The brain is a complex organ that regulates almost all the functions of our body. It collects information from the outside world and reproduces it as the essence of the mind and soul. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy brain is defined as “the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioural, and motor domains, allowing a person to realize their full potential over the life course, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.” As our brain depends on external stimuli, environmental factors, sense of safety, learning, and social factors all contribute to overall brain health. Similarly, our physical health also has a profound effect on our brain health.
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Health is not just the absence of disease but also metabolic stability that enables a human to achieve their complete ambitions. Physical health is greatly determined by our food, as it provides the nutrients needed for optimal metabolic outcomes. While a diet consisting of fresh ingredients in proper proportions provides adequate nutrients, each organ requires specific nutrients or critical nutrients.
Brain health also requires certain healthy nutrients but there are some foods/nutrients that may damage the brain or affect its health.
Add nutrient-rich foods to your diet for good brain health. Image Credit: iStock
Nutrients For Brain Health:
Omega-3 fats: 60% of our brain is made up of fat, and 25% of this fat is omega-3 fats. These healthy fats also improve intellectual performance, learning, and memory. Early research shows a positive correlation between preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Consumption of DHA-rich fats helps nourish the brain, and as these fats are strong antioxidants, they protect the brain and heart as well. Fatty fishes are the best sources, and flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans are also good sources.
Lutein: a plant pigment found extensively in the brain. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties slow down aging processes. Research has shown a positive correlation between visual and cognitive health and lutein from birth throughout life. Lutein is present in green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B: This family of vitamins is crucial for brain health from conception. Poor intake of B12 and folate before and during pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects, poor cognition, and growth in general. Vitamin B12, B6, and folate are all involved in the metabolism of chemicals that affect our mood. B12 and folate also neutralize homocysteine, which is harmful to the brain. Food sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Vitamin D, E, AND K: are closely related to reduced cognitive decline and improved memory. Vitamin E is also a strong antioxidant and works to protect against aging. Vitamin D is important for the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, the “happy hormones.” Food sources for E, K are green leafy vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
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Omega-6 fatty acids are linked to good health, but studies have shown that excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids may increase inflammatory processes in our body. Omega-6 has been found to affect DHA (omega-3) by reducing its production, and as DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain, this imbalance may lead to cognitive decline in the developing brain. Excessive intake of omega-6 may also have a negative impact on neurotransmission. Our modern diets are high in omega-6 compared to omega-3. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is 1:4. This can be achieved to a large extent by choosing good cooking oils. Soybean oil, safflower, sunflower, corn, and canola oils are rich sources of Omega -6. Use peanut, olive, rice bran oils in combination with cold pressed mustard and til oil for a better balance.
These foods are harmful to the body as they have been found to be causative factors for a number of health problems, including brain health.
Sugar: Our brain consumes the largest part of energy in the form of glucose compared to the rest of the body. However, excessive intake of sugars does not improve brain function, but actually damages brain cell connectivity, memory, and cognition over time. Excessive sugar intake also has a detrimental effect on gut bacteria, which may cause mood alterations and even depression. In addition to table sugar, read labels for hidden sugars.
Refined and processed foods such as commercial pizzas, cookies, and chips may taste good, but they are packed with refined sugars, unhealthy fats, excess salt, and refined carbs. In addition to increasing the risk of metabolic disorders, they are also responsible for cognitive decline. Research links this to their ability to cause inflammatory responses. A study conducted at the Department of Pathology in the School of Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo found that people who consumed 20% or more of their daily calories from processed foods had a 28% faster cognitive decline and a 25% faster decline in executive function over an 8-year follow-up period.
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Artificial sweeteners, when consumed in excess, may be detrimental to our health. One study that followed 3000 adults for 10 years found that daily consumption of even one diet soda increased the chances of stroke and dementia. Another animal study found that cognitive performance was negatively impacted by artificial sweeteners. In addition, artificial sweeteners may also affect gut microbes and mood.
When discussing health, we often forget about the brain, but overall well-being includes a healthy mind in a healthy body. So, eat healthy.