As more and more people become conscientious of their health, they are also beginning to look into how to keep their brain healthy.
There are many scientifically backed ways to improve brain function. Such as:
- Physical Exercise: This increases blood-flow to the brain, which in turn increases oxygen. It also releases hormones which allow a person to remain alert and focussed.
- Mental Exercise: By doing mental exercises (such as puzzles, sudoku, crosswords etc.) a person can strengthen the bonds within their brains, improving their processing speed and other functions.
- Sleep: Getting a good night's sleep is vital for healthy brain function. When a person is over-tired it can have a similar effect as being drunk, the ability to stay alert and focused, as well as memory skills are all compromised.
Another great way to boost the brain's functions is by eating well. By ensuring the body is well fuelled with a variety of foods, a person is keeping their brain healthy, as well as the rest of their body.
The Best Nutrients For Brain Function
Changing a person's diet can actually improve many of the brains functions, and potentially make learning faster, easier and much more effective.
The most important nutrients for improving brain function are:
- B vitamins (B6, B9 or folate and B12)
Though there are many more which are also beneficial. The more varied and balanced a person's diet is, the more benefits they will reap. Both mentally and physically.
Which Foods Are The Best 'Brain Food'?
Many studies have been done throughout the years to find the best foods for a multitude of reasons, including those most beneficial to the brain, and keeping it running efficiently.
It is possible to get many of these nutrients from a variety of sources, whether it is from animals or plants, or even supplements. So, no-one has to miss out on a healthy brain.
Leafy Greens: These are great for a variety of reasons. Greens such as; kale, broccoli and spinach are known for being rich in a variety of minerals. From vitamin K to antioxidants to iron.
They should be a staple in everyone's diet! Especially since studies suggest that they may even slow the effects of cognitive decline.
Fish: Fatty fish, such as cod and salmon are great sources of healthy and unsaturated fats. These fats have been shown to lower a person's level of 'beta amyloid', the protein which is responsible for causing the damaging clumps, found in the brains of people battling Alzheimer's.
Walnuts: The brain food which quite literally looks like a brain! All nuts can be a great source of protein, but walnuts in particular have been linked to improved memory during a 2015 UCLA study.
To add to their brain helping abilities, walnuts have also been shown to lower blood-pressure, which can benefit a person mentally and physically too!
Berries: Research has shown that the pigments which give berries their bright colours, known as 'flavonoids', can actually benefit a person's memory too. One study done in 2012, which was published in 'Annals Of Neurology' found that women who were eating at least two portions of strawberries and blueberries a day, could prevent memory decline by as much as two and a half years.
Food is surprisingly powerful, so it is important that people ensure they have the best possible diet for them, and their lifestyle.
Diet Trends, And Their Effect On Brain Function
With the rise and fall of different media outlets, from gossip magazines to social media, 'fad diets' have become increasingly popular. With many claiming to be the next 'best thing' in weight loss and health.
But how do the most popular ones affect mental cognition?
Veganism/Plant-Based: Veganism prioritises a plant-based diet, where no animal products are consumed at all.
It is often a controversial topic. Some studies suggest a decline in cognitive abilities, due to deficiencies in things like B6 and B12. While others show vegans who eat a nutritionally complete and varied diet, may even have improved cognition.
Paleo: The Paleo diet is based upon what is speculated humans' Palaeolithic ancestors ate. It comes in a variety of forms, such as omnivorous or plant-based, and the main focus is cutting out processed foods, and eating as 'natural' as possible.
The Paleo diet has yet to be studied thoroughly, so the effects on brain function are still being learned. However, early research suggests it can improve metabolic health. Things like cholesterol and blood-pressure, which are considered risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.
Superfoods: 'Superfood' is a term used to describe any food which is considered particularly nutritionally dense. Popular choices are:
- Fish, for their Omega-3 oil
- Dark chocolate, for antioxidants, and the flavonoids found in cacao
- Soy (and soy products), for it's 'polyphenols' a type of antioxidant which has been shown to reduce dementia risks.
While dietitians often do not use the term 'superfood' incorporating these items into a person's diet will definitely have benefits, if only from the added nutrition!
Foods To Avoid For Brain Health
Just like healthy foods can have a positive effect on brain health and function, there are also plenty which can actually decrease function!
Unhealthy foods can have a detrimental effect on many parts of the body, but these some in particular, which have adverse effects on the brain:
- Frosting, Margarine and Cookies: These are not inherently bad, however many contain artificial trans fats, which are often found in foods like frosting and margarine. These fats have been shown to increase chances of Alzheimer's, reduce memory functions and other forms of cognitive decline.
- Sugary Drinks: Not only do sugary drinks boast a range of physical health problems, these can then in turn cause issues within the brain. High amounts of sugar can increase blood pressure, fats and diabetes. All of which are linked to an increased risk for developing dementia, and memory issues.
- Aspartame: often used in sugar-free products and artificial sweeteners. Aspartame has been linked to a number of cognitive issues. It is considered a 'chemical stressor' due to its ability to increase oxidative stress within the brain. Long term oxidative stress can cause memory loss, fatigue and headaches.
- Alcohol: Known for its damaging effects on the brain, long-term alcohol abuse can result in many problems for learners. Alcohol can cause brain shrinkage, memory loss, poor concentration and even other learning difficulties. Though it is still okay to enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, for optimal brain function it is always best to drink in moderation!
Keeping the brain healthy and happy doesn't necessarily mean cutting out all bad foods. Diet is all about balance. As long as a person is consuming a variety of foods, including fruit, veg, grains etc. then it is possible to enjoy these 'bad' foods without it harming your brain. Only when consumed in excess does it become problematic.
What people put into their bodies is important. A varied diet full of good and minimally processed nutrition can go a long way in terms of aiding brain function. If the brain is happy and healthy, learning in turn becomes more efficient as the brain can perform its tasks unhindered.
Starting the learning process begins with the body. With a good night's sleep, a good diet and plenty of exercise, a person will be able to make their learning far more effective. Especially when combined with strong learning techniques, such as the Pomodoro technique or the Feynman technique.