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Health is such a large word. In its constitution the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Our brain plays a crucial part in all of this process as it is our primary survival organ, in charge of the body, mind and spirit. It not only controls our thoughts and senses, but also our movement, breathing and heartbeat. That is why we need to nourish our brain with proper food to keep it healthy. However, we also should contemplate factors that cause damage to this vital organ and lead to premature aging.
The brain works continuously, even when we are asleep. This means it requires constant fuel. For this reason, the phrase “you are what you eat” has particular relevance. The fuel comes from the foods we eat, so it is essential to give the brain the best fuel possible.
Brain health is influenced by multiple factors, such as enough sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet. Nutrition is essential for our brain health and recent research shows that that it is possible to positively influence a number of mental health conditions through the diet. Failing to provide the proper nutrients will have a negative impact on mood, memory and the ability to focus and learn.
Did you know that the brain is the fattest organ in the body and consists of at least 60% fat? That is why it is so important to provide healthy fats. The Omega 3 fatty acids, present in oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, tuna), nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts, pumpkin seeds, linseed oil), soy products and green leafy vegetables, are particularly important. Increased levels of these healthy fats were shown to help improve conditions such as ADHD, depression or bipolar disorder.
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, flax and chia seeds are, in general, a great source of essential fatty acids and can also provide vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6 and magnesium, adding extra benefits for brain health.
Omega 9 fatty acids can be produced by the body and are, therefore, not essential. They are important however, and are shown to improve our mood and extend energy levels. Good sources are avocados, olives and olive oil, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts.
Another healthy and delicious fat is coconut oil. It is a rich source of saturated fat, with a special type of fatty acids, called Medium Chain Triglycerides. They are metabolised in a different way and can be used as a source of energy for the brain and can have therapeutic effects for certain brain disorders. Organic, virgin coconut oil is the best choice, so try to avoid refined products.
Leafy Greens such as kale, spinach etc. are mineral-rich and high in folate, and in addition to their many other benefits, may help improve cognition and reduce depression. Kale is a very nutrient-dense vegetable and is rightly considered a superfood. It is packed with nutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin K and brain-protecting antioxidants that fight brain aging and memory loss. It is also rich in minerals and amino acids supporting alertness and motivation.
Berries, particularly blueberries and blackberries, are another delicious way to feed and protect your brain. It is known that some memory issues are associated with inflammation. Berries are a great source of antioxidants that protect against free radicals and also have anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, sage and cumin will also help to reduce inflammation and associated health issues. So, spicing up your meals will make them flavourful and beneficial.
Eating eggs is another way to contribute to brain health. Eggs yolks are rich in choline, a nutrient used by the body to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is needed for communication among brain cells and important for maintaining memory.
Try to stay away from highly processed substances with negative impacts on our brain, such refined sugar, and dive into the many healthy and delicious foods that support you physical and mental wellbeing. Your brain will thank you for it!
Monique Hegner, Nutritional Therapist