help with stress and anxiety by stopping the body from making too much cortisol. For this reason, some people call magnesium “nature’s Valium.” It’s hard to get enough magnesium from food alone, but consuming chocolate can help. In fact, consuming one bar of dark chocolate can satisfy half of your daily magnesium requirement!
Besides the above, dark chocolate has also been found to increase good bacteria in your gut. Some examples of these include Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. These bacteria act like antioxidants and protect your brain from damage caused by free radicals which can otherwise cause dementia.
Many of us turn to indulgent chocolate during times of stress, depression, or PMS. It turns out that there exists a legitimate reason why! An ingredient known as N-acylethanolamines fatty acid present in dark chocolate has been found to provide a sense of euphoria and alleviate negative emotions. Hence one can very much regard dark chocolate as a mood-enhancing food that helps support mental health.
How do omega-3 fatty acids benefit brain function?
Fatty fish and fish oil contain omega-3 fatty acids which are a type of fatty acid that significantly benefits the brain. Fish oil in particular contains two types of omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA. The human body can make these two types of fatty acids from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another type of omega-3 fatty acid found in walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil.
EPA and DHA are important for the brain’s normal function and development at all stages of life. Studies have for instance shown that pregnant women who consume EPA and DHA have children with higher intelligence and better brain function in early childhood. These fatty acids also make up the cell membrane of brain cells. This makes them crucial for maintaining brain health and facilitating communication between brain cells. When animals are not given enough omega-3 fatty acids, their brain’s DHA levels decrease, leading to learning and memory problems. In older adults, lower DHA levels in the blood are linked to smaller brain size, indicating faster brain aging.
Since omega-3 fatty acids help provide EPA and DHA which in turn enhance cognitive function, fatty fish and walnuts can be considered as brain-boosting superfoods that establish cognitive health.
What role do antioxidants play in brain health?
Studies show that oxidative stress may cause changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This happens when chemicals called free radicals attack brain cells and cause damage. In fact, people with Alzheimer’s disease often have lesions in their brains that are caused by free radicals. To prevent damage from these chemicals, our bodies naturally make, and acquire from food, molecules known as ‘antioxidants’.
Antioxidants manage to quench and disarm the free radicals by donating them electrons. Some powerful antioxidants like alpha lipoic acid and glutathione are produced naturally by the body. Others like vitamins C and E come from the food you eat. Plants in particular contain compounds called phytochemicals, many of which have antioxidant properties as well. For instance, a phytochemical called hesperetin found in oranges and other citrus fruits restores vitamin C to its active antioxidant form. Carotenoids like lycopene in tomatoes and lutein in kale, as well as flavonoids like flavanols in cocoa, anthocyanins in blueberries, quercetin in apples and onions, and catechins in green tea, are also antioxidants. Since they contain antioxidants, incorporating berries, cocoa, citrus fruits and vegetables is crucial to a healthy brain diet.
What makes berries brain boosting foods?
Berries are important for brain health because they provide cognitive support and help counteract harmful substances called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to the above, berries can also boost memory. A research study for example found enhanced blood flow, better memory and heightened attention in young and old adults who consumed blueberries.
How does extra virgin olive oil contribute to brain health?
Olive oil has a surprising benefit for the brain. It helps increase the levels of two important neural chemicals called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). These chemicals play a crucial role in forming and repairing brain cells.
BDNF for example stimulates the creation of new brain cells. It can even counteract the negative effects of stress on the brain. Nerve growth factor, on the other hand, promotes the growth, repair, and communication of sensory nerve cells. These cells are responsible for transmitting information related to our senses, such as sight and sound.
In addition to increasing the level of these important chemicals, olive oil also contains monounsaturated fats. This can then help increase levels of the neurotransmitter – acetylcholine which plays an important role in learning and memory.
Conclusively since olive oil contains brain boosting nutrients it can be considered food for the brain.
Are there specific foods that can help manage stress, anxiety and mood?
It has already been established that foods like dark chocolate help with mood by helping provide a sense of euphoria. In addition to chocolate, here is a list of brain healthy foods that too can improve your mood –
Kefir : This is a type of probiotic that helps provide your gut with good bacteria. By fostering gut health, Kefir assists with your mood. This is because cells of the gut produce the hormone serotonin which is responsible for feelings of happiness.
Cashews : These nuts contain zinc, iron and magnesium which are nutrients that not only help with cognitive performance but also help manage stress and anxiety.
Lentils : Lentils assist with mood because they help boost the production of serotonin.
Oysters : Oysters, along with other molluscs like mussels and scallops, have been found to have properties that can increase desire. They contain an amino acid called D-aspartic acid, which boosts sex hormones, and are also rich in zinc, known to enhance libido. Such seafood is considered a part of the mind diet because they also supply the brain with vitamin B12 whose deficiency causes dementia.
In conclusion, there exist several brain superfoods that you can consume to foster brain health and improve your well-being. Consuming these on a daily basis can potentially help you fight against dementia and other neurodegenerative delays. In addition they can keep you attentive, fight anxiety and help you stay happy!
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