Foods to Fuel Brain Health
By Maegen C. Stoner, Director of Fitness & Wellness
May Fitness & Wellness Corner
Overall brain health is influenced by physical exercise, food and nutrition, medical health, sleep and relaxation, mental fitness, and social interaction. At Yates Field House, we utilize the Cleveland Clinic’s 6 Pillars of Brain Health to help guide not only our programming, but to help foster and encourage the adoption of brain health habits. The Cleveland Clinic’s six pillars are:
- Physical Exercise: People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise improves blood flow and memory; it stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood and thinking.
- Food & Nutrition: As you grow older, your brain is exposed to more harmful stress due to lifestyle and environmental factors, resulting in a process called oxidation, which damages brain cells. Food rich in antioxidants can help fend off the harmful effects of oxidation in your brain.
- Medical Health: Hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, head trauma, higher cholesterol, and smoking all increase the risk of dementia. You can control and reduce these risks. Get your annual check-up, follow your doctor’s recommendations and take medications as prescribed. Get engaged in a brain healthy lifestyle for your body and your mind.
- Sleep & Relaxation: Sleep energizes you, improves your mood and your immune system, and may reduce buildup in the brain of an abnormal protein called beta-amyloid plaque, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Practicing meditation and managing stress may help fend off age-related decline in brain health.
- Mental Fitness: Mental exercise is just as critical as physical exercise in keeping your brain fit and healthy. Mental exercises may improve your brain’s functioning and promote new brain cell growth, decreasing your likelihood of developing dementia.
- Social Interaction: Leading an active social life can protect you against memory loss. Spending time with others, engaging in stimulating conversation, and staying in touch and connected with family and friends are good for your brain health.
Above information obtained from: 6 Pillars of Brain Health.
For the purposes of this blog post, we are going to discuss the second pillar, and review some steps you can take to promote healthy brain function with food and nutrition.
A healthy diet can improve brain performance and brain function. Key components to a diet that promotes healthy brain stimulation include (Weinandy);
- Healthy fats such as nuts and fatty fish
- Limited saturated fats such as butter and coconut oils
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
- High-fiber whole grains and legumes
- Low amounts of processed and sugary foods
Remaining hydrated and eating at regular intervals throughout the day have also shown to be helpful.
- Aim for a daily intake of water (in ounces) to be half of your body weight (in pounds). For example, a 160-pound person should aim to consume 80 ounces of water.
- Consuming meals and snacks at relatively the same time daily, will aid in maintaining blood sugar and energy levels, avoiding the “roller coaster” of “highs and lows.”
What can you do? Evaluate your dietary patterns.
Keep in mind that a day or two of eating healthy foods will not erase several weeks, months, or years of poor choices. The real benefits of a healthy lifestyle start one small step at a time and remember that it’s never too late to start taking action. There are no quick fixes or one or two “super foods” that will improve brain function in a short period of time. Reviewing the foods you eat a majority of the time, how you prepare them, and how often you eat will assist you in targeting small changes that you can make to improve your overall brain health (Weinandy).
The brain is made up of 70% fat and is very important for proper functioning (Weinandy). Omega 3-fatty acids are key because they are the essential building blocks of the brain and are important for learning and memory. Examples are fatty fish like salmon and sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Limit or avoid large amounts of saturated fats (butter, fatty meats, whole-fat dairy products, and coconut oil). We do need some saturated fats, but we often consume too many. Also, avoid trans fats and foods that are deep fried, as these fats oxidize over time and may damage our cells (Weinandy).
Proteins are important for neurotransmitting the signals and messages that are sent throughout the brain. The healthiest sources of proteins for brain health are fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts. Eggs are typically fine for most people. Eggs are rich in choline, which is essential for brain function. Choline is also found in peanuts, beans, cauliflower, and spinach. (Weinandy).
Carbohydrates are our body and brain’s go-to source for fuel. Type and quality do make a difference, so aim to consume complex carbohydrates, which are higher in fiber. Fiber aids in digestion and promotes a healthy gut. Items like 100% whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients fuel the brain and also protect against free radicals released from pollution, stress, and just being here on earth. Complex carbohydrates also take more time to digest, so they provide a steady source of energy over their counterparts, simple carbohydrates. (Weinandy)
Evaluating your current dietary intake and determining where you can begin making changes is a healthy place to start. Aim to make one to two changes weekly. Work to swap out more processed foods with naturally occurring foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Small adjustments over time will lead to a healthy overall lifestyle, and a dietary pattern that promotes brain health.
“6 Pillars of Brain Health.” Healthy Brains by Cleveland Clinic, https://healthybrains.org/pillars/.
Weinandy, Liz. “Boost Brain Power with the Right Nutrition.” Ohio State University Medical Center, 14 Nov. 2018, https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/boost-your-brain-power-with-the-right-nutrition.
This blog post was written to provide educational information only. This article should not be used as a substitute or a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions or concerns about your personal health, you should always consult with your physician. It is recommended that you consult with your physician or health care professional before beginning any fitness regimen to determine if it is suitable for your needs. The use of any information provided by this article is solely at your risk.