by Elizabeth McMillan, MS, CNS, LDN
The body’s control and command center flows through more than 100,000 miles of blood circulating in the brain. The brain’s job is to process sensory information so that we are aware of our surroundings. It initiates muscle control, hormone secretion, temperature maintenance and much more. Emotionally, the brain is responsible for creating every memory, thought, feeling and plan. Since brain power is so crucial for life, it is important to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle that ignites longevity in the brain.
There are two main areas of nutritional focus pertaining to brain health. The first is creating healthy brain tissue and the second is promoting healthy blood flow through the brain. The brain is mostly comprised of water and fatty tissue. In fact, 60 percent of the brain tissue is made up of fat. The benefit to healthy brain fat is that it allows the neurons to flow more easily to process thoughts, communications and mechanisms to other parts of the body. The downside of having the brain comprised of fat is that it can become easily inflamed. Inflammation will slow down the blood flow of the brain, thus slowing down our brain power.
Eating foods that boost brain power can have both a short-term and long-term effect. The brain needs a constant supply of energy. About 20 percent of the daily calorie intake is solely devoted to brain power. Nutritionally, the Mediterranean diet is packed full of vital brain nutrients, because it is rich in fish, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, olives and nuts. Brain health and the Mediterranean diet emphasize healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, cod, haddock, sardines, herring, tuna, halibut and non-fish sources like walnuts, flaxseeds and organic soybeans. Omega-3 fatty acids support brain tissue by building and repairing brain cells.
Colorful fruits and vegetables provide essential antioxidants and phytonutrients that are known to slow down brain aging. Antioxidants and other flavonoids are also excellent in reducing inflammation and improving brain flow by reducing cellular stress. Berries also have antioxidants that help to improve communication between brain cells, to reduce inflammation and to increase memory and cellular connections. Antioxidants increase neuroplasticity, and reduce or delay age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidant-rich berries include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, black currents and mulberries. Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants that can decrease the amount of cellular stress on the brain. Try having a small piece of dark chocolate before your next exam or demanding business meeting for extra brain power.
Some nutritional powerhouse foods specifically support the brain,. The four most powerful memory-boosting foods are vegetables, berries, omega-3 rich fish and walnuts for various reasons stated previously. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin E, which protects brain cells from oxidative stress. Add some sunflower seeds, almonds or hazelnuts to a trail mix as a mid-afternoon brain boost.
Avocados are also a great source of monounsaturated fats that help to reduce blood pressure on the brain. Eggs are a morning brain power food because they are good sources of B vitamins that help prevent brain shrinkage. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are rich in the flavonoid glucosinolates which helps to breakdown oxidative stress that causes neurogenerative diseases. It is important to limit red meat or foods high in saturated fats because these foods have been linked to the development of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease.
Finally, lean into challenge and give your brain a little exercise. Brain exercises include actual physical exercise, thought-provoking mind puzzles and facing daily challenges—like how to schedule your day around an ever-growing to-do list. Without brain exercise, according to a 2019 article in JAMA Network Open by Nicole Spartano, our brains shrink, especially after the age of 40. Spartano noted that brain volume was highest in those that walked 10,000 steps or more a day. It is wise to remember that the brain is neuroplastic, meaning it can re-grow healthy tissue with daily exercise and nutrition.
Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN, is a clinical nutritionist at the Rose Wellness Center, in Oakton, Virginia. Visit RoseWellness.com for more information and check out their free seminar series.