That's right, you really are what you eat - and your brain is paying for the sins you are committing when you eat a modern diet high in processed foods.
In fact, your brain is arguably influenced more (or at least more visibly) by your diet than any other organ. This can easily be seen by watching how a small child's behavior changes drastically after eating or drinking something packed full of sugar! But it's affecting you just as much as an adult.
If you listen to your body after you eat, you may notice that what you eat can affect your mood dramatically, and even change your entire day. What you eat impacts the way you think, the way you feel, and the way your body and brain function.
We talk a lot here about the impact of food on our health, but what about your brain health? How can you eat to improve your brain's health, rather than diminishing it? Is there an optimal way to eat that will both create a healthier brain, and maximize your brain power?
Try these 13 tips, and I can promise you, not only will your brain be healthier, but your whole outlook on life will improve! (And perhaps best of all, eating this way is highly enjoyable and satisfying!)
Did you know that your brain is almost 60% fat? That's right. So what do you think happens to your brain if you go on a low-fat diet?
That's right! Your brain's main source of fuel is fat, so understandably, a low fat diet is pretty bad for your brain. Symptoms may include brain fog, irritability, inability to focus, and some studies have even linked it to depression.
2. Cut Out Sugar
We've all heard how bad sugar is for our health, and your brain is no exception. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a direct link between sugar consumption and dementia, so if you've got a sweet tooth, you may need to consider ways to break your sugar addiction pronto.
This is another reason why low-fat diets tend to be so bad for you - usually the fat removed from processed foods is replaced with sugar. All around, sugar is just bad news. But don't despair, lovers of sweets! We have hope for you a little later on...
3. Eat More Fish
One of the most important nutrients for the brain is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Not only is this Omega 3 fatty acid crucial for brain development, but it's also essential for proper functioning of the entire central nervous system, and helps prevent inflammation in the brain, as well as the rest of the body. Fish is one of the best sources of DHA, but you'll want to make sure that it is wild-caught, not factory farmed and fed with grain. Fish (and other animals) that eat their natural diet are much higher in important nutrients like DHA and other Omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Eat Plenty Of Eggs, Walnuts, & Broccoli
Eggs from pasture-raised hens foraging on grass are another great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and walnuts and broccoli are just two more brain superfoods which provide fats and antioxidants needed to keep your brain functioning well long into your senior years.
5. Eat the Right Fats
We've talked about fish and omega-3 fatty acids, but what about other sources of brain-health-boosting fats? Extra virgin olive oil has been found to be beneficial for cognitive health, possibly improving memory and learning ability. This may be why the Mediterranean Diet has been found to be so beneficial. Add extra virgin olive oil to salads and other foods, but don't cook with it, as exposing olive oil to high heat can damage the nutrients in contains, and potentially even cause harmful byproducts.
Coconut oil is another great oil for your brain, with many potential health benefits, and it is very stable, less likely to go rancid than most other oils, and is better for cooking with.
6. Eat the Right Kinds of Carbs
You may have heard that carbs are bad for you, and low-carb diets are all the rage right now, but surely all carbs aren't bad, right? That's right. Just like fat, your body and brain need carbs to function properly. The trick is to eat the right carbs - just like the right fats. The problem is, the modern American diet focuses almost entirely on the wrong carbs!
Stay away from high-glycemic (simple) carbohydrates such as bread, candy, soda (or anything with sugar in it), and instead choose vegetable (complex) forms of carbohydrates. See below for more on this...
7. Eat More Veggies...
It's no surprise that diets high in fresh vegetables have been positively linked to healthy cognitive function. Plants are packed with antioxidants which keep both the brain and body looking and feeling young. While of course they won't keep you young forever, they can slow down the aging process, and keep your mental functions sharper for longer than if you were consuming a processed food diet lacking in these important nutrients.
Spinach, broccoli and kale are three of the best vegetables for brain and overall health, so be sure to include them as a regular part of your diet (e.g. eat them often)! In fact, let's talk a little bit more about the first one...
8. Especially Spinach
Spinach is particularly full of brain-healthy compounds, and it can also help protect other organs, such as the stomach, from damage caused by certain destructive enzymes, and possibly even cancer.
Spinach is also high in carotenoids, an antioxidant with potentially cancer-protective effects, and many other benefits such as reducing free radical damage, helping maintain eyesight and reduce the effects of aging, and more. Make sure to add spinach to your diet on a regular basis, but keep in mind that it does contain high levels of oxalic acid, although not high enough to be harmful to most people. To be safe, try to consume some of your spinach cooked instead of raw, as this lessens the potential for problems. (Note that you probably wouldn't have problems anyway, unless you are consuming high amounts of raw spinach daily, but there are a few green smoothie zealots out there!)
9. And Don't Forget the Fruit!
Okay dessert-lovers, here's your chance to enjoy something sweet! Berries are especially great for brain health, particularly blueberries. Just remember that even though it is natural sugar, most ripe fruit still contains high levels of sugar, so consume in moderation.
10. Get Plenty of Selenium
Selenium is one of the most important brain nutrients, and unfortunately it's becoming less available in the modern diet. But never fear, there are still plenty of sources, such as nuts - particularly the Brazil nut. You only need a few of these per day to meet your daily requirement, but broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and asparagus are also good sources of selenium, as are some types of grass-fed meats.
11. Eat Quality Protein
Protein has been shown to help regulate your brain's function, and reduce your penchant for overeating and making poor food choices. By starting your meal off with lots of fresh veggies and high quality protein, you are more likely to feel satisfied without resorting to unhealthy forms of carbs or sweets later.
Just make sure it is high-quality - meaning, organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised if at all possible. Not only will these food sources be higher in beneficial nutrients, they will also have less potential to contain chemicals that may prove harmful to your brain. Although they may be slightly more costly up front, think of it as a long-term investment in better health, which is priceless!
12. Cut Out Processed Foods
For a healthy, clear, and highly functional brain, the best thing you can do is to cut out processed foods, including alcohol, gluten, and basically anything that comes in a box. Choose whole, natural, real foods instead, and watch your brain (and body) become more vibrant and healthy each year!
13. Take Baby Steps
This can seem like a lot to digest, but don't get overwhelmed. You do not have to change everything that you're eating all at once. In fact, trying to do so would be a recipe for failure, as is evidenced by the thousands of people who quit their diets every year! Instead, focus on taking one simple step at a time.
Look at where you are today, and instead of thinking about how far you are away from where you would ideally like to be, resolve to make one small change for the better. Start with just one thing on this list, and begin today to build a healthier future for yourself and your fabulous brain!
To your health!
P.S. Thanks to Paleo Hacks for this helpful information.