Eat These Top 7 Brain Food To Improve Our Minds
Posted on May 16th 2019 by Letara Buckley
When you picture someone with a healthy mind, you may imagine someone who has a great memory, someone happy, or perhaps someone who is highly intelligent? You may be less likely to picture the foods required to have a healthy mind. Are you aware of the top brain-boosting foods? This article is going to explore the physical effects that different foods have on your brain, and the top seven superfoods that you should be eating, backed by major organizations and Marisa Peer.
How Does Food Affect Your Brain?
Every meal or snack you eat either gives you nutrients or calories―or a mixture of the two―which in turn can affect how chemicals are produced in your brain.
The BBC Good Food site asked a dietician, Emer Delaney, to explain how different foods, drinks, and nutrients affect the brain. The research included carbohydrates, probiotics, fats, caffeine, vitamins and minerals. The explanations for each group can be viewed below:
According to Emer Delaney, “Glucose forms the building blocks of carbohydrates and plays a role in the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is
widely accepted to be responsible for balancing mood and anxiety. The greatest source of energy for our brain comes from carbohydrates such as wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, rice, potatoes and lactose (the sugar found in milk). These are considered healthy sources of carbohydrates that are broken down by the body into glucose and then used by our brain to function. Without an adequate supply of glucose, the brain cannot function correctly.”
Marisa Peer has over 30 years’ experience working with clients to help free them from a range of issues, including anxiety and depression. She is also considered a leading expert in helping people achieve their perfect weight forever. Marisa recognizes that vegetables are a great source of nutrients and energy, but she advises that fruit should be limited. She says: “Vegetables are far more important than fruits. They have more vitamins and more antioxidants and we should have more daily servings of vegetables than fruit. Fruit is still a sugar and too much of it pushes up insulin levels. Fruit juice is not good at all as it contains way too much sugar. There is the same amount of sugar in a glass of juice as there is in a can of coke.”
You might be thinking: how does sugar and high insulin levels affect my mind? The American Diabetes Association published a journal about the link between insulin and the brain. It stated: ‘We have learned over the last several decades that the brain is an important
target for insulin action. Insulin in the central nervous system (CNS) affects feeding behavior and body energy stores, the metabolism of glucose and fats in the liver and adipose, and various aspects of memory and cognition. Insulin may even influence the development or progression of Alzheimer disease.’
Marisa also advises that rice and potatoes should be limited, and cow’s milk avoided. She explains her views: “When you eat protein you burn fat, when you eat carbs you store fat. But when you add protein to carbs you slow down the sugar. This means that if you really want a pasta or rice dish, add a protein like fish or chicken to make it less starchy. A better way to monitor your diet is to never double carb. This simply means that if you have a baked potato, don’t add baked beans or you will be eating two types of starchy carbs together.”
“Cow’s milk is to nourish calves and gives them a 300% weight gain in a year. Milk literally sends a message to their cells that says GROW, GROW and GROW! Fully-grown human cells get the same message. Cow’s cheese is a concentrated growth hormone.”
While Marisa’s views focus more on weight management, there is also a link between a low-carb diet and good brain function. An interesting article on LiveStrong™ states the following:
‘If you’ve ever been told to carb-load for a game, race or a tough workout, you know carbs are key for boosting your energy. Your body turns them into glucose, which also directly fuels your brain. Your brain cells can actually only use glucose for energy, which makes carbs absolutely essential for powering brain function.
That’s not the only way carbs affect brain function, though. Eating carbohydrates signals for your brain to produce serotonin, a hormone that’s involved in mood regulation, appetite control and the sleep cycle. That may be one reason that carbs are considered “comfort food” and why you might crave carb-rich foods when you’re upset or stressed.
Low-carb diets are great for helping you lose weight and may also protect you from type-2 diabetes. That’s good for your brain because the insulin resistance that occurs in type-2 diabetes and prediabetes actually lowers your brain function, causing symptoms similar to
Alzheimer’s, according to a study published in JAMA Neurology in 2001.
You can eat for brain health even if you’re following a very-low-carb diet. Make sure to include salmon, chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts in your low-carb meal plans. These supply omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients your brain needs to make myelin, an “insulator” that helps your nerves communicate properly. The meats, leafy green veggies, nuts and beans in your diet contribute B-complex vitamins, which help you make myelin as well as produce brain hormones, like serotonin. And protein supplies tryptophan, an amino acid needed for serotonin production.’
‘It is widely accepted that there is two-way communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system through biochemical signaling. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis‘, describing the link between the cognitive and emotional areas of the brain to our gut.
There has recently been a lot of interest in the role of probiotics, gut and brain function. It is believed that probiotics change the processing of information in the gut that is strongly linked to anxiety and depression. A small study involving 20 healthy participants found that, compared to those taking a placebo, people who took a probiotic food supplement experienced fewer negative thoughts associated with sad moods.’ (BBC Good Food)
In a blog post on Marisa’s website, ‘IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): Diet and the Power of the Mind’, the topic of the gut-brain axis is further explored, as well as the advice to consume probiotics. Foods that contain probiotics are:
– Yogurt: Fermented yogurt naturally contains lots of probiotic cultures that strengthen the digestive tract. Traditional Greek yogurt contains probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei that can help increase the good bacteria in your gut.
– Kefir: A cultured, fermented drink that is similar to yogurt with a sour taste. Kefir is a good source of calcium and is rich in probiotic bacteria.
– Sauerkraut: Cabbage that is fermented with lactic-acid bacteria. It contains fiber and compounds that boost the immune system.
– Tempeh: A protein made from soybeans that contains healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
– Kimchi: This Korean probiotic dish is made with cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and garlic.
– Miso: A traditional Japanese paste that is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, and sometimes barley or seaweed.
– Kombucha: A fermented tea that is full of probiotics and antioxidants that support the immune system.
‘Specific fats are very important to the brain as they are a key component in the structure of cell membranes and they play a role in the structure and function of neurons. We know that approximately 60% of the brain is made up of omega-3 fats with DHA, a type of omega-3 fat found in fish, being the main type, responsible for eye and mental development. Omega-3 fats found in olive oil, oily fish such as salmon, herring and sardines are essential for brain development in the womb and early childhood. The majority of brain cells are developed before birth, with the remaining being laid down in the first year of life. For this reason, omega-3 fats are key during pregnancy and early childhood. There is also evidence to suggest dietary deficiency in omega-3 fats can have an adverse effect on cognition. Also, a high intake of these fats has been associated with a reduction in the development and progression of dementia.’ (BBC Good Food)
Within Marisa’s Perfect Weight Forever program, Marisa comments on how consuming fats is essential to our cognitive health: “Essential fats are called essential because the body cannot make them and absolutely needs them for good physical and mental health. (Depression can be caused by a lack of essential fats.) The clue is in the name. Your body and brain must have healthy fat and if you don’t eat good fat in the form of avocados, nuts, seeds, oily dressings and oily fish you will crave chocolate, chips, cakes and cheese as your body can only get essential fats from food. The more good fat you eat the less you will crave junk food like cookies, chips and chocolate. Children who start the day with a breakfast containing fat stay full right up until lunch and are more alert and have better brain function than those who eat a sugar and carb breakfast.”
Vitamins and Minerals
‘B vitamins, vitamins C, D & E and magnesium are all essential in brain health and development. Research shows that a diet rich in vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of developing cognitive problems during aging. Thiamine and vitamin E, in particular, are important for cells that transmit messages from the nerves, whilst B6, B12 and vitamin C play an important role in how the nerves work and are formed. Magnesium, which is found in avocados, spinach, brown rice and nuts, improves neural plasticity, meaning the nerves are able to adapt and avoid damage. As a result, it may improve memory, help to fight stress and depression and it’s crucial for the production of energy and neurotransmitters.
Epidemiologic studies also show that the consumption of vitamins and minerals is associated with a lower risk of developing cognitive deficits. The B vitamins and vitamins E, C, and D have all been identified as playing important roles in maintaining normal brain function. Members of the B vitamin family and vitamin C also are essential to energy production in the brain.’ (BBC Good Food)
Marisa explains in Perfect Weight Forever how many vitamins can only be absorbed in the body when there is healthy fat present in the diet: “Your body will only crave sugar if it lacks essential nutrients and vitamins. Many vitamins cannot be absorbed without
fat so don’t make the classic mistake of taking supplements while eating a low-fat diet as you won’t get the benefits because the vitamins can’t be properly absorbed.”
‘Caffeine is widely accepted to be one of the most commonly used psychoactive substances worldwide that is found in a wide variety of foods and drinks. In small doses it is an ergogenic aid (performance-enhancing substance) acting on the central nervous system to delay tiredness and increase alertness. The caffeine found in tea may be beneficial for cognition in older adults, but may be problematic for those who have trouble sleeping.
Human epidemiologic studies have reported better cognitive function amongst tea and coffee drinkers for years. A recent meta-analysis evaluating the existing evidence of caffeine and health outcomes, concluded that caffeine was consistently associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, depression and cognitive disorders for Alzheimer’s disease. However, exactly how and why this occurs is unclear from these studies.’ (BBC Good Food)
In Perfect Weight Forever, Marisa says: “You don’t have to give up your caffeine habit. An Americano or filter coffee has zero calories and you can add a couple of tablespoons of soya milk or almond milk if you don’t like to drink it black. Instead of sweetening with sugar, use stevia or xylitol as those are natural sugar alternatives. You can sprinkle nutmeg or cinnamon onto coffee but never use the syrups as they are pure sugar.”
Top 7 Foods for a Healthy Brain
Food advice in the press and media can be misleading and very often contradicting. But from the research shown in this article and using Marisa’s principles, here is a round-up of the most commonly agreed superfoods for your cognitive development.
1. Oily and fatty fish
Trout, salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, pilchards, herring, whitebait, eels. These are all rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for two to three servings per week.
This dense fruit contains monounsaturated fat which contributes to healthy blood flow and ultimately a healthy brain.
3. Nuts and seeds
Particularly almonds, Brazil nuts, linseeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Eating all of these will give you omega-3 oils, selenium, vitamin B and zinc.
Marisa says that eggs are “Full of vitamins, calcium and lutein. Studies have shown that having 2–3 eggs for breakfast suppresses hunger for hours whilst boosting concentration. Eggs are also full of serotonin, which can aid in the prevention of junk food and sugar cravings.”
5. Green tea
The caffeine in green tea boosts brain function. It also contains an amino acid called L-theanine which can help you relax.
These are packed with antioxidants which can delay the aging of the brain and improve your memory.
7. Dark chocolate
The cocoa within dark chocolate (at least 80% types) contains flavonoids and antioxidants. The flavonoids gather in the learning and memory areas of the brain.