Did you know your diet has an impact on your body and also on your brain?

 

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The brain uses about 20% of the body’s calories. After all, it is an energy-intensive organ that controls the whole body. Now that’s power!

A healthy diet can keep your brain sharp and healthy as you age. If you want to improve your concentration, memory and overall brain structure, read on.

What Makes Brain Foods Special?

Nutritionists recommend we eat healthy diets which include lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Protein from plant sources and fish are beneficial, as are healthy fats.

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Some of these foods are extra rich in healthy components like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants, which support brain health. Incorporating these into a healthy diet can improve health and functioning of your brain.

Foods For Your Brain

There are many beneficial brain foods. You don’t have to look far! These foods are on many lists:

Green, Leafy Vegetables

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  • Examples: kale, spinach, collards, broccoli, arugula, cabbage and more

  • Contain: nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene

  • Reasons: these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline; broccoli is very high in Vitamin K (essential to forming sphingolipids, a type of fat densely packed into brain cells); one serving of kale contains as much Vitamin C as an orange, which can protect your brain against damage from free radicals

Fatty Fish

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  • Examples: salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies and more

  • Contains: omega-3 essential fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats

  • Reasons: linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid, which is connected to Alzheimer's; not getting enough omega-3s is linked to learning impairments and depression; fatty fish produce serotonin, the good mood brain chemical, enhance memory and help manage stress

Berries

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  • Examples: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, acai berries and more

  • Contain: flavonoids (the natural plant pigments that give berries their colours) and antioxidant compounds

  • Reasons: reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain; improve communication between brain cells; help brain cells form new connections, which aid learning and delay memory decline

Dark Chocolate

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  • Also called semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, it contains at least 55% cocoa; there are many varieties.

  • Contains: flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants; magnesium, zinc, fibre and a caffeine-like plant-based stimulant

  • Reasons: improves blood flow to brain; combats fatigue and effects of aging; naturally boosts memory, mood, focus and alertness; improves brain plasticity

Coffee and Tea

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  • These are familiar! Worldwide, we consume 2.16 billion cups of tea and 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day worldwide!

  • Contain: caffeine; brain-boosting antioxidants

  • Reasons: increase brain activity; support processing information; boost short-term concentration; support mental function; may help solidify new memories; reduces risk of cognitive decline, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s

Nuts and Seeds

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  • Example: walnuts, almonds, peanuts; flax, chia, pumpkin seeds and more

  • Contains: walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); pumpkin seeds are rich in many micronutrients important for brain function; nuts are rich sources of vitamins

  • Reasons: walnuts help lower blood pressure and protect arteries, which is good for brain and heart; nuts and seeds improve memory and protect cells from oxidative stress

Even More Foods For Your Brain

Turmeric

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  • This colourful spice is very versatile.

  • Contains: more than 300 naturally occurring components; flavonoids (which are strong antioxidants); magnesium, zinc, fibre and a caffeine-like plant-based stimulant

  • Reasons: curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine, which both improve mood; it improves blood flow to brain; combats fatigue and effects of aging; naturally boosts mood, focus and alertness; improves brain plasticity

Avocados

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  • These fruits grow in many countries around the world. Mexico is the world's leading producer

  • Contain: monounsaturated fats promoting healthy blood flow; copper folate; vitamins B, C, and E; potassium

  • Reasons: support information-carrying nerves in the brain; help promote flood flow; linked to better brain functioning; improve problem-solving skills and working memory

Whole Grains

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  • Examples: brown rice, buckwheat, barley, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, rye, quinoa, corn, spelt, whole-grain breads and pasta, and more

  • Contain: healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, antioxidants

  • Reasons: promote cardiovascular health and flow to the brain; support overall brain health

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Beans

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  • Examples: chickpeas; kidney, black, soy, pinto, navy, cannelloni, fava, red and more

  • Contain: brain-friendly nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, fiber antioxidants and folate

  • Reasons: beans provide more folate than any other food; folate is essential to brain function (deficiency leads to disorders and impairment); beans stabilize brain-dependent glucose (blood sugar) levels

Tips And Ideas

Some of these foods may be new to you. Experiment to find easy ways to enjoy and benefit from the ones you like best.

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Here are some ideas:

  • Green, leafy vegetables: Steam to preserve nutrients; blanch kale (dip into boiling water, then ice water) before serving or freezing; add fresh or frozen spinach or kale to smoothies – you won’t even notice!

  • Fatty fish: Try to eat fish at least twice a week. If you don’t like fish, ask your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement, or choose other omega-3 sources like flax seeds, avocados or walnuts.

  • Berries: Start your day with berries in a smoothie or eat them as healthy snacks.

  • Dark chocolate:High cacao content (72% or greater) is recommended as it is low in sugar but still tasty.

  • Coffee and tea: Don’t have too much! Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine each day is safe for most healthy adults (about four cups of coffee). Try green tea instead of coffee.

  • Turmeric: Blend in smoothies; drink with warm milk; add colour to rice, lentils, chicken or even macaroni and cheese!

  • Nuts and seeds: Create your own mix with other healthy ingredients and small pieces of dark chocolate.

  • Avocados: Enjoy in salads, sandwiches, dips or smoothies.

  • Whole grains: Because these contain the entire kernel, half the grains you eat should be whole, instead of refined-grain products. These are easy to cook extra to freeze and serve later, saving time.

  • Beans: Choose what you prefer: canned, fresh, frozen or dry are all beneficial.

It's a learning process - have fun!

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Quiz

You are on deadline and need to focus. Which meal will boost your brain power most?

Summary

Small changes in your diet can make a big difference to how your body and mind feel.

When you find what works for you, it will optimize your body, mental and emotional state - not to mention your productivity, so you can give your best to the world!

Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Change starts with your next trip to the grocery shop.

Nourish your body and nourish your brain!

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This Byte has been authored by

JD

JK DAINA

learning design + communications