Food For Brain Health

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Can what you eat really make a difference to your memory, your ability and even decrease your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease?

In a word, yes. Not only does the food we eat provide constant fuel for our brain in the form of glucose, some foods and diets are also rich sources of nutrients found to be important in the development and maintenance of brain function.

1. Vegetables

Always when we talk about food and health, it comes back to vegetables and brain health is no exception. Imagine if there was a pill you could take that was proven to stop you becoming an older person who forgets everything. Well this gets better than that. A well-known study that has followed a large number of nurses for many years found the nurses who ate more cruciferous and leafy vegetables in their sixties had a lower rate of decline in memory and learning tests. Examples of cruciferous vegetables are cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and kale. Include these vegetables along with spinach, lettuce and other leaves every single day if you can.

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2. Mediterranean Diet

Like vegetables, the Mediterranean diet inevitably pops up in discussions of food and health. Not only is the Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables which are important for the reasons above, it is also high in omega 3 fats from oily fish like salmon and sardines, olive oil, seeds and nuts. Omega 3 plays an important role in maintaining brain function throughout life and may even protect the brain from ageing. Other key foods are pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans). These often overlooked foods are also found in plentiful amounts in Mediterranean diets and are very good at maintaining energy to the brain. Use pulses often, they taste great, are affordable, filling and are super good for you and your brain.

Whole grains also feature in the Mediterranean diet. Eating plenty of whole grains is linked with improved blood flow to the body's organs which of course includes the brain.

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3. Blueberries

There are nutrients found in the skin of blueberries that have been shown to protect the brain from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Of particular benefit are the substances giving blueberries their gorgeous color. Eating blueberries everyday has been shown to improve ability to learn and motor skills in animals and may very well have the same effect on humans. Don't worry if blueberry season is over, frozen berries are just as good. Add a handful to your breakfast cereal or a smoothie whenever you can.

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4. Fermented foods and good bacteria

There is emerging research into the role gut bacteria play in maintaining good mental health. Probiotics found in foods like yogurt are associated with improved anxiety levels and perception of stress along with a positive mental outlook. It may seem a stretch that the billions of bacteria floating around your gut have anything to do with your brain but scientists have been able to show production of serotonin, otherwise known as the "feel good hormone" is highly influenced by the presence of the "good bacteria" living in your gut. So if you're feeling like trying something new, go with the present craze for fermented foods; sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso and try to have probiotic yogurt most days.

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5. Iron rich foods

Iron is particularly important for women of reproductive age. Low iron levels or anemia affects both brain processing speed (how quickly you can deal with information) and accuracy. The best source of iron is red meat, include about 120 g a couple of times a week. If you do not eat meat other sources of iron are dark green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, beans and fresh wheatgerm. The iron from these plant foods is not as easily absorbed as iron from meat so make sure you eat some fruit with your meals, the vitamin C found in fruit helps with the absorption of iron.

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6. Drink plenty - water is best

No rocket science here, it is well known we need to drink around 2 liters each day for good health but did you know even mild dehydration affects memory and overall cognitive ability. By the time you feel thirsty you are already slightly dehydrated so don’t wait, drink plenty of water and avoid thirst.

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7. Eat regular meals

Our brains need a constant supply of fuel in the form of glucose which comes from the food we eat. Our bodies don’t store glucose so eating regularly is important to maintain the fuel lines – don’t skip meals as a regular habit. Also don’t be tricked into thinking this means a diet high in sugary foods is the way to go, after all what is sugar but glucose and fructose joined together? Your body and your brain works best when its fuel comes from high quality minimally processed foods.

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NutritionAndrea Ler