Science-based Nutrition Tips to Support a Healthy Brain
By Natalie Collier, MScN, March 19, 2019
March is flying by, but we wanted to chat about National Nutrition month.. Specifically we are talking about nutrition to feed your brain on the blog today. To feed a healthy brain follow these science-backed tips below:
- Eat like your great-grandmother.
Ditch high sugar foods and processed foods with long ingredient lists. Especially avoid ingredients you don’t recognize. Studies have shown that eating a “traditional diet” of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and whole grains (and free of processed foods) was associated with a significant reduction in risk for major depression and anxiety.
Blood sugar control has also been shown to be important to brain health. Increased blood sugar levels have also been associated with lower cognitive ability and memory decline. Fill your plate with complex carbohydrates from an array of colorful and fiber-rich vegetables and lower sugar fruits.
- Build your brain with protein.
Your neurotransmitters depend on it. Your neurotransmitters are manufactured directly from amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Include a variety of quality protein sources such as grass-fed or grass-finished beef, pasture-raised chicken and/or eggs, S.M.A.S.H fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardines and herring) and a variety of vegetarian protein sources. Vegans or vegetarians should include protein powders, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa and tempeh.
Anxiety sufferers take note: studies have shown that when people with anxiety take probiotics their anxiety levels significantly decrease. Pretty cool, huh? Eat and drink probiotic-rich foods such as fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kombucha and sauerkraut gut shots from Farmhouse Culture. Make salad dressing using olive oil and raw apple cider vinegar. Consider supplementing with a multi strain probiotic supplement with at least 10 billion CFU (Wellnicity has you covered here). Maintaining good gut health is extremely important for brain health as beneficial bacteria also benefit the neurotransmitters. Our major inhibitory and calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is synthesized in the gut by beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods and probiotic supplements will help to increase GABA levels. Also, over 90% of serotonin (an important chemical neurotransmitter important for mood, sleep, memory and learning) is manufactured in the gut and research has shown certain microbes can directly produce serotonin.
Studies have found that Omega-3 supplementation can support cognition and memory. Incorporate both vegetarian and animal sources of Omega-3s including chia seeds, flaxseeds, and S.M.A.S.H fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardines and herring) which are lower in mercury but high in Omega-3s and Vitamin D. If your diet is deficient in Omega-3 rich foods, consider supplementing with a professional-grade fish oil.
The brain also contains myelin which is a fatty white-colored protective sheath that wraps around a nerve cell and is made up of mostly phospholipids and cholesterol. The myelin keeps your brain cells insulated so that wires don’t get confused while also increasing the speed of impulses. To support the myelin, eat a variety of healthy fats to help support and protect the brain myelin. Include fatty fish (see above), olive oil, olives, coconut oil, avocado, grass-fed butter or ghee. Research has shown a high fat diet in combination with exercise training increases myelin protein expression.
Dark chocolate for the win! It’s anti-oxidant rich and contains flavonoids, which can help to lower blood pressure, boost blood flow and proper blood clotting. Flavonoids in chocolate have also been shown to promote brain plasticity and support a positive mood. Dark chocolate also boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine as it contains phenylalanine. The neurotransmitter dopamine can play a role with alertness, focus, learning, creativity and satisfaction.
A good chocolate dose is about 1-2 oz. of dark chocolate (70% or higher) daily.