Brain food

Do you have brain fog?

Listen to the hype about certain “superfoods” and you’ll hear claims that they can support everything from cognitive function and psychological function, to enhanced memory and focus.

But what are these foods and do they really do what is promised?

There’s no denying that as the body ages, our brain ages right along with it. And just like every other part of our body, our brain responds to the amount of exercise we give it and the quality of the fuel that we provide to it.

Of course, there’s no magic bullet to boost your IQ or make you smarter, but certain foods from nature (and specific nutrients, in particular) can certainly support brain function and energise you, and this is backed by clinical trials and scientific evidence as approved by the EFSA.

In other words, the good news for anyone experiencing brain fog, poor memory or sluggish mental performance is that you can support healthy brain function by adding “brain foods” to your diet.

Caffeine

It’s no great secret that caffeine makes you feel more alert and helps you to concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks and certain medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable buzz. However, the side-effects of some of these sources are undesirable. A source such as caffeine anhydrous is preferable because, for example, it provides a more standard (quantifiable) dose in comparison with brewed drinks. In the form of a natural food supplement, it also avoids the chemicals often present in energy drinks and medicines, and the sugar and dairy in chocolate.

Breakfast foods

It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and, in some ways, this is most true for brain function.

If you’ve ever been tempted to skip breakfast, it is worth noting that studies have found that eating this meal can actually serve to improve short-term memory and attention span. For example, students who eat it tend to perform better than those who don’t.

At the top of researchers’ brain-foods lists are:

  • high-fibre whole grains (grain products are important in the morning because the body converts carbohydrates into glucose – the brain’s preferred fuel. Whole and enriched grain foods also contain B vitamins, which are important for concentration and helping your brain to stay healthy)
  • eggs (choline, a B vitamin found in eggs, has been shown to play a role in brain function and memory)
  • fruit, especially grapes, blueberries, bananas and apples (studies indicate that consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich fruits can support brain health, by helping to protect it against oxidative stress and inflammation and by targeting the actions of certain genes involved in age-related diseases of the brain)
  • nuts, such as almonds (almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, which can help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly)
  • and oats (oats contains iron, zinc, potassium and B vitamins – all nutrients that help brain development and help the brain to function optimally).

Something fishy?

A protein source strongly linked to brain health is oily fish, i.e. fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are an essential component of brain health and function. A diet rich in omega oils has been linked to lower dementia rates and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.

As confirmed by the EFSA, DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid – an omega-3 fatty acid) contributes to maintenance of normal brain function (with a daily intake of 250mg of DHA).

Ginseng

Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, not least for its purported effects on brain function. For example, it is thought that ginseng can help to support and even improve brain functions such as memory, behaviour and mood.

Folic acid

Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group of vitamins. Folate is naturally found in many foods, including broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas and brown rice. It is clear that folic acid affects both mood and cognitive function, especially in older people. It is also important for the proper functioning of the nervous system at all ages.

An all round healthy diet

It may sound trite but it’s true – if your daily diet lacks essential nutrients, it can obviously affect your brain’s function, as well as the ability to concentrate.

Eating too much or too little can also interfere with your focus. A heavy meal may make you feel tired, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs. Similarly, consuming high level of brain-healthy nutrients on a daily basis will support your brain, while eating empty nutrient-depleting calories will have the opposite effect.

As the old sayng goes, you are what you eat.

For a happy, healthy brain, strive for a well-balanced diet full of a wide variety of natural and healthy foods, preferably organic. If you feel that your diet is lacking in some areas, you may wish to supplement it with additional nutrients in the form of food supplements.

In addition to those already mentioned above, some “brain food” nutrients that you might want to look out for include: zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, Korean Panax ginseng, guarana, Bacopa monnieri, ginkgo leaf, ashwagandha root, green tea, L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine, N-Acetyl L-Carnitine, rosemary leaf, DHA, choline, phosphatidylcholine, cinnamon, curcumin, phosphatidyl serine and black pepper.

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