Like the rest of your organs, your brain needs to be well nourished to function properly and keep you in good mental health as you age.
Your brain has to work hard 24 hours each day - even when sleeping it is busy taking care of your breathing, thoughts, movements and senses! This means that the brain requires a constant supply of fuel, which comes from food, and choosing high quality, healthy foods makes all the difference.
High quality foods contain a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants: all of which help nourish the brain and protect it from the damage caused by free radicals produced when the body uses oxygen. A diet that is made up of poor quality foods, such as those high in sugar, salt and trans-fats, and refined foods, can harm the brain.
Too much sugar, for example, can disrupt insulin regulation and encourage inflammation, which is thought to be at the root of many diseases, including those of the brain. Research has also suggested that a diet high in bad fats may speed up the formation of harmful amino acids in the brain, which are blamed for much of the damage that occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
An unhealthy diet can also increase the risk of poor heart health and blood vessel damage, including that of the brain, which can lead to stroke.
6 pillars of a brain healthy lifestyle
Mental decline is common as we age but it is not inevitable. The Alzheimer's society outlines the six pillars of a brain healthy, Alzheimer's prevention lifestyle as:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Mental stimulation
- Quality sleep
- Stress management
- An active social life
A balanced approach
A healthy, balanced diet is very important to protect your brain. Enjoying a Mediterranean style diet, for example, which involves eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, wholegrains, fish and olive oil, and limiting red meats and dairy foods, has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.
Maintaining a nutritious diet is the most important thing to focus on when trying to protect the health of your brain, but some foods are even more protective than others…
6 Brain friendly foods
Oily fishThis includes salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna, which are rich in essential omega 3 fatty acids. The most important of these fatty acids are EPA and DHA, which are associated with maintaining a healthy brain, heart and joints, as well as general wellbeing. Low levels of DHA has been linked to Alzheimer's disease and memory loss. while having enough levels of both EPA and DHA helps the body to make the 'feel good' hormone serotonin, which can help to manage stress.
BlueberriesResearch has shown that eating blueberries can help to improve or delay short-term memory loss, thanks to their active plant compounds called anthocyanins. These compounds are responsible for the dark red and purple colours of fruits and vegetables. Look for other purple fruits and vegetables, such as berries, aubergines and beetroot, which also provide a good supply of these phytonutrients.
EggsThese nutritious nuggets contain a source of B vitamins, including B6, B12 and folic acid, which help to reduce homocysteine in the blood. High levels of this homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. One study found significantly less brain shrinkage in older people with mild cognitive impairment after receiving high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid, when compared with a placebo. Other rich sources of these nutrients include green vegetables, poultry and wholegrains.
GingerResearchers believe that eating foods such as ginger, as well as green tea, dark berries and oily fish, can help to protect glial cells. These cells are the most abundant of the central nervous system and provide support and protection while helping to remove toxins from the brain that can contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
OatsEating wholegrain foods such as oats can help to maintain steady insulin and blood sugar levels, unlike processed foods, which are rich in refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour which can rapidly spike your glucose levels. Frequent spikes in blood sugar can cause inflammation, which can be harmful to organs such as the brain.
NutsA rich source of vitamin E can be found in all types of nut. Research has suggested that vitamin E may help to reduce cognitive decline, especially in older people. You can increase your intake of nuts by sprinkling them over yoghurt or salads, using them to make fresh nuts milks or simply eating as a nourishing snack.