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Brain food: what's good for your brain?

by Dominique Vanier, B.Sc.H., M.Env.Sc.

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The brain is one of the most energy-consuming organ in the body. It weighs only 2 per cent of total body weight, but uses 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate.

Besides governing thousands of complex functions, including circadian rhythm, breathing, regulating emotions, and initiating movement, the brain is also supremely involved in conscious activities, like memory recall and concentration.

Many of the foods we eat do not contribute to optimal brain function.

Foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body generally have negative effects on our mental health as well.

Diets high in sodium, for example, are linked to accelerated cognitive decline in the elderly. Similarly, foods high in fructose have been shown to slow brain and memory function in animal studies.

Limiting salt and sugar intake and avoiding sweets that contain high-fructose corn syrup are therefore important to maintaining peak brain health.

There are many foods that can optimize brain processing speed, memory, and concentration.

Essential fatty acids play an imperative role in brain function as well as growth and development. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are necessary for cognition, mood, and behavior. DHA is most influential on brain development, while EPA plays a larger role in regulating mood.

Essential fatty acids are “essential” because unlike other fats, they cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food. Food sources high in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids include healthy fats like avocado and nuts, cold-water fish, flax, and soybeans.

The daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids is important, and depends on which health condition is being addressed. For example, the American Heart Association recommends at least 1 gram per day of combined EPA and DHA for individuals with heart disease. For those that suffer with mental health issues like bipolar disorder, there is evidence that much higher doses of EPA and DHA can significantly improve symptoms.

Proper food choices aren’t the only option
for improving brainpower.

Some studies have shown that Ginkgo biloba extract can improve recall of information in healthy subjects and improve memory function in subjects with mild cognitive impairment.

To start your day off on the right track, eating a breakfast high in healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates is one of the best ways to fuel the body for the morning’s activities.

Smoothies are a great on-the-go meal option that provide ample nutrients to keep you full and your memory alert for hours.

Here is a quick and easy smoothie recipe that can be made and consumed in less than 5 minutes:

  • 1 scoop of organic, vegan protein powder (or a protein alternative such as 1 cup of greek yogourt or 1 cup of tofu)
  • ½ avocado
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp ground flax or chia seeds
  • 1 cup frozen low-sugar fruit such as strawberries or raspberries
  • 1 cup of greens such as spinach, kale, or mixed greens
  • Dash of cinnamon and/or vanilla to taste

References:
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/eat-smart-healthier-brain#1
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18072818
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20329590
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v475/n7355_supp/full/475S2a.html
http://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-omega-3-fatty-acids#1
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24470182
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802920
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22704410

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