Brain Food

Brain Food

Contributed by Eve Persak, Nutrition Advisor, MS RD CNSC CSSD

Do you feel your focus fading by mid-afternoon? Are you in need of help to improve your mental dexterity at meetings? Or are you simply hoping to finish that Sudoku puzzle and end that daily game of ‘Where in the world are my keys?’?

Well, you are not alone. Brain health is on the minds of many nowadays. The good news is, research shows that what goes in your mouth does more than just fill your stomach – it can actually affect what happens between your ears.

Which foods can give you a much-needed boost to improve your memory, focus, learning or overall mental health? Here are a few that you can add to your grocery list:

Eggs are an all-around winner when it comes to brain health. While the proteins in egg whites are valuable for cellular repair, it’s the vitamin D, lecithin and choline in the yolks that take the nutritional centre stage. An adequate intake of vitamin D helps to protect against memory loss and depression. A natural emulsifier, lecithin helps to lubricate and provide structural support to brain cells. Choline helps to create neurotransmitters - the chemical messengers that the nervous system relies on for full body communication.

Beets are a rich source of brightly coloured phytochemicals known as betalains. This potent antioxidant protects brain cells by preventing and fixing damage as well as age-related degeneration.

Moreover, beets are a rare natural source of nitric oxide – a chemical that opens blood vessels and oxygenates the bloodstream. As a vital organ, the brain functions more efficiently when it has sufficient and consistent oxygen delivery.

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Common in emerald-hued vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards, carotenoids have been found in concentrated supply in brain tissues. Regular consumption of carotenoid-rich veggies has also been linked to improved verbal skills. 

Dark green leafy vegetables are also chock-full of folate, a micronutrient that’s essential for foetal neural tube formation during pregnancy, early brain development as well as cognition throughout the whole lifespan.

The omega-3 fatty acid DHA can be found in its highest concentrations in cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. This fatty acid is so essential to infant brain development that baby formula companies fortify their products to ensure newborns get sufficient amounts of it. 

Babies aren’t the only ones that benefit from a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Adults running low on omega-3s are shown to have an increased incidence of depression and cognitive decline. Conversely, higher levels suggest heightened functioning in the brain areas associated with speech and memory. 

Commonly used in traditional dishes in India and Southeast Asia, this super spice is pure gold for the brain. Curcumin – the active compound behind turmeric’s benefits – not only fights inflammation but also reduces amyloid plaque accumulation that’s linked to memory loss. 

Fermented Foods
Turns out the bacteria that take up residence in our GI tract do more that support digestion. Consuming probiotics found in fermented and cultured foods such as yogurts, kimchi, kefir, and natto, can boost brain activity. In what medical researchers call the ‘gut-brain axis’, certain bacteria can influence our neurochemistry. Some strains have been shown to affect the brain centres that guide our moods, behaviours and even metabolic functions. Probiotic-rich foods are also a valuable dietary source of vitamin K, which is believed to be instrumental in delaying memory decline in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.