Food for Thought: Simple Food Tips for Brain Health
As a dietitian, I spend a lot of time focused on the role food plays in our overall health and wellness. Many of my conversations center on how to best fuel our bodies – but what about our brains? The brain is at the core of everything we do – it demands 20% of our calories, while only weighing 2% of our total body weight.1 How we fuel our brains, and the nutrients we provide it, can make a big difference.2 I say the brain is a powerhouse worth giving attention to – now, that’s food for thought!
What does science say?
Advances in nutrition research show that food can influence our brain’s connections and how well our neurons (the working units of the brain) communicate.2 Certain foods are neuroprotective, meaning they protect our neurons. That’s why eating a brain-healthy diet is so impactful.3
Brain-healthy diets are diets which emphasize food choices like green leafy veggies, berries, and foods rich in phytonutrients – plant-compounds that offer protection to your brain and body. You can give your brain the love and attention it deserves by adding a few more of these nutrient-dense foods into your snacks and meals.
Did you know?
The Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diets are associated with higher scores on cognitive function tests. In one recent study, people who ate a nutrient-rich diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish revealed substantially slowed cognitive decline with age.3
That’s why I’m so passionate that to live a brain healthy lifestyle, we should start at the source – our food!
What is the MIND diet?
The MIND diet builds on the principles of the Mediterranean diet but emphasizes more berries, leafy greens, a preference for fatty fish like salmon, and fermented dairy products like yogurt. The MIND Diet includes:
- Green leafy vegetables, at least six servings per week
Other vegetables, at least one serving per day - but join in on that brainy group by eating
- Berries, at least two servings per week
- Nuts, at least five servings per week
- Olive oil, as the primary cooking oil
- Whole grains, at least three servings per day
- Fish, not fried, at least once per week
- Beans, at least four meals per week
- Poultry, not fried, at least two meals per week
It also limits intake of animal and high saturated fat foods.
Simple, daily steps for better brain health
For some of us, figuring out a brain-healthy lifestyle might feel overwhelming. But remember, you don’t have to make changes all at once; you can take tiny steps, consistently every day, to support your brain health.
- Evaluate your pantry, fridge, and freezer. How many foods are rich in nutrients? Good examples are green leafy veggies plus other vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, beans, with both fish and poultry consumed unfried.2
- Add a green leafy vegetable to one more meal every day; include berries with yogurt at breakfast; or consider replacing a serving of meat with a hearty bean dish.2
- Include fish and plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Try a fresh or canned salmon sandwich at lunch with a side of kale chips. Add walnuts, chia, hemp, or flax to yogurt, smoothies, oats, or salads at meal or snack time.2
- Choose herbs and spices, rich in phytonutrients, and serve as flavor enhancers for meals.4,5
Then, how about:
- Continue to build a healthy foundation by including exercise, gratitude, social connections, restorative sleep, brain games, and supplement to fill in nutrition gaps when needed. By having healthy habits in place, you can be sure your brain will be operating at its best now and for the future!
When it comes to a healthier lifestyle, the brain should be top of mind! Don’t forget that our amazing brains are responsible for more than just memory – they’re in charge of learning, concentration, focus, memory, reasoning, and accuracy. Working to increase nutrient-dense foods in our daily diet is one way we can do more for our brains every day!
** I am compensated by Reckitt, maker of Neuriva, for my involvement with Neuriva and the Neuriva Brain HealthExperts.
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Raichle, & Gusnard, D. A. (2002). Appraising the Brain’s Energy Budget. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - PNAS, 99(16), 10237–10239. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.172399499
- Ahmad F, Hasan H, Abdelhady S, Fakih W, Osman N, Shaito A and Kobeissy F (2021) Healthy Meal, Happy Brain: How Diet Affects Brain Functioning. Front. Young Minds. 9:578214. doi: 10.3389/frym.2021.578214
- Morris, Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T. (2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(9), 1015–1022.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
- Kennedy DO. Phytochemicals for Improving Aspects of Cognitive Function and Psychological State Potentially Relevant to Sports Performance. Sports Med. 2019 Feb;49(Suppl 1):39-58. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-1007-0. PMID: 30671903; PMCID: PMC6445817.
- Opara EI, Chohan M. Culinary herbs and spices: their bioactive properties, the contribution of polyphenols and the challenges in deducing their true health benefits. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Oct 22;15(10):19183-202. doi: 10.3390/ijms151019183. PMID: 25340982; PMCID: PMC4227268.