Our brain is a highly multifaceted organ that neuroscientists continue to learn new things about every day. It controls our thoughts, memory, and processes that regulate our bodies. And all this work requires a lot of energy.
The brain uses around 20% of our body’s calories, so eating the right foods plays a crucial role in supporting healthy brain function. Also, many foods we eat are detrimental to our brain’s health and contribute to mental decline as we age.
In this article, we’ll cover three of the best and worst foods for brain health:
Best Foods for Brain Health
Blueberries are great for your brain’s health, as well as your body’s. The berry’s deep color comes from anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Examples of other antioxidant-rich berries include:
Antioxidants fight against conditions that contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative disease. Blueberries can help your brain function better as some of the antioxidants have been found to help improve communication between brain cells. They have even been found in studies to help improve memory and other cognitive processes in older adults and children.
Blueberries and other berries can be easily added to your favorite smoothie or breakfast cereal or eaten by themselves.
2. Fatty Fish
Around 60% of your brain is made up of fat. About half of that fat is what is called “omega-3 fatty acids.” Omega-3s develop nerve and brain cells and are essential for things like memory and learning. They may also help to fight Alzheimer’s disease and slow age-related mental decline.
A lack of omega-3 in the diet has been linked to depression and learning deficiencies. Research suggests that people who eat fatty fish regularly tend to be smarter due to an increased amount of gray matter in their brains. Gray matter includes most of the nerve cells required to control memory, emotion, and decision making and is built in part by dietary omega-3s.
Salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty or oily fish is the best choice for brain health and health overall.
3. Tea and Coffee
Tea and coffee lovers might be pleased to know that caffeine may provide more than just a concentration boost. A 2018 study found that caffeine may increase the brain’s ability to process information due to increased brain entropy. Brian entropy refers to how changeable and complex your brain activity is. The brain can process more information when entropy is higher.
A Johns Hopkins University study found that caffeine may also contribute to solidifying new memories. Participants were asked to study a sequence of images, then take a pill that was either a 200-milligram caffeine tablet or a placebo. More of the caffeinated participants were able to recognize the pictures the next day.
Another study found that antioxidants found in coffee may support brain health and linked lifetime coffee drinking to reducing the risk of:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- cognitive decline
- Parkinson’s disease
Worst Foods for Brain Health
1. Junk Food
Junk food, such as things containing fried or heavily processed ingredients, can be incredibly addictive. By using intense and contrasting flavors, it triggers your brain to crave more.
Recent research reveals that junk food can negatively affect your memory. It has been linked to dementia caused by high cholesterol and blood pressure. Inflammation restricts the blood vessels that provide blood to the brain, thus affecting normal brain function. Junk food also prevents brain cells from responding properly to insulin.
Eating a lot of processed and fried foods is especially bad for the developing brains of adolescents. It negatively impacts their thinking skills and their ability to learn and remember things.
2. White Bread, Pasta, and Rice
Processed bread, rice, and pasta are among the worst foods for brain health. Many of the nutrients are removed, so it digests quickly and rushes through your system to cause a spike in blood sugar. The crash caused by this can affect your mental clarity, or you may have trouble with your memory and ability to focus – known as “brain fog.”
Research shows that too many processed carbs can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, especially if you’re genetically susceptible to it.
It’s better to go for whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice.
3. Butter and Full-Fat Cheese
Unfortunately, the creamy and delicious taste of dairy products comes with a cost; they are full of saturated fat.
Researchers found that saturated fats found in butter and red meat, for example, may be especially harmful to your brain. Women who eat a high saturated fat diet are more likely to experience problems thinking and develop memory loss than women on a diet consisting of more unsaturated fats.
High saturated fat diets also negatively affect brain functions and increase the risk of neurological and cardiovascular diseases.
Full-fat dairy products can be replaced in your diet with low-fat products. You can find low-fat versions of cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, and most other dairy foods.
Healthy Foods for a Healthy Brain
The brain is a complex and vital organ. It requires the best vitamins and nutrients from the food we eat to function correctly. Processed foods and foods high in bad fats should be avoided as a lifelong diet of unhealthy eating can negatively affect our brains’ health and overall well-being.
Fruit and vegetables, oily fish, and caffeine (in moderation) are among the wide variety of delicious foods available for a healthier, happier brain.