The brain controls the entire body; every thought, emotion, movement and breath
Even when sleeping, the brain is busy clearing away waste, reenergising the body’s cells, regulating mood and appetite. This activity requires fuel to ensure optimum performance, which is derived from the food we eat and it is the quality of this food which makes all of the difference to the performance of the body and mental health.
Deborah Colson, Cognitive Nutritional Therapist at Re:Cognition Health, specialises in improving mental health and neurological conditions through nutrition, exercise and other forms of lifestyle intervention. Below she shares her top nutrition advice to keep the brain healthy and optimise brain function
Deborah Colson’s top nutritional tips:
Keep processed foods to a minimum
These foods are nutritionally poor, lacking in the vital micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc) which are needed for the brain to function at its best.
Processed foods are also more likely to be high in sugar and contain additives and preservatives which are foreign chemicals that require detoxification.
Fats are friends
The brain is a very fatty organ (over 60% of its dry weight is fat) and is the most cholesterol-rich organ in the body. So, despite what you may believe about fat being bad for you, it’s actually essential for your brain to function at its best.
Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 found in oily fish, nuts and seeds) are especially important and you should aim for 2-3 portions of oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel sardines) per week. A regular intake of nuts and seeds is also advised. Saturated fats from good quality meat, dairy, eggs, coconut oil are also an important part of a brain healthy diet.
Sweeten with caution
Sugar is very bad for your brain and dramatically increases inflammation in the body. Inflammation increases your risk of dementia by around 20%, along with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer.
The brain consists of around 70% water, so it’s important to maintain good hydration levels to keep it performing at an optimum level. This is because dehydration can be detrimental to cognitive performance, memory and attention.
Mind the bottle
Alcohol is toxic to the brain so keep your intake to moderate and occasional.
Bacteria for the Brain
Many people are surprised to learn that the beneficial bacteria living in their gut can affect their brain.
The gut consists of a complex ecosystem made up of trillions of different microbiome which are essential to brain health due to the constant two-way communication going on between gut and brain. Bacteria plays a key role in modulating inflammation in the body and is essential for good mental health.
Plenty of fibre from vegetables, fermented foods and probiotics can all help improve gut bacteria.
Pack in the Protein
Serotonin, the mood boosting hormone, is made in the gut as well as the brain. It’s manufactured from an amino acid (L-tryptophan) which is present in protein-rich foods, and requires micronutrients in the manufacturing process to convert the L-tryptophan into serotonin.
With increasing evidence to suggest that pesticides used to treat produce may cause brain damage and that organic produce is more nutritious, it’s advisable to choose organic produce where possible.
Good nutrients for the brain:
- Omega 3 fatty acids – found in fish, seeds, nuts
- Vitamin D – derived from sunshine and oily fish
- Tryptophan – from leafy greens, turkey, beef, eggs
- Selenium – found in protein rich foods such as lean meats, poultry, eggs, shellfish, legumes and nuts (especially Brazil nuts)
- Magnesium – from green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, seafood (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Zinc – from meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs and whole grains
- Curcumin – found in turmeric
- Q10 – found in organ meats (heart, liver, kidney), beef, sardines, mackerel and peanuts