People have long been aware that the types of food they consume can have an effect on their bodies and health. However, only in recent decades have scientists found a connection between food and brain health. Specifically, the types of food that you consume can have a significant impact on your cognitive functions, such as memory, learning, and logical reasoning 1.
In this post, we take a closer look at what exactly brain health is and why it can be beneficial to maintain it. We also examine how you can alter your diet to include foods that can improve your brain health.
What is Brain Health and Why Does It Matter?
Broadly speaking, brain health is a term that can be used to describe any of a person’s mental faculties. According to the World Health Organisation, this includes the state of an individual’s brain functions across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioural, and motor domains 2.
Your brain health is a crucial component of your overall well-being, and maintaining it can help you improve your quality of life. This is because poor brain health can often be a precursor to mental health disorders and neurological disorders 3.
What Are Brain Foods?
Your diet can be a contributing factor to your brain health. ‘Brain foods’ is a term that is commonly used to describe foods containing specific nutrients that can affect brain health. The nutrients found in brain foods can have a direct effect on your mental functions and emotions 4. Consuming brain foods can also influence the production of certain types of gut bacteria and hormones. These bacteria and hormones can travel to your brain via the gut-brain connection, affecting your mental health.
Best Diet for Brain Health
Given the importance of the food you eat on your brain health and cognitive functions, you might be wondering what the best diet for brain health is. Without further ado, here are some of the best brain foods that you can consider adding to your diet:
Seafood such as fish and shellfish contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids 6. While you may be able to get these nutrients from supplements, adding them to your diet still remains the most natural and organic way to reap their benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in clinical studies to improve cognition and reduce age-associated cognitive decline 7. Moreover, foods containing such nutrients have also been proven to reduce one’s likelihood of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease 8, cementing their position as one of the top brain foods you can consume.
2. Matcha Tea
Matcha is a style of Japanese green tea that is produced from dried and powdered green tea leaves. It has been enjoyed by Japanese people for centuries and the numerous health benefits it brings have increased its popularity worldwide in recent years.
Due to the special growing process that matcha tea leaves undergo, they end up with higher levels of antioxidants such as theanine, caffeine, chlorophyll, and catechins 9. If consumed regularly, these antioxidants can help to prevent neurological diseases and improve brain function 10.
While research on the beneficial effects of chocolate consumption is still in its nascent stages, there is a growing body of scientific literature showing a link between chocolate consumption and brain function. Specifically, dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain flavonoids that have been shown to improve brain function and even mood 12.
Walnuts are a popular snack that can also be beneficial to your mental health if consumed regularly. They contain high levels of polyphenolic compounds which have been shown to reduce the inflammation of brain cells. Additionally, these compounds can also help to slow down age-associated neurological decline and improve memory 13.
5. Acai Berries
The acai fruit is a small berry that is native to the Amazonian rainforests of South America. In recent years, it has gained popularity as one of the best health foods and you might commonly find it in the form of a smoothie or sorbet at many health food stores.
Acai berries contain one of the highest levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds out of all fruits, vegetables, and nuts. This enables acai berries to have neuroprotective abilities, meaning that they can slow the progression of neurological diseases such as dementia 14.
While it is most commonly associated with coffee, there are actually plenty of other foods and drinks that also contain high concentrations of caffeine. Some examples include chocolate, green tea, guarana, and various sodas.
As long as it is consumed in moderation, caffeine has been shown to provide numerous benefits to brain health. Not only can it help to improve alertness and increase mental energy, it has also been associated with better moods and a lower risk of depressive symptoms 15.
Additionally, caffeine consumption can also have beneficial effects on your physical health, with one of the most prominent benefits being its ability to help with weight loss.