No matter how hard we try, we can get bogged down in how what we eat will affect how our bodies look. Instead, try focusing on foods that will benefit your mind — don’t we all feel better when we are alert, productive and feeling really capable? These foods are easy to include in each meal, and while you’re probably aware of how good they are for your body, you might not be aware of their brain-boosting powers:
1. Fermented foods:
Probiotics and fermented foods are really having a moment. Including foods like kefir, yogurt, miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut in your diet is good for your digestion. What you may not realise is that the bacterial composition of our gut, the microbiome, has an impact on our brains and vice versa. The microbiome and the brain are linked through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which means our gut affects our emotions and feelings. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects our mood, is made in the gut, so safeguarding your gut health can directly impact your mood.
2. Leafy greens:
Yes, eating more salad greens is as good for your brain as it is for your waistline. One study found that older adults who eat one-and-a-half servings of green leafy vegetables per day had the cognitive functioning of people 11 years their junior.
3. Rainbow vegetables:
The colours of vegetables can indicate their nourishing ingredients, so eating a variety of veg in different colours ensures you get a range of benefits. Lycopene is found in red and pink fruits, such as tomatoes and watermelon, and it is a powerful antioxidant. It will help reduce inflammation in the body, and lycopene also helps regulate the genes that influence brain growth, and helps maintain brain function. Blue and purple fruit and vegetables are high in health-promoting phytonutrients such as polyphenols and anthocyanins, which protect against cell damage in the brain, and enhance cognition and neuroplasticity (how the brain rewires itself). Lutein is found in green vegetables and a high intake has been found to slow down cognitive decline.
Did you know that 60% of your brain is composed of fatty acids? More than two-thirds of your brain’s fatty acids are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). We cannot synthesis DHA, so we must obtain it from our diet. DHAs help to support the cell signallying processes involved in our nervous system, and also to reduce inflammation. Salmon and other oily fish are an excellent source of DHA. Mussels are an affordable fish to incorporate into your diet, and pack more nutrients than other shellfish. They contain high levels of long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA, which help improve brain function and reduce inflammation. Mussels also contain levels of iron and folic acid to rival red meats; iron is essential to stave off brain fog, fatigue and insomnia, and for optimal brain function, and folic acid has been found to help improve brain power in over-50s. Try to have two servings of oily fish per week.
Beans are a great source of B vitamins. These are essential for your brain and nervous system, as they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters that pass signals between nerves. B vitamins are water soluble, so your body cannot store them and you must obtain them from your diet. Try to get one small serving of legumes daily.
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