We all know the importance of a healthy diet for prevention of heart disease, cancer and to fuel ourselves for exercise –but do we think about health of and fueling the organ in charge of our body; the brain? There are some foods that have more influence on our brain health than others. I thought I would talk about 5 key dietary areas. Let’s take a look at carrying for this vital organ. Literally food for thought.
What a powerhouse of nutrients the humble egg has to offer. The yolk is packed with goodness, including choline, which is necessary for the creation of memory cells (so forget about those egg-white omelets!). Eggs also contain protein, (important for growth and development, iron (needed for cognitive function) and vitamin A (important for memory and brain neuroplasticity- the brain’s ability to change.
Eggs are so convenient for a healthy meal or snack, you can hard-boil eggs for lunchboxes, fry them for breakfast, or scramble them with vegetables on wholegrain toast for dinner. It doesn’t get easier than that.
Consider fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines. They contain the fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important for brain development, particularly in the developing baby’s brain. Studies have looked at pregnant mother’s intake of fish and the scores on intelligent tests of their children. Eating more fish showed better infant cognition (as long as mercury levels were not high). Omega 3’s are important to memory function. Studies are looking at involvement in Alzheimer’s and depression.
Fish omega 3 fatty levels vary. For examples salmon and sardines have more fatty acids than tuna. Try swapping the tuna sandwich for a salmon one,make salmon patties or salmon pasta bake or try sardines on the barbeque or on toast. Read labels on tuna for omega 3 fatty acid levels as they vary greatly.
Dark Green vegetables
‘Eat your greens’ may be the lament of every parent, but it’s for good reason. Green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and silverbeet are all packed with antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamin K,folate and lutein. We don’t exactly know why, but studies have shown these nutrients are important for cognitive function. Green leafy vegetables also contain iron which carries oxygen around the body, essential for oxygenating the brain. So remember to throw some greens into your sandwich, with your eggs and in your soup.
A nut that looks like a brain must be good for our brain! Walnuts are one of the few plant sources of the omega 3 fat EPA, which is beneficial for brain development and cognitive function. They are also high in zinc,which is essential for brain function. Cells in the brain, called neurons, talk to each other by releasing chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which helps the brain form ideas quickly – a process which needs zinc to occur.
We often think of wholegrains for their fibre and benefits on bowel regularity. More than just fiber, wholegrains contain many valuable vitamins and minerals, including a little iron. Iron carries oxygen around the body, including to the brain.
Some of the fibre from wholegrains is fermented in the large bowel, which produces short chain fatty acids, gases,that influence metabolism and hormone production. This includes the “happy”hormone serotonin, of which 90%is produced in our gut. Serotonin influences our mood, which has an impact on our brain function. Consider choosing wholegrains 2/3rds or more of the time, which leaves a little room for the fluffy white roll. Some simple swaps such a low fibre cereal for oats or other high fibre breakfast cereal, white bread for wholegrain, white rice for brown and try using some whole meal flour in baking.
The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council recommend 3 servings of wholegrains a day- this is pretty easy to achieve when ¼ cup cooked grain such as brown rice equals one serve, one slice of bread or 1/3rd cup of cooked oats.
Brain Food meal ideas
Eggs on wholegrain toast with spinach for breakfast
· Tuna and lettuce with other salad on a wholegrain wrap for lunch
· A handful of nuts for an afternoon snack
· Brown rice with salmon and broccoli or silverbeet for the evening meal.
· Porridge with walnuts and chia seeds
· Salmon patties with a green leafy salad, chopped walnuts and wholegrain bread roll
· Scrambled eggs with pan fried Brussel sprouts and walnuts
· Wholegrain pasta with smoked trout,asparagus and extra virgin olive oil.
There are many health issues that effect the brain some very common, think migraines and headaches, with around 4.9 million Australians suffering from migraines and migraines being the leading cause of disability in Australia. By eating a healthy diet we can help look after our brain.
With a little planning you could incorporate at least a few of these 5 foods and groups above into your daily diet. There are many more foods that have great benefit for your brain so keep up the variety in your diet, with plenty of plant foods and maybe a little dark chocolate would be nice too!