Brain Food: how you can stay mentally fit with the right food

Did you know your stomach has a significant influence on your mental health? Research clearly indicates that certain foods can boost our brain power and help you stay mentally healthy long into old age. 

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Many of us eat whatever is convenient and doesn't take long to prepare: our lives are becoming increasingly fast-paced and our diet is adapting more and more to our hectic schedules. Of course it is easier and faster to open a bag of chips instead of cooking a healthy meal full of vegetables and waiting for it to be ready. Still, science has shown that putting an effort into what we eat is among the best things we can do for our health. What we eat also has a direct influence on our brain power. Here are a few tips that will turn your diet into a healthy one for your brain and body.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon for a healthy heartCan’t live without your sushi and sashimi? Good news: A study in 2012, conducted at the University of Los Angeles (UCLA), found that people who don't include sufficient omega-3 fatty acids (particularly found in fish) in their diet have a smaller brain volume and achieve a considerably lower score in IQ tests than people who eat enough omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, a study in 2014 found omega-3 fatty acids to strengthen connections in the brain, resulting in a more efficient transfer of information [1].

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in a variety of foods, with salmon, tuna and halibut amongst the top ones in terms of quantity. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends consumption of such foods twice a week. Whether you bake, roast, or grill your fish is up to you - anything but frying is a healthy option for your brain and body, as fried fish increases the risk of heart failure by 48%, and also affects mental health.

And don't worry if you're a vegetarian or don’t like fish - there are plenty of alternatives: eating walnuts, eggs and spinach on a regular basis will also give you a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Leafy Vegetables

Dark leafy greens are a crucial component of a healthy brain diet, as Leafy Greens and your Brainrecommended by the US Food and Drug Administration. Researchers tracked the diets and cognitive abilities of more than 950 older adults for an average of five years and saw that study participants who consumed greater amounts of spinach and kale had a significantly lower rate of cognitive decline [2]. People who ate one to two servings per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none. Scientists suppose that a number of different minerals in leafy greens contribute to this, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, etc., which are responsible for slowing down mental decline.

Nutritional Supplements

But like we said, our hectic lives make it increasingly difficult for us to take the time to prepare a healthy meal. That is why more and more people turn to nutritional supplements instead. The thought of a few pills fully substituting a healthy diet is however a dangerous one. By now, there are several studies that have examined the question of whether these supplements are actually beneficial to our health. More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription in the form of pills, powders or liquid and they include vitamins, minerals and herbal products. We have looked at what science has found out about their effects.
Vitamins supplements: In the studies conducted, the tested vitamin supplements did not have any beneficial effect. Quite shockingly, Beta-Carotin supplements did not only not reduce the risk of lung cancer, but increased it. Selenium, which many of us take to reduce the risk of cancer, did not generate any positive health effects either in a conducted meta-analysis, nor did vitamin A and C supplements [3].
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements: These supplements are particularly popular as they are supposed to help prevent cardiovascular diseases. However, in this case too, studies have shown that they did not have any significant beneficial effects. However, a large-scale study has indicated that a regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acid supplements do in fact have positive effects on the volume of the brain [4].

Dietary Supplements to Optimise your BrainDietary supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food, not as drugs. However, experts warn that supplements cannot reverse the course of a chronic disease - they cannot cure, treat or prevent a disease. Nonetheless, they can enhance health in different ways as was shown for example with the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on brain volume. Yet it is important to note that supplements are not as good as the real thing and they cannot fully substitute a healthy diet. Americans spend 1.3 billion dollars annually on omega-3 fatty acid supplements, but it has not been proven that omega-3 supplements boost cardiovascular system health. They do however increase brain volume, which decreases as we get older [3].

Conclusion: Healthy eating is a central component of a healthy lifestyle

Therefore, on top of regular intellectual and physical activity, proper nutrition is a key component of a healthy life. Try eating more fish and vegetables instead of taking supplements, and you'll be surprised to see what your brain can do!


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Sources:

[1] Raji. C., Erickson, K., Lopez, O., Kuller, L., Gach, M., Thompson, P., Riverol, M., & Becker, J. (2014). Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss.

[2] Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). (2015, March 30). Eating green leafy vegetables keeps mental abilities sharp.ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150330112227.html

[3] Park, S., Murphy, S., Wilkens, L., Henderson, B., Kolonel, L. (2010). Multivitamin Use and the Risk of Mortality and Cancer Incidence. American Journal of Epidemiology. 173(8), 906-914.

[4] Pottala, J., Yaffe, K., Robinson, J., Espeland, M., Wallace, R., & Harris, W. (2104). Higher RBC EPA + DHA corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes. Neurology, 82(5), 435-442.

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