The brain is the most important organ in the body because it helps control all systems and functions within the body that we need to survive. In the average adult, the brain uses around 20% of all consumed calories. Therefore, it is important to include brain healthy foods in our diet to make sure we have all the beneficial nutrients we need to think our smartest.
How to Eat for Your Brain
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are among the best brain-healthy foods to eat. This is because the brain is made up of around 60% fat, half of which consists of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids are not made by the body, so they must be consumed from dietary sources. Recent research has also shown that fatty acids are one of the most crucial molecules that determine the brain’s ability to perform. Having insufficient levels of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to learning impairments and depression.
Some foods containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Albacore tuna
- Chia seeds
Antioxidants can also help boost brain function. This is because antioxidants fight against oxidative stress, to which the brain is highly susceptible. Oxidative stress contributes to brain aging and potential brain diseases.
In a 2014 study, it was found that the flavonoids in berries can increase the communication frequency between brain cells and the plasticity in the brain which in turn helps the brain cells form new connections. Some of the flavonoid antioxidants found in berries have been scientifically proven to help improve memory and boost learning.
Some antioxidant-rich berries are:
Other foods high in antioxidants are cacao, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, turmeric, broccoli, citrus fruits, and many other fruits and vegetables.
Foods to Avoid for Optimal Brain Health
Just as there are brain healthy foods, there are brain un-healthy foods. Ultra-processed foods can negatively impact mood and memory. They can also slowly contribute to brain diseases such as dementia, which is predicted to affect more than 65 million people by 2030. In a recent study, it was found that eating processed foods as more than 20% of your daily calorie intake may result in a 28% faster decline in cognition and a 25% faster decline in executive functioning within the brain.
Cognition refers to all of the mental processes that are involved in learning, remembering, and using knowledge.
Executive functions are cognitive abilities such as flexible thinking, planning, abstract reasoning, self-control, working memory, time management, and judgment.
For a person that consumes 2,000 calories daily, 20% of their daily caloric intake would equal 400 calories. When eating processed food, it is very easy to go over 400 calories. A double cheeseburger from McDonald’s contains 450 calories, so that would already put you over the 20% caloric threshold even before ordering a side of fries or a drink.
Examples of some common highly-processed foods to avoid/minimize in our regular diets include:
- French fries
- Instant noodles
- Microwavable flavored popcorn
- Frozen appetizers and meals
- Ice cream
Almost any conventional item at the store that is ready-made and has a long list of ingredients is likely to be highly-processed. This includes things like most condiments, sauces, snacks, cereals, breads, etc.
The foods we eat not only play a major role in the everyday functioning of our brain, but also affect the future functioning of it. There are many specific nutrients we can eat to help protect against neurological difficulties and problems. Simply choosing fresh, non-processed, or minimally-processed foods over highly-processed ones the majority of the time has been shown to be a great way to help keep our brains healthy.