Foods Improve Brain Health

Foods That Improve Brain Health

Foods Improve Brain Health. Types of foods

Food has a great impact on our lives. Unfortunately, some of us do not realize this until we have suffered an illness. I could list all the good foods and bad foods here but I hope you read through this article and see the other factors that relate to improving brain health.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE A HEALTHY BRAIN.

Your brain is that the center of your body and communicates with your heart and most other abdominal organs via your vagus nerve. Because of this, your brain is involved with movement, coordination, breathing, heart rate, and your five senses. And if that isn’t enough, your brain also helps you learn, create, store memories, navigate the world, and process external inputs.

It controls executive function: a set of skills that includes focus, planning, decision making, working memory, time management, and self­control. This is why focusing on good brain health is so important to living your best life! While your brain may be a small percentage of your total body weight, it uses about 20 percent of all the energy expended by your body.

We used to think the brain ran on carbohydrate­based fuels only, but recent studies show that the brain may run even more efficiently when fueled by ketones resulting from fat metabolism. This state is called ketosis. One way to improve your brain health is to make sure you have metabolic flexibility, meaning your body will effortlessly switch back and forth between using carbs or ketones as fuel. We all know that brain cells die throughout our lives due to injury, aging, and various assaults such as infections and toxins.

Only recently have we understood that we can grow new brain cells (neurogenesis) and make new neural connections in response to learning and experience (neuroplasticity) throughout our life. These are two exciting and positive new discoveries that should inspire us and give us hope for lifelong brain health. A critical protein that plays a key role in creating the new brain cells is BDNF (brain­derived neurotrophic factor). the great news is that there are many choices within your control that influence the production of BDNF. Exercise is the most powerful of these choices, but diet, lifestyle, and supplements like curcumin and omega­3 fatty acids are also helpful to facilitate neurogenesis. This is a powerful and important message!

You probably know that what you eat and drink can affect your heart health, but did you know that it can affect your brain health as well? Generally, speaking the things that are good for your heart are also good for your brain. Great news! Because you eat multiple times a day, you have many opportunities to make choices that keep your brain functioning well.

Before we talk about individual foods that may improve cognitive function, let’s look at broader dietary options that support good brain health. Both a Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet (a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet) are associated with less cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Those who adhere most closely to the Mediterranean diet retain more brain volume and have a reduced risk of major chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. What are the foods common to these dietary plans? They all encourage eating fish, lean meats, plentiful fresh produce, olive oil, and high fiber legumes and whole grains (if tolerated) while minimizing salt, sugar, and processed foods. Are you already experiencing brain fog or early cognitive decline? Then you may want to take it one step further and consider the Ketoflex 12/3 food plan. This way of eating, promoted by Dr. Dale Bredesen, reduces inflammation even further and puts your body into mild ketosis allowing your brain and body to burn ketones.

The Keto Diet (Click for link)

You achieve ketosis by eating a colorful plant­rich diet, clean proteins, reducing your carbohydrate intake (like whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables), increasing healthy fats, and incorporating at least a 12 hour fast each night which includes a three­hour fast before bedtime. If you carry an ApoE4 gene, you may want to gradually increase your overnight fast to 14 to ­16 hours or more. As part of a comprehensive personalized approach.

The Ketoflex 12/3 food plan has contributed to reversing symptoms of cognitive decline, even early­stage Alzheimer’s. Exploring one of these approaches to eating may be a great place to start on your journey to better brain health! Remember, there’s not one ‘best’ diet for everyone – work with your healthcare provider to find the best one for you.

METABOLIC FLEXIBILITY AND MILD KETOSIS

What is ketosis and why might it be helpful? By achieving a state of mild ketosis, your body and brain become metabolically flexible to burn ketones or glucose as fuel, and this can improve your brain function. It is especially helpful to achieve mild ketosis if you are experiencing any insulin resistance, cognitive decline and if you carry the ApoE4 gene. Look out for the keto flu as you adapt to eating fewer carbohydrates and generating your own endogenous ketones.

Keto flu is a cluster of transient symptoms like headaches, nausea, brain fog, fatigue, and light­headedness that is often experienced when the body is transitioning to creating endogenous ketones. It is thought to be caused by dehydration and lost minerals. Make sure you ingest plenty of electrolytes to prevent these symptoms while your body transitions to burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.

If you experience keto flu symptoms or feel that you need more energy during the adjustment period, you may want to consider using exogenous ketone esters or salts, such as Perfect Keto or KetoneAid brands, to provide your body with fuel. But remember, the goal is to eventually generate your own endogenous ketones. Keep track of your ketone levels at home by using a blood test like Keto Mojo and Precision Xtra, or a breath test like Biosense you get the fatty acids that your brain needs.

Eating enough fat is important, but the type of fat you eat also matters. For optimal brain health, your body needs the correct balance of omega­3 ALA, EPA, and DHA as well as omega­6 linoleic acid. Your body can’t produce ALA or linolenic acid and is not efficient at making EPA and DHA, so look for food or supplement sources of these essential fatty acids.

These nutrients are especially important for brain formation and optimal brain functioning because they support neuroplasticity and help you avoid dementia. Focusing on adding more omega­3 fatty acids in your diet may be helpful. You may also need to add a high­quality supplement to meet your needs for these important nutrients.

(Note that some omega­6 fatty acids such as GLA can be anti­inflammatory. (These may be found in borage oil or evening primrose oil.) So, embrace eating enough good quality fats to give your brain the nutrients and essential fatty acids it needs to function well. What are good quality fats? Some examples include olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, salmon, nuts, and seeds.

WILD ­CAUGHT FATTY FISH

You’ve probably heard that fish is brain food. In truth, fatty fish is one of the best dietary sources of essential omega­3 fatty acids, contains high-quality protein, and is associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline. Focus on getting at least two servings of fatty fish per week. Make sure to select wild-caught over farm­ raised options since they generally have a more favorable fatty acid profile and may contain fewer toxins from the feed.

And choose mainly from the cold water “SMASH” fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring, because they have a shorter lifespan and less time to accumulate mercury which has been linked to memory loss and other health issues. Higher concentrations of mercury have been found in some patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

GRASS­FED MEAT

If you choose to eat meat, choose 100% grass­ fed for a better fatty acid profile (higher omega­3 to omega­6 ratio, which may be less inflammatory). Meat from animals fed exclusively grass contains two to five times more polyunsaturated omega­3 fatty acids than meat from feedlot animals. Make sure that the animals are not “grain-finished” for the most supportive nutrients.

NUTS AND SEEDS

Enjoy eating nuts and seeds daily on their own or in your smoothies or salads. They contain good quality fats, fiber, magnesium, and other nutrients. Nuts such as walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and contain many other phytochemicals important for minimizing inflammation. They have been found to encourage the growth of new brain cells and improve communication between neurons. If you are following a ketogenic diet and trying to reduce your carbohydrate intake, macadamia nuts or sacha inchi seeds are optimal choices as they are low in carbs.

Flax seeds are a very rich whole­food source of the omega­3 fatty acid ALA. You can get the benefits from the seeds themselves or from flax oil. If you eat the seeds, be sure to grind or mill them to allow for better digestion and absorption of the nutrients. Chia seeds are also rich in omega­3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids. A one­ounce serving has five grams of complete protein (contains all the essential amino acids). Proteins are one of the building blocks of neurotransmitters which improve mood and brain functioning.

PHYTONUTRIENTS

Be sure to eat a large variety of plant foods. These are rich in the phytonutrients such as polyphenols and have powerful antioxidant and anti­inflammatory effects which support your brain. These compounds reduce your risk for chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Many phytonutrients give plant foods their colors. To make sure you are eating these brain ­protective compounds, choose a variety of plant foods in different colors to increase your intake of protective polyphenols and other phytonutrients in your diet.

To include a wide variety of polyphenolic compounds in your diet, eat plant foods in every color. Eat green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, pumpkin, brussels sprouts, and summer squash. These foods contain high levels of flavonols, carotenoids, and anthocyanins that may protect against developing Alzheimer’s disease or reduce the neurotoxicity of the beta­amyloid in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Include brown plant foods too by eating more mushrooms. They are full of powerful antioxidants like glutathione.

COLD PRESSED EXTRA­ VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Perhaps the richest source of polyphenols is freshly cold­pressed extra virgin olive oil which protects your memory and learning ability and reduces the classic markers of Alzheimer’s. Because olive oil is such an important part of the Mediterranean diet, it may be responsible for much of the brain-protective Page 1effect of that food plan.

When you choose an extra­virgin olive oil, pay attention to the color of the oil (darker is better) and consume as close to the pressing date as possible. Polyphenols are easily oxidized themselves, so protect them in your olive oil by keeping the oil away from light or heat, and storing it in a dark bottle.

EAT TO REDUCE TOXINS

We mentioned earlier how important it is to remove toxins from the body to improve brain health. Eat vegetables from the brassica family to help you detox: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Be sure to eat them chopped and raw or lightly steamed to release the most sulforaphane—a potent antioxidant that helps the liver remove toxins.

For the highest sulforaphane intake, grow and eat your own broccoli sprouts. Also consider adding lemons, garlic, parsley, cilantro, dandelion greens, and supplements like milk thistle and glutathione, which all support your body’s ability to detox effectively.

EAT EGGS

Eating for your brain includes eating more eggs, especially eggs from pasture­raised chickens. There is no reason to fear eating these superfoods, and this includes the yolk! Eggs contain many vitamins and high levels of choline, a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for learning and memory and can help you sleep better too.

And remember, eggs aren’t just for breakfast—enjoy them all day long. Note that since eggs are one of the top allergens, you should be mindful of any symptoms like runny nose, congestion, headaches, or cramps within 72 hours of eating eggs.

HYDRATE WITH HEALTHY BEVERAGES

The beverages you drink can be just as important as the foods you eat when it comes to your brain health. Drink a full glass of filtered water when you wake up to replenish the fluids your brain and the lymphatic system lost overnight. Even a dehydration loss of less than 1% of your body weight can make a difference in your memory, cognition, and ability to detox, so drink clean filtered water frequently throughout the day. Berkey, Aquasana, and AquaTru are brands of water filters you may want to consider for your home.

Include antioxidant­rich green tea, coffee (just a little, and not too late in the day), or mushroom­infused beverages like the Four Sigmatic brand to give you a boost in focus and cognition. Regularly drinking silicon­rich mineral water can decrease levels of aluminum in your brain. Tart cherry juice and beet juice can help reduce your blood pressure and increase blood flow to your brain. There are lots of ways to drink yourself to brain health!

OPTIMIZE YOUR GUT HEALTH, FEED YOUR GUT BACTERIA

We’ve talked about what you should eat to nourish your body and brain, but did you know you should also take care of your gut health and feed the good organisms that live in your gut? Inflammation and leaky gut often go hand in hand. When you have a leaky gut, undigested food, toxins, and other substances that should be eliminated as waste may enter your bloodstream instead, causing inflammation. To reduce inflammation and prevent leaky gut, first identify and eliminate the foods to which you are sensitive.

Then eat prebiotic fiber including resistant starch so your gut organisms can thrive and protect your health. They produce short­chain fatty acids like butyrate that keep your gut healthy and may be critical for communication between your gut and your brain. Some good foods to include are dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, green bananas, jicama, and apples. Resistant starch examples include cooked and cooled sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and rice.

PROVIDE YOUR BRAIN THE HORMONES IT NEEDS

Optimal hormone levels are critical for maintaining cognitive abilities such as memory, thinking, problem-solving, spatial ability, and even emotion for both men and women. Studies have found that hormonal fluctuations are one of the key factors that cause defects in cognitive function. Relevant hormones include thyroid, pregnenolone, estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, and vitamin D (actually a hormone!). In post­menopausal women, there is significant evidence that supports the beneficial effects of transdermal estradiol on cognition and the protective effects regarding Alzheimer’s disease.

Foods Improve Brain Health. Types

In men, preliminary evidence suggests that testosterone loss may be a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia in elderly men. Vitamin D, produced by the skin under UV stimulation or ingested from food, is actually a hormone, essential for human health. More and more evidence indicates that low levels of vitamin D may be associated with an increased risk of developing age­related cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Vitamin D plays a role in neurotransmission, reducing beta­amyloid and Tau accumulation, and taming inflammation, all of which are associated with Alzheimer’s. What should you do? Reach out to your healthcare provider and initiate a dialog about optimizing your hormone levels for overall health and more specifically for your brain health.

ASSURE OXYGENATION ALL DAY, ALL NIGHT

Our brains need adequate oxygen to function properly. Studies indicate that people with sleep apnea—pauses in breathing or reduced oxygen levels during sleep—are more likely to develop cognitive impairment in later years, especially affecting attention and executive functions. Check your oxygen saturation levels using a pulse oximeter or other technological tools such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit.

Your daytime oxygen levels should be between 96­100%, and when you sleep they should be very close to your normal daytime levels. If you find that your oxygen levels drop more than 1­2% at night, explore causes and solutions with your doctor. Your overall health, including your brain health, depends on it!

AVOID SUBSTANCES THAT NEGATIVELY IMPACT YOUR BRAIN

In addition to the toxins we’ve already discussed, there are some commonly used products that can negatively impact your brain. These include tobacco, excessive alcohol, and anticholinergic drugs. While an occasional glass of red wine might offer some health benefits from the phytonutrient resveratrol, excessive alcohol acts as a neurotoxin that damages multiple structures in your brain while also impacting your liver’s ability to detox.

This damage can lead to brain atrophy, memory loss, and sleep interference, especially our ability to reach REM sleep which impacts memory formation and cognition. If you choose to indulge occasionally, choose dry red wine and look for organic, sugar-free, low­alcohol options such as Dry Farm Wines.

By now you probably know that smoking is bad for your health – especially for your lungs. However, did you know that it also negatively impacts your brain health? Yes! Nicotine and other toxins found in cigarettes are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They increase oxidative stress in the brain, impact cardiovascular health and hypertension, along with other markers that correlate with poor brain health and increased risk for Alzheimer’s.

So, if you’re still smoking, quit! Higher cumulative anticholinergic medication use is related to an increased risk for dementia. So, what are anticholinergic medications? The list includes any drugs that block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the central and peripheral nervous system.

This impacts the transmission of messages which affects learning and memory. These include some medications for depression, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and similar disorders, overactive bladder, and epilepsy. Common OTC examples include Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, and Sominex. Work with your healthcare providers to explore options to minimize the use of prescription and OTC anticholinergic drugs when possible.

IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY AND QUANTITY

One of the most important ways to protect your brain from deterioration is to get enough good-quality sleep! Lack of good quality sleep is directly correlated to an increased risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Target seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Why is sleep so important? At least two critical functions for good brain health happen when you sleep: Your brain processes the information collected during the day and consolidates it to create your memories, and Your brain’s glymphatic system works to clear beta­amyloid and other waste products; it is especially efficient during deep sleep and when you sleep on your side.

What can you do to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep? Keep a regular sleep schedule, develop a routine to prepare you for bed, and confirm that you don’t have sleep apnea.

Tips that can help include: Limit caffeine afternoon, keep your bedroom dark and cool (65 degrees F recommended), engage in activities that promote stress reduction and relaxation in the evening to prepare yourself for a restful night – perhaps take a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium in the salts aid sleep) and lavender essential oil (which may help you relax), meditate or listen to relaxing music. Reduce exposure to blue light after dark as it impacts the production of melatonin, a necessary hormone for good quality sleep – so put away your electronic devices or wear blue-light-blocking glasses.

Another way to improve the quality of your sleep is to get exposed to the morning sun – this helps regulate your circadian rhythm and increases the production of melatonin later at night. Consider tools like the Oura ring, Beddr Sleep Tuner TM, Fitbit, and Apple watch that can monitor the impact of your efforts to improve your sleep. These will give you information on how long you’re sleeping and the amount of deep sleep, REM sleep, and your heart rate variability while sleeping.

Conclusion:

It is never too late to make positive changes in your habits to optimize brain health and performance. You have it within your power to grow new brain cells and rewire the connections between them. As presented here, there are many factors within your control to improve your brain health today and throughout your life.

Minimize inflammation by stopping attacks on your brain and improve detoxification. Be sure to consume all the nutrients essential for your brain. Create an environment that is stimulating for your brain. This will also support a healthy body and heart. Just as it’s never too late to make changes to optimize your brain health, it’s also never too early, so get started today to live your best life!

REFERENCES

1. Cunnane, S., et al, (2016) Can Ketones Help Rescue Brain Fuel Supply in Later Life? Implications for Cognitive Health during Aging and the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.

2. Cunnane, S., et al, (2011) Brain fuel metabolism, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrition, 27(1) 3-20.

3. Van den Brink, A. C., Brouwer-Brolsma, E. M., Berendsen, A., & van de Rest, O. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease-A Review. Advances in Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(6), 1040–1065.

4. Sofi, F., Macchi, C., Abbate, R., Gensini, G. F., & Casini, A. (2010). Effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet: can it help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease?. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: JAD, 20(3), 795–801.

5. American Academy of Neurology (AAN). (2017, January 4). Mediterranean diet may have lasting effects on brain health. ScienceDaily.

Thank you for reading

Michael

Comments are welcome

6 thoughts on “Foods Improve Brain Health”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information! I appreciate that you are pro foods that help with our brain health instead of trying to push for the supplements, there is a time and place for the supplements but I think we should focus on the whole foods first. Thanks for the list, I will sure to include these food groups in my diet and take care of my health more. 

    Reply
    • Hi Nuttanee,

      Thank you for your comments. We can not live on supplements, and the types of foods we eat are crucial to our health. There is a misconception with some people who think they can have a fast food meal, take a vitamin or some supplement and they are good to go. Most diseases are caused by the food we eat and how we digest them. Proper hydration is also very crucial to a healthy lifestyle.

      All the best,

      Michael

      Reply
  2. Hello there Michael! This is an informative post! I’ve been looking for ways to improve my brain health. I sometimes forget about the power of eggs and how nutritious they are. I also need to intake more protein and fat. Definitely cannot forget the hydration which is something I still need to work on. Thanks for compiling all of these ideas and including the references at the end.

    Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      Thank you for your comments. We live in a world where it seems everyone is in a rush. Hence the fast-food industry. It is so important the types of food we eat and we take the time to chew our food properly and keep ourselves hydrated.

      All the best,

      Michael

      Reply
  3. Hello, Micheal, thank you so much for this interesting article about Foods That Improve Brain Health. I have to admit I am a health freak. It is so simple, healthy eating has something to do with health. We can only stay slender, fit, and healthy if we eat healthily. Fresh foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fatty fish such as mackerel, and salmon. Lean meat. When we eat this, we can be 120 years old. But what do we have, more than half of the people in western countries are obese. It is not worth living if you already have diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or osteoporosis at the age of 50. Then it’s really no fun to hang around another 70 years. 

    But I am confident, we can all share your work. If we all share your article we can make people slender, fit and healthy. You probably guess already, Health, healthy food, and longevity is also my passion. I wish you a lot of traffic. I will post your article on my social media. Good luck. Monique

    Reply
    • Hi Monique,

      Thank you for your comments. It is good to read your comments as you realize how what we eat has a huge impact on our health. Obesity has become a huge concern. In the United States, the prevalence of obesity among adults has moved further away from the Healthy People 2020 goal of 30.5%. Since the Covid crisis and isolation, this is on a constant rise which is causing several health problems.

      I have dedicated my site to the prevention of health problems.

      All the very best,

      Michael

      Reply

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