Evidence-based lifestyle changes to improve your brain health
Nutrition is the cornerstone to your health. Without the proper fuel, your brain and your body will suffer. But when you think about eating healthy, usually losing weight and looking good come to mind. While that is often part of health goals, it is more important to think about eating for your brain.
Maria Shriver, founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, is quoted in the LA Times saying, “We have all become so obsessed with our bodies that we have forgotten to take care of our brains”(1).
Unfortunately, when you eat a diet that is only focused on making your body look better, your brain suffers. The brain is a unique and complex organ and needs special attention! Your brain (2):2
- Has about 100 billion neurons (nerve messengers)
- Has 1,000 to 10,000 synapses (connections between the neurons) for each neuron
- Has 100,000 miles of blood vessels
- Is one of the fattest organs in the body
- Is 75 percent water
With such an individual make up, it is not surprising that the brain has specific nutritional requirements. The good news is when you are eating right for your brain, you will also be providing your body the nutrition it needs.
How Nutrition Impacts and Influences Brain Longevity
There is one diet that has been highly researched for its impact on improving not only heart health but also brain health. The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that embraces whole foods and healthy fats combined in a flavorful way.
Your brain’s nutritional needs can be met through eating a diet rich in:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and nuts
- Healthy fats like olive oil (3)
Healthy Fats for Brain Health
Because your brain is made up of 60 percent fat, you will have better success keeping your brain healthy by including more healthy fats in your diet.
A large plain salad may have lots of nutrients, but those nutrients will be lost to your brain if they aren’t eaten with some fat. A study by Predimed found that the risk of stroke was reduced by 46% in those who followed a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans but also included 30 grams of mixed nuts and olive oil. It was also found that the participants had better memory function and the ability to make plans and follow through with them.
Fruits and Vegetables to Eat for Brain Health
Polyphenols are micronutrients that can be found in fruits and vegetables. They have the ability of reducing swelling, improving blood flow to the brain (remember all those miles of blood vessels?) and countering the effects of stress on the brain.
Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are high in polyphenol. And delicious to eat in the summer months! Eating high amounts of berries is shown to slow the effects of aging by 2.5 years by reducing swelling and counteracting the effects of stress.4 Eat more berries and you could end up with better memory power and a strengthened ability to learn. That sounds like a winning combination!
Nitrates, which are found in high levels in lettuce and other leafy greens like spinach, are also essential for promoting brain health. Eating more leafy vegetables helps to protect the inner lining of your blood vessels (endothelial function). That means that the blood can get where it needs to go: to your brain! (4)
Easy Summer Breakfast Recipe to Improve Your Brain Health
This summer, make it easy for your brain to be healthy by eating the foods your brain needs to function well. Aim for including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish and healthy fats in each meal.
An easy breakfast to start your day off right is a homemade nut-based granola served with berries and Greek yogurt.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- ½ cup of walnuts
- ½ cup of almonds
- ½ cup of hazelnuts
- ½ cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- ¼ cup of pitted dates
You can put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until it holds together well. Or chop finely and mix in a bowl. This nut-based granola can be stored in the fridge for a week. Plus, it makes an excellent breakfast served with a ½ cup of fresh or thawed berries and a scoop of Greek yogurt!
This breakfast recipe will help you feel full for hours while providing your brain with the healthy fat it needs from the nuts and coconut. It also has phenomenal flavor and a good dose of polyphenols from the cocoa and berries. It’s all mixed together with another healthy fat (the Greek yogurt) and a super-sized helping of probiotics.
Keeping your brain healthy is essential for your enjoyment of life, and eating healthy is one of the most important lifestyle factors for improving brain health. Eating for your brain health can and should be delicious and enjoyable. Find more summer recipes for brain health on our blog.