21 March 2024

Brain Food – is there such a thing?

As a fuel source the brain relies solely on glucose (sugar). This doesn’t only have to come directly from sugar in food because the body can break down any carbohydrate-based foods into sugar for the body to use. The other nutrient it requires in decent doses is water. The theory that a headache is often caused by dehydration is actually true.

When researching foods impact on the human brain it is difficult to link cause and effect due to so many other lifestyle factors. However, a Mediterranean style diet has shown positive links to a lower risk of brain decline. This diet is high in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wholegrain, unsaturated fatty acids and fish with restrictions in red meat and moderate but regular drinking of alcohol.

The general advice for long term brain health can also be applied on a daily and weekly basis. And there are certain food groups which you can include within your diet to keep your brain healthy. It’s important to also note that many degenerative brain disorders are inherited and/or come about from reasons which are not fully understood so whilst foods can certainly help, they cannot cure or prevent you from developing one throughout your lifespan.

Foods which can be helpful

Omega 3 fatty acids have a relatively strong link with long term brain function. These are found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring. They are also found in smaller quantities in plant sources such as chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseed. If your diet is lacking in these foods then opting for a daily supplement is a worthwhile investment.

Wholegrain carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice, oats and wholegrain and seeded breads should be the preference of choice. These all contain a good level of fibre which is important for digestive health and managing cholesterol levels. The gut microbiome can influence the brain via the vagus nerve which travels between them. This is commonly referred to as the gut-brain axis. Fibre, fruit, vegetables and fermented foods can positively contribute to the human gut microbiome which can positively affect our mood and how we are feeling. In reverse the same thing can happen. When we are stressed, our brain can relay this our gut which can lead to feelings of anxiety.

Antioxidants are also something worth including in your diet, these are compounds found in certain bright coloured foods which help to fight free radicals in the body. Free radicals are cells which can cause harm in excess within the body and the brain. Foods such as berries, broccoli and carrots contain antioxidants.

Daily Brain function

You aren’t going to be revolutionising the world on an empty stomach. Just like a marathon runner won’t run their best if they aren’t fuelled correctly, you can’t expect to work to your optimum in the office or run your household without eating. Aim for meals which always include protein as this helps maintain fullness and you won’t be able to think properly on an empty stomach. Hangry is a thing.

There is no one super brain food, rather a whole food approach should be taken. Both in the long term and the short term. What is for certain is that including foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, a colourful array of fruit and vegetables for their antioxidant properties and staying hydrated should keep you focussed during the day and support your memory in the long term.