The previous article in this blog series introduced the idea that concentration and memory can be influenced by lifestyle habits. In this article, we take a closer look at the influence of diet on brain health.
4 Ideas for a Brain-Healthy Diet
The first idea is to eat foods that are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants combat the effects of free radicals and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress contributes to inflammation and is thought to play an important role in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Your best choices for antioxidant-rich foods are fresh fruits and vegetables. The bright colors of these foods are an indication of the antioxidant compounds that naturally occur in plants.
The second idea is to eat foods with healthy fats. Approximately 60% of brain matter consists of fat. Fatty acids also create the cell membranes of every nerve cell throughout your brain and body. The quality of the fats you eat determines the quality of fats in your brain and nerve cells. Studies show that consuming fish, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, reduces a person’s risk of developing dementia.
The third idea is to eat low-glycemic foods. Low-glycemic foods are those that do not have a lot of sugar. They keep the body’s blood sugar balanced, reduce oxidative stress, and keep inflammation in check. Consuming sugary drinks and snacks can cause wild swings in blood sugar, foggy brain, and difficulty with concentration. A 2016 study showed that consuming higher amounts of sugar increased the risk of attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The fourth idea is to eat organic foods. Organic foods are free from synthetic herbicides and pesticides—many of which can be toxic to the brain. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that higher blood levels of pesticides were associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The best way to successfully follow these 4 ideas for a brain-healthy diet is to consume a variety of whole and organic foods. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meats, raw nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Also, consider including the top 5 foods for brain health as often as every day.
Top 5 Foods for Brain Health
#1 – Avocados
Avocados are famous for their healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, but they are also a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Avocados are a low-glycemic food that taste rich and satisfying. A 2017 randomized controlled trial showed that avocados increased antioxidants in the brain and supported healthy cognition. Keep avocados on hand to slice over toast at breakfast, chop over a salad at lunch, and top fish at dinner.
#2 – Blueberries
Blueberries are blue because of antioxidant compounds called anthocyanidins. Blueberries are also low-glycemic fruits that taste sweet but help support balanced blood sugar levels. A 12-week study of blueberry supplementation showed that wild blueberry juice improved memory in older adults. Frozen blueberries are just as nutritious as fresh, so you can enjoy them all year long.
#3 – Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a rich source of a type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides. Medium chain triglycerides are easy for the body to burn as energy, which is an integral part of staying focused and on-task. Coconut oil has also been shown to support nerve cell survival in experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease. Coconut can be used as a daily cooking oil or in baking.
#4 – Eggs
Egg yolks are the richest source of choline in the American diet. Choline is an essential nutrient that is required for the synthesis of acetylcholine as well as nerve cell membranes in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is necessary for concentration and memory. Acetylcholine production declines in patients with dementia, making dietary sources of choline a vital part of a brain-healthy diet. Be sure you eat the whole egg—because the choline is in the yolk!
#5 – Walnuts
Walnuts are shaped like mini brains for a reason. They are high in healthy fats, antioxidants, and minerals. Like avocados, walnuts are a rich, satisfying, and low-glycemic. A nationwide survey of US adults found that walnut consumption was associated with better cognitive function. Throw a bag of walnuts in your bag for an on-the-go snack.
Check out the next article in our brain health series: Exercises for a Healthy Brain
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About the Author: Dr. Gerard Guillory, MD is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and has published two books on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In 1985, he opened The Care Group, PC. Today, his clinic is a Primary Care facility that is a hybrid of functional and traditional medicine treating patients with digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, and other conditions. You can learn more about Dr. Guillory here.