The role of a healthy diet in fighting serious illnesses is well understood, but research now also proves that eating the right foods is good for the brain. What you put on your plate can have an impact on your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing. Doctors and medical experts are increasingly recognizing that eating well is a realistic alternative to prescribing drugs for a wide range of conditions.
The importance of the brain as the control center of the body should never be overlooked. Visits to the gym can help to improve your heart and lung health, but the brain plays an essential role in helping you to move, breath and think. Stress, dementia and mental health problems have become as serious a problem as physical conditions, and new solutions are needed.
The so-called 'Western' diet of refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods can make the brain susceptible to damage. Scientific studies suggest a diet rich in polyphenols, natural chemicals found in plants, helps to retain a healthy brain. The following foods are proven to have benefits for the memory, concentration and general brain health.
Numerous studies conclude that eating strawberries, blueberries and other berry fruits may help prevent Alzheimer's disease and other age-related mental decline. High levels of antioxidants found in berries are believed to protect cells in the brain against harmful free radicals. Chemicals in berry fruits can change the way neurons communicate in the brain to improve the way it functions.
2. Fatty fish
The brain is composed of sixty percent fat, and around half of this is the omega-3 type. Maintaining omega-3 fats helps the brain to develop new cells, and this can help to slow the process of mental decline in old age. Salmon, sardines and mackerel are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Recent studies suggest pregnant women's intake of fatty fish correlates to their children achieving higher scores in intelligence tests in early childhood. The anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil have also been linked to improvements in the symptoms of depression.
Many people joke about not being to start the day before drinking their first cup of coffee, but there's actually some scientific foundation in this. There's clear evidence that the caffeine in coffee can deliver a mental boost, and it's now also believed that there are longer-term benefits for the brain. As well as being a brain stimulant, caffeine blocks receptors for adenosine which can prevent the flow of other chemicals in the brain linked to improved mental performance.
The health benefits of eating nuts are wide-ranging. They are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and healthy fats. A study of a hundred thousand people by Harvard Medical School concluded that eating nuts on a daily basis can reduce death rates by as much as twenty percent. When it comes to brain health, specific types of nuts deliver the greatest benefit.
A high concentration of omega-3 fats means that walnuts deliver the most value. Just a quarter of a cup of walnuts can improve cognitive performance and help to prevent age-related mental decline. Almonds and hazlenuts are also good for brain health in old age due to the concentration of vitamin E. Medical studies link vitamin E to improvements in memory and verbal measures.
5. Green tea
The presence of caffeine is just part of the story when it comes to green tea and brain health. High levels of polyphenols and antioxidants in green tea are believed to reduce the risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. The amino acid L-theanine in the beverage has been linked to increased neurotransmitter activity, which can help to reduce anxiety.
Small changes in your diet can bring great improvements to brain health. Eating the right foods can boost alertness, improve memory and concentration and protect against age-related mental decline.