The simple act of laughing at a thought, feeling an emotion, the process of decision-making, or the mystery of a dream all have one thing common: they are all rooted in the brain. It is responsible for so many necessary functions that often go unnoticed because they happen unconscientiously. Although the field of brain nutrition is new and still growing, current research reveals many things we can do to protect our brain health.
The heart-brain connection
The great thing about a healthy brain diet is that it is also protective against diseases like diabetes and heart disease because it is low in cholesterol and saturated fats. The heart actually pumps 20% of your blood to the brain to nourish it. So keeping your heart healthy will keep your brain healthy.
- Keep your weight in check. A healthy body weight that is achieved from a balanced, healthy lifestyle can be protective against cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one long-term study found that obese individuals are twice as likely to develop dementia later in life. Excess weight, especially in obesity, puts a strain on the heart and prevents it from functioning at its full capacity.
- Clear the path: Limit saturated fat and cholesterol. A healthy brain diet focuses on maintaining good blood flow to the brain because, like other important organs in our body, the brain needs nutrients like protein and glucose to do its job right.. These two nutrients can clog arteries when consumed in excess because they raise your level of “bad” cholesterol. Also, clogged arteries are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Raising your “good” cholesterol to proper levels has been shown to be protective for the brain. The Alzhemier’s Association found that high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure increase the risk for developing dementia by six times. These risks are hard to ignore.
So what kinds of foods meet the guidelines for a healthy brain diet? Foods that are high in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants help lower risk of developing brain disorders. Key nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and folate.
Nuts are an excellent source of vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, and healthy fats that help increased your “good” cholesterol and decrease the “bad” cholesterol. Fish like mackerel, trout, herring, salmon, and tuna are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Dark leafy greens, aromatics like garlic and onion, and fruits like citrus, berries, cherries, and grapes with dark colored skins are packed with potent antioxidants. These antioxidants help keep your mental functions in check, so your brain doesn’t age quicker than you naturally do.
In order for a healthy brain diet to work, however, it’s important to combine it with a regular physical activity to get your heart pumping and mental stimulation. Socializing, learning, and critical thinking all help keep your mind challenged and your brain stimulated, which can protect its functions from declining. Avoid unhealthy habits like smoking, which disrupts blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain.