You know what you eat affects your weight, your muscles and your health. But you may not give much thought to how it affects your brain. If you’re having issues with concentration, memory or just adding numbers, you may want to add a few brain-boosting foods to your daily diet. These foods also improve overall brain health, which may help prevent or delay the onset of illnesses such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Feeding Your Brain: Macros Count
While your hard-working muscles need carbs for energy, your brain does too. In fact, your brain is one of the largest consumer of the macronutrient. This means about 60% of your daily resting carb needs are used to keep your brain functioning. Most of these carbs provide energy for nerve impulse signaling.
When you don’t eat enough carbs your brain uses fat in the form of ketones instead, which is referred to as ketosis. While ketosis has become a popular way to lose weight, it’s important to note that your brain prefers glucose for fuel over ketones. Plus, some people experience fatigue and confusion when they severely limit carb intake.
Food Choice Matters Too
Adding fatty fish to your diet twice a week isn’t only good for you heart, but is also good for your brain. DHA, which comes from the omega-3 fats found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, is the most abundant fatty acid in your brain. Not getting enough of these essential fats in your diet may affect comprehension and mental health. It’s also good for memory.
While you can get omega-3 fats from plant sources such as flaxseeds and walnuts, these foods aren’t a source of DHA. So if you’re looking for brain food, you have to go with the fish. Or, you can go with fish food, such as algae or seaweed, for your DHA.
As a source of vitamin B-12 and carnosine, meat is brain food. A poor intake of vitamin B-12 is associated with mental disorders and a reduced brain size. It’s also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The thing with vitamin B-12 is that it’s only found in animal products like meat. Vegans and vegetarians may have a harder time getting the B vitamin if they don’t supplement. Even slightly decreased levels of B-12 can lead to fatigue, depression and a poor memory.
Carnosine is a combination of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. It’s found abundantly in your cells and acts as an antioxidant, offering protection against cell-damaging free radicals. There is a theory that as an antioxidant, carnosine protects the brain against neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
If you go to the gym, no doubt you’re familiar with creatine, which is a popular supplement among bodybuilders. Not only does this nutrient pump your muscles with energy, but it may also help energize your brain too. If you’re not into supplements, eating meat can help you get what you need.
Broccoli and spinach make every best food list, and that includes best foods for your brain. Isothiocyanates, which are antioxidants made from the glucosinolates in these veggies, protect your brain from oxidative damage and may also play a role in preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
Broccoli and spinach make up a class of veggies called cruciferous vegetables, which also includes brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower and kale. Aim for one of these nutrient-rich veggies everyday to get all the health benefits these veggies have to offer.
In a similar fashion to isothiocyanates, lycopene in tomatoes also protects brain cells from free radicals, and may help prevent the onset of dementia. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce are a more concentrated source of the antioxidant than the fresh varieties. Toss in a little fat such as pignolia nuts or olive oil to improve absorption of the fat-soluble antioxidant.
Snack on blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to improve memory. Cherries are also good memory-enhancing fruits. The phytochemical -- anthocyanin -- responsible for the deep purple color of these tasty fruits helps bolster brain power.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found an association between low blood levels of vitamin E and poor memory. If you’re having trouble remembering where you put your keys, you may want to add more almonds to your daily food repertoire to get more vitamin E.
Sunflower seeds, peanuts, peanut butter, wheat germ and spinach can also up your intake of vitamin E.
This spice has a lot of medicinal properties, such as reducing osteoarthritis inflammation and preventing the buildup of plaque in your arteries. In addition to being super healthy for treating and preventing ailments, turmeric is also good for your brain. Turmeric not only has antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties, but also improves circulation to the brain.
Turmeric may be best known as the spice responsible for the yellow color of your favorite curry. But you don’t have to limit your use of this spice to curry. Add it to soup, rice, stir fries or make something called turmeric milk, which is a popular Indian drink made with warm milk, turmeric, ginger, cloves, cardamom and a few other spices and sweetened with honey.