A lot of people question the connection between mental health and diet. The truth is that your brain (the powerhouse of the mind) and your lifestyle, diet inclusive, are inseparable! From the brain nutrients Vit B6, B12, Glucose, cholesterol and phytochemicals to the hormone cortisol, one cannot deny the connection between these two crucial sectors of human life. One study published in The British Medical Journal in 2014 found that “high levels of well being were reported by individuals who ate more fruit and vegetables”. Another recent study done by Parletta et al. (2017) found that “A Mediterranean-style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants, which was sustained six months after the intervention”. Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, let’s delve right in!
Feed your brain:
Just like every machine, the brain must be fueled with food which provides it with essential nutrients that help it function optimally. Such foods comprise of plant based foods, healthy fats (mostly Poly and mono unsaturated fats from fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, chicken, etc) and cutting back on solid fats such as lard and butter. While saturated fats slow down cognitive function, plant nutrients support memory retention and help to keep your blood pressure low as hypertension affects your brain and heart. The star plants include beans, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, moderate red wine, legumes and poultry, among others. Basically, foods healthy for your heart would be great for your brain!
Slow down on the Alcohol:
Drinking too much does not only impair judgement and reaction short term, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also reports brain shrinkage with long term alcohol abuse. Also because typical heavy drinkers have poor diets, brain healthy nutrients such as B-Vitamins (B12, B6, Thiamin and Niacin) are often deficient in alcohol abusers! Consume in moderation. The recommended daily allowance is no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women!
Load up on Omega 3s:
Your brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to function but your body can’t produce them, hence they must be gotten from the diet. Two 2017 brain studies from the University of Illinois suggests that eating omega 3 FAs may improve memory retention and strengthen the structures responsible for fluid intelligence (responsible for solving new problems). Also, researchers at Harvard University discovered that Omega-3 FAs May interfere with the brain signals that trigger the characteristic mood swings seen in Bipolar Disorder. These studies indicate that there are possibilities that O3FAs could be used to manage and treat psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.
As a plus, Omega 3s significantly decrease triglyceride levels, blood pressure and reduces blood levels of homocysteine which are associated with an increased risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease among other brain problems.Foods rich in Omega 3 FAs include soybean, canola oils, cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, certified soy products, Nuts especially walnuts and legumes. You need more than one type of Omega 3 FAs, so it would be beneficial to eat a variety of these foods when you can.
Fight Free Radicals with Antioxidants:
Your body produces unstable atoms, called free radicals in reaction to stress, trauma, pollution, processed foods and drugs etc. Although these unstable atoms have immune functions, too much of them can damage and and destroy normal healthy cells. Free radicals are responsible for many neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. To keep these in check, you’d need to keep them in check with antioxidants found in many vitamins and minerals naturally occurring in vegetables and fruits and many natural foods. Also, take steps to reduce environmental pollution from solvents, tobacco smoke, pesticides and exhaust fumes.
Some examples of Antioxidants include:
Vitamin E: Vitamin E has been shown to prevent free radicals damage and delay memory deficits in animal studies. In a two year study of people with Alzheimer’s, large doses of Vitamin E slowed progression of the disease. It has not been shown, however, that large doses of the vitamin can prevent Alzheimer’s in healthy people. Foods rich in Vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, wheat germ oil, peanut butter and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin A: This is another great antioxidant vitamin! Asides from helping to protect the brain from harmful free radicals, it also benefits the circulatory system and is essential for memory and learning. Foods rich in vitamin A include beef liver, fish oil and fortified foods. Others ate carrots, kale, spinach, apricots, cantaloupe, broccoli and winter squash.
Have a Cup of Coffee:
Coffee has taken a beaten over the years and for good reason too, owing to one word: Overindulgence.
It has been proven that coffee reduced the production of the neurotransmitter adenosine by binding to its receptors. Adenosine being a chemical that causes feeling of tiredness, is crucial at bedtime, but otherwise is just a nuisance. This is why a cup of coffee increases alertness and focus!
Coffee also keeps your brain from reabsorbing dopamine, the body’s feel good neurotransmitter, thereby keeping you happy for longer.
However, just like every good thing, there is a limit. Once you start going over 400 mg of caffeine in a day (about 4 cups), the downside starts to outweigh the upside. Effects include migraines, insomnia, restlessness and increased ruination (caffeine is a diuretic). Also, on an empty stomach it can cause heartburn.
So the cup of coffee in the morning is great for you but be careful not to overdo it.
Sip some green tea:
Green tea contains an amino acid called the anime which aids in increasing concentration and attention while reducing fatigue and stress. It also contains antioxidants and nutrients that are directly connected to increased cognition and brain performance. Green tea is a great source of polyphenols which improve memory and learning as well.
Carotenoid it up:
Your brain love loves carotenoids. Asides being a great antioxidant, are a precursor for retinol which is wonderful for your eyes. A good source of these is carrots, another is tomatoes. Cooking makes carotenoids in tomatoes bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb it much quicker than in the raw tomatoes. Since carotenoids are fat soluble, a little olive oil in the sauce would help your body absorb more of these do-good chemicals. Do not skin your tomatoes, you’d take out much of the good stuff.
Pump up on Iron:
Iron has been found to help with cognitive functions. Children with iron deficiency tend to do worse in math, according to recent studies. Even minor levels of iron deficiency can negatively affect brain function. Iron is necessary for the production of myelin which is the insulating sheath around nerve cells, which help speed the rate at which cells convey impulses. Without appropriate myelination, the nervous system and the brain cannot function optimally. Great sources of iron include organ meats, dark chocolates, green vegetables, eggs, cereals and legumes.
Pile on the onions:
While onions are known to contain antioxidants that can remove free radicals, recent studies show that certain chemical compounds found in onions may protect the brain from stroke damage. They have polyphenols which are linked to improved cerebral blood flow and metabolism, and other flavonoids that helps protect the brain against toxins. Onions are also loaded with vitamin C, B6 and folate which help protect the brain.
Increase that Metabolism:
Everything the body does is dependent on your metabolism; from immune functions to digestion and cognition. According to a recent study by McGull University and University of Zurich researchers, metabolism in brain cells affect how information is signaled. Researchers concluded that this is why special diets can help some individuals with seizures control seizure episodes. Studies also show that maintaining a stable glucose concentration in the brain is healthier for the brain than having spikes, too high or too low levels.
To fast track your metabolism with diet and lifestyle,
1. Start off your day with breakfast to kickstart your metabolism;
2. Graze with small meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain stable metabolism and prevent spikes and valleys in blood glucose levels;
3. Eat enough, but not too much as both extremes damage your metabolism;
4. Sip a cup of coffee to help boost metabolism and
5. Engage in as much physical activity as you can.
Fiber:Asides from keeping you regular, Scientists in Great Britain found that for every 7 grams of fiber eaten per day, your risk of stroke goes down 7%!! So chow down on those fruits and vegetables, stack up on high residue cereals and grains and don’t forget to include soluble fibers from avocados, bananas, legumes and oatmeal.
Pack On the Protein:
Protein supplies the amino acids your brain needs to product neurotransmitters and feel good hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.
However, just like carbohydrates and fat, excess energy from proteins are stored as adiposity and is not very healthy, so go easy on them. Also, choose healthy protein sources such as lean meats as most animal protein sources are high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Be wary of fried meats and choose grilled, boiled and poached options. Great sources include eggs and other poultry, lean beef, legumes and grains.
Other Brain Essential Nutrients:
Vitamin B1: Asides being a potent antioxidant and functioning as a cofactor for carbohydrate metabolism, a serious deficiency in B1 can result in dementia, confusion and memory loss! Deficiency of this vitamin is prevalent among alcohol abusers. B1 is found in yeast, meat, nuts, beans and cereals.
Folic Acid: Folic Acid (Vit B9) helps your brain get the blood it needs by inhibiting the narrowing of arteries in the neck. More studies have surfaces, showing the correlation between folic acid supplementation and a reduced chance of certain age related neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Much like B12, folic acid deficiency may present with amnesia (forgetfulness). Folic acid is mostly found in fortified cereals, beans, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.
Vitamin B6: Just like other B-vitamins, B6 is great for cell function and energy metabolism. It is also great for circulation, which the brain needs for fuel. Vitamin B6, in conjunction with folate and B12 helps lower blood levels of homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease. Great sources include rice, soybeans, whole grains, fish, chicken, carrots, beef, bananas and avocados.
Vitamin B12: An estimated 25% of people between ages 60 & 7O are deficient in B12, and so are nearly 40% of people eighty and older. B12 deficiency is easily mistaken for decline in mental function, including memory loss and reduction in reasoning skills, and may affect mood. B12 has shown great benefits in treatment of Alzheimer’s, dementia, sleep disorders and diabetic neuropathy. Sources include liver, salmon, cereals, yogurt and eggs.
Magnesium: Magnesium aids neuron metabolism and boosts the effectiveness of certain antioxidants. Higher magnesium intakes have also been linked to a lower risk of strokes. The best sources of magnesium include legumes, almonds, avocados, wheat bran, seafood, fruit, whole grains and green vegetables.
Vitamin C: Vit C is another powerful antioxidant. A daily dose of 1,000-2,000 mg (mostly from food) has been shown to keep the arteries healthy while an extra 500 mg may lower blood pressure. Sources include dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi, oranges, mango, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Be careful not to take too much as large amounts have been shown to cause diarrhea and kidney stones.
Phosphorus: phosphorus is vital to growth, maintainable and repair of all body tissues, including the brain. It also helps activate B a Iranians and is a component of the storage form of energy in the brain. Phosphorus is found in potatoes, wheat, fish, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Get that Exercise:
Did you know that exercising has been shown to help combat major depression? 😂 thank me later then.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are your body’s feel good chemicals that help your nerve cells send signals. They not only elevate your mood but also help protect you from feeling pain. Exercising is a great way of increasing blood concentrations of these wonderful chemicals.
Also, spicy foods which contain capsaicin (causing them burning sensation) can also prompt your brain to release endorphins.
Other great foods for your brain include oolong tea, quality dark chocolates, ginkgo, avocados, berries and wild oats!!
Get in the business of taking care of your mind and brain, theres only one of it!