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Top 11 Brain Foods

30th August 2017 by Jess

Our nutritionist breaks down the nutrients needed for optimum brain health, and shares the best foods and habits to take care of this most important organ.

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Your brain controls the quality of every single aspect of your life so it goes without saying that we should take care of it more than anything else.

Jess, graze nutritionist
brain illustration

An adult brain contains 1 billion cells. If you were to count to 1 billion, it would take you 31 years, 251 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds. This shows just how complex our brain is!

The brain controls everything - every thought, action, emotion, belief and desire involves communication between brain cells that are triggered by special chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Let's talk about the key nutrients needed for a healthy brain, identified by neuroscientists, along with the foods they can be found in.

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fish

The omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) improve memory and cognitive function, so your mind is able to think and recall more clearly.

Good sources: mackerel, tuna, salmon

recipe: peppered mackerel and poached eggs
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flaxseed oil

Is lack of motivation or a bad mood stopping you from kicking off your health and fitness goals?

Research shows that flaxseed oil supports brain function, mood, memory, and promotes the health of brain and nerve cells.

So for that boost of mental clarity and motivation for hitting the gym, omega 3 rich flaxseeds could be a great start!

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chia seeds

Rich in omega 3 fatty acids which keep the dopamine levels in your brain high, increase neuronal growth in the frontal cortex of your brain, and increase cerebral circulation.

how to eat chia seeds

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walnuts

My favourite type of nut would have to be the walnut because of the omega-3, anti-inflammatory fat content - an essential fatty acid critical for the health of our brain, heart and skin.

the benefits of walnuts

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iron rich foods

Is feeling exhausted a constant for you?

Iron deficiency isn’t uncommon and it can such a simple correction to make with so much to gain from just a simple test from your GP!

Without healthy red blood cells, your body can't get enough oxygen round your body to your extremities; the consequence of not having sufficient oxygen in the body is constant fatigue. This fatigue or exhaustion can affect everything from your ability to fight infections to your brain function.

why do our bodies need iron?

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Protein

Eating protein-rich foods assists dopamine production. When we think of the neurotransmitters involved in happiness, we automatically think of serotonin, the main neurotransmitter associated with feeling happy and content.

However, there is another hormone which is an essential component of health and happiness – dopamine. Dopamine helps control the brain's pleasure and reward centre. It also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us to not only see rewards, but also to take action towards them.

Eggs, fish, poultry and red meat are all good sources of protein.

shop our protein snacks
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Folate rich foods

Folate also helps produce dopamine.

Leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower are all good sources of folate; so are lentils, chickpeas, black beans and papaya.

up your veg intake with these summer salads
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Bananas

Bananas are a good source of tyrosine, an amino acid vital to the production of dopamine.

It is important to note that for someone experiencing a major depressive disorder, foods alone generally cannot provide enough therapeutic amino acid to boost dopamine levels. To support dopamine production adequately, supplementation is often needed.

Chicken, turkey, fish, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese are other great sources of the amino acid (protein) tyrosine.

top 10 ways to use bananas

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Fibre rich foods

Processed foods tend to be lacking in fibre, vitamins and minerals, which are of course essential to our very being. It's nutrients like these that keep us alive!

Many people over consume highly processed foods, as they provide little to no nourishment and don’t readily engage the satiety centre in the brain. So to ensure you don’t overreat, eat fibre rich foods such as nuts, seeds, wholegrains, pulses, legumes and leafy vegetables.

shop fibre rich snacks
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Eggs

Eggs contain choline which is an essential component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter found in the brain involved in memory and muscle control.

recipe: poached eggs & avocado on toast
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Good fats

Eating fat from whole foods is critical to every aspect of your health, including great energy, a happy mood, clear skin, your ability to be calm and to use body fat as a fuel.

Fat is highly satiating, meaning it acts on the satiety center of the brain, which can help people feel satisfied with smaller portions and minimise sugar cravings.

Sugar is damaging to the brain so the less we eat, particularly of the refined kind, the healthier it is for our brain.

shop nuts & seeds
jess blueberries

In a nutshell: Eat real food. You cannot drip dose yourself non-food and expect your body to function optimally.

Jess, graze nutritionist

Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life. The human brain has the amazing ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons).

Brain health is not only important for constructing our life in the present moment, it’s critical for avoiding degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, both devastating conditions for all concerned.

Simply put, we can change the health of our brain at anytime with healthy eating and lifestyle choices.

So what can we do to keep the brain in optimal condition?

Here are 9 habits for a super brain and ultimately a super life.

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Sleep well

Quality sleep is the key to a energised life and lack of sleep or poor quality sleep actually causes the brain to stop producing more cells.

Incredibly, sleep is also the time where your brain cleans itself of toxins so if you want a clean brain firing on all cylinders, get that quality shut-eye.

reboot your sleep pattern
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Spend time in the sun

Most of us love the sun and there is no doubt it makes us feel good. Scientists are now beginning to realise vitamin D is involved in maintaining the health of your brain, as they’ve recently discovered vitamin D receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system.

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Learn a foreign language

The listening and hearing involved in learning a new language stimulates the brain extremely well. What’s more, a rich vocabulary has been linked to a reduced risk for cognitive decline.

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Move your body regularly

We all know that exercise is good for us and makes us feel good but did you know it’s also great for your brain?

Regular exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, by strengthening their connections and by enhancing cognitive ability.

Regular movement is an extremely effective way of stimulating production of both serotonin and dopamine. As little as 30 minutes of movement can make a difference to your mood and neurotransmitter levels – it doesn't have to be intense movement, even gentle yoga poses will help.

If your work involves being sat at a desk - set your alarm to move around and stretch your legs.

how to actually go to the gym
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Learn a new sport

Start doing an athletic exercise that uses both mind and body, such as yoga, golf, or tennis.

sun salutation for beginners
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Take a cooking class

Learn how to cook a new cuisine. Cooking uses a number of senses: smell, touch, sight, and taste, which all involve different parts of the brain.

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Learn to play a musical instrument or join a choir

Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is ideal for the aging mind.

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Test your recall

Make a list — of grocery items, things to do, or anything else that comes to mind — and memorise it. An hour or so later, see how many items you can remember. Make items on the list as challenging as possible for the greatest mental stimulation.

There are many apps and games you can download to help you do this too!

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Practise your mental maths

Figure out maths problems without using a pencil, calculator, or computer; you can make this more difficult — and athletic — by walking at the same time.

References

  1. Adam Hadhazy, Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being, Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc
  2. Mayer EA, Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication., Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011 Jul 13;12(8):453-66. doi: 10.1038/nrn3071.
jess fruit

By Jess, graze nutritionist.

Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to Jess's blog at jessipes.co.uk for even more.

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