Nourish Your Noggin: An Adventure Into Mind Health

We often hear from clients their main goal is to eat healthy, feel fit, lose weight, and look and feel confident in their own bodies. Rarely does a client walk through our door looking for tips on how to improve their brain function to prevent depression, anxiety, or even Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s important to note that nutrition plays a critical role in your brain health. Eating certain foods can help improve memory, reduce brain fog, and decrease risk for or improve depression symptoms.  What we eat even plays a role in helping to prevent or delay the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Let’s face it, the healthier we feel mentally, the more likely we are to exercise and eat healthy. Many of us desire to live a long and adventurous life. To support this goal, our brains must be in good health and properly nourished. The good news is, just as healthy habits impact our physical health, there are key nutrients that can help with brain health.

Add these brain boosting foods to your daily eating routine:

(1) Fatty Fish
This is a big one! It benefits your brain because it’s high in EPA and DHA omega-3 fats. These types of fats cannot be made in the body; thus, you must consume them. Every cell relies on omega-3’s to carry out essential functions in the body. In regard to brain health, it helps activate and enhance brain activity, providing your brain with essential nutrients to function properly. Aim for a 4-ounce serving twice per week of salmon, cod, haddock, trout, tuna, or halibut. Not a fish lover? Consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement of up to 1,000 mg per day. Allergic to fish? Skip down to #4 on nuts and seeds; there is more than one way to boost your omega-3’s, however, fish is one of the best sources.

(2) Berries
Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, you name it. Berries are full of antioxidants which have been shown to reduce aging in the brain. Realistically, people should consume antioxidant-rich foods on a daily basis. Help yourself to these healthy sweet treats. Add berries to your morning yogurt, toss into a salad, or simply use as a dessert item after dinner.

(3) Broccoli and its Cruciferous Cousins
Spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, anything green and leafy provides lots of antioxidants which, again, can delay aging in the brain. They are also full of fiber, which benefits gut health. Research indicates a healthy gut can impact neurotransmitter responses and even reduce inflammation, which in turn can help protect the brain against aging and reduce brain fog.

(4) Nuts and Seeds
Unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts) and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, sunflower) provide essential vitamin E which is an antioxidant to prevent aging and improve brain function. Walnuts, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds provide additional options to boost omega-3 intake. Eat a handful as a snack, add to smoothies, or toss into some roasted vegetables. Try toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, adding chia seeds to oatmeal, or using sunflower butter instead of peanut butter.

(5) Avocados
This delicious, creamy fruit is high in monounsaturated fats. These types of fats help improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure. A healthy, constant blood flow to the brain helps keep it well nourished. Avocados are also high in fiber, which again can positively impact the gut health. Try replacing butter with avocado on toast in the morning, adding to smoothies, or simply eating it as a snack. They are high in calories, so make sure to consume the proper serving size (¼ of a large avocado = 1 serving).

(6) Whole Grains
Whole grains such as whole wheat breads or pastas, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, brown rice, barley, millet, teff, or wild rice can support healthy brain function, specifically memory and mood. They provide essential B vitamins which help to reduce inflammation and provide energy for both the body and brain. They are also rich in fiber, benefiting gut health and increasing good gut bacteria. Try combining brain boosting foods by toasting whole wheat bread or an English muffin, add ¼ avocado as a spread, and have a cup of berries on the side.

(7) Dark Chocolate, Green Tea, and Coffee
Rich in flavonoids, which are a class of phytonutrients, dark chocolate, green tea, and coffee can help improve cognition and reduce inflammation. Black coffee and green tea have been shown to improve memory and potentially reduce the risk for dementia. All three are great and can be incorporated into your daily routine. Limit coffee to 3 cups or less per day, and avoid sugar-filled chocolate.

(8) Eggs
Here’s where we get to mention a little bit about vitamin D. Research indicates vitamin D can impact mood and overall brain health. The best source of vitamin D actually comes from direct sunlight. However, there are some foods that contain vitamin D, including eggs. This protein packed food is also good for providing the brain with vitamins B and E. Make sure to eat the yolk; this is where the nutrients are.

(9) Yogurt & Other Probiotic-Rich Foods
Consuming probiotic-rich foods has been shown to reduce inflammation, anxiety, and signs of distress in regards to brain health. Having a good balance of good bacteria in the gut reduces inflammation in the body and improves mood and memory. A good healthy dose of yogurt or kefir daily can take care of this recommendation. Prebiotics (think fiber) help “feed” probiotics. Consume fiber-rich foods including green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and fruit (specifically berries) in addition to yogurt or kefir daily.

(10) Turmeric
This tasty spice has been generating a lot of buzz lately. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can directly enter the brain and provide benefit for active brain cells. Turmeric has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It improves memory, increases serotonin and dopamine which combats depression, and helps generate new brain cells and prevent plaque build-up that causes Alzheimer’s. This flavorful spice pairs great with your favorite curry dishes or can be used to spice up vegetables such as potatoes and proteins such as eggs or chicken. You can even simply try turmeric tea.

The Bottom Line
Your brain has an important job to do, being in charge of keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing, allowing you to move, feel, and think. The foods we eat have a big impact on the short and long-term health of our brain. The brain requires around 20% of the body’s calories to function, so it needs plenty of good nutrition to carry out its daily tasks. Omega-3’s, monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and fiber-rich foods provide the fuel to keep memory, mood, and cognition functioning at peak performance.

Whether you’re experiencing daily brain fog, can’t seem to remember things as well as you used to, or are suffering from depression or anxiety, adding a Registered Dietitian to your healthcare team may be just what you need to improve your overall health and boost your brain power. A healthy mindset, powered by good nutrition, helps us to appreciate and enjoy our daily adventures. Make it a priority to nourish your brain!

Source: Idaho Nutrition Associates in Boise, Idaho

Idaho Nutrition Associates is located in Boise, Idaho and serves the community’s nutrition and health needs.  Their Registered Dietitians provide individualized nutrition counseling and coaching focused preventing and better managing health concerns through nutrition and lifestyle.  They also provide worksite wellness programs, cooking classes, nutrition-based genetic testing, and food sensitivity testing.  Idaho Nutrition Associates strives to promote wellness and prevent the onset of disease.  What we eat and drink creates the foundation on which our health is built; invest in your foundation and meet with a Registered Dietitian.