Brain Foods: Six Clever Eats To Keep Those Neurons Firing

 ‘Senior moments’ are an inevitable part of life. Forgetting where your keys are, forgetting someone’s name and forgetting where you parked your car in the multi story car park can happen at any age. Occasional forgetfulness is considered normal. Consistent inability to remember future and past events, people and places can indicate dementia.

One of the best ways to prevent or delay the onset of dementia is to exercise regularly. Maintaining social contact and keeping your brain active through work, hobbies, games and other mental challenges can help too.

Diet is a major factor in preventing dementia and keeping the brain active in general is helpful too. Diet can also have indirect effects on the brain such as reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke which are, in turn, risk factors for dementia.

The Mediterranean Diet (note ‘diet’ not ‘dieting’) has long been the gold standard as the healthiest way of eating to prevent disease in general as we age. The diet involves eating lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, omega 3 fats and moderate consumption of alcohol. Variations on the Mediterranean diet include the MIND diet, designed to make the Mediterranean diet easier for people in the US, and the DASH diet, designed to reduce blood pressure.

However, there are other parts of the world where human lifespan is longer than most countries, and the way people eat in those places is very different to the Mediterranean.

For example in Okinawa, Japan the diet is rich in fruit and vegetables (ok that’s similar to the Mediterranean), soy products and fish. Their main source of calories is sweet potato rather than rice, which is consumed widely in the rest of Japan.

There are significantly lower rates of dementia in the farming village of Ballabgarh, Northern India compared with western countries. The people of Ballabgarh are physically active, fatness is apparently unheard of, and they eat a vegetarian diet.

Discover six brain foods that can help keep those neurons firing.

1. Blueberries

Blueberries - Brain Foods: Six Clever Eats To Keep Those Neurons Firing

These gorgeous balls of purple goodness contain one of the most important compounds in any food; polyphenols. Polyphenols help reduce inflammation thought to be at the root of most disease, including brain disease. They contain antioxidants which neutralise harmful free radicals that can damage brain cells.

They help reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension which are risk factors for dementia. They can help reduce blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Blueberries are available year round in most supermarkets and are mostly affordable so there’s no excuse not to eat them.

2. Olive oil

It’s thought that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are largely due to the fact that cooking is done using olive oil. Olive oil largely contains monounsaturated fat which has strong anti-inflammatory properties, contains antioxidants, helps protect against heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, Alzeimer’s, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis … heck, it makes you want to just guzzle it down! Just watch the calories.

3. Spinach

Spinach - Brain Foods: Six Clever Eats To Keep Those Neurons Firing

Folate is essential for brain function and the production and maintenance of new brain cells. Spinach is rich in folate and has the added benefit of containing magnesium which is also essential for nerve functioning.

There is an abundance of  other nutrients in this superfood including iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.

4. Turmeric

This strong anti-inflammatory, polyphenol rich spice may contribute to the longevity of the people of Ballabgarh who use it liberally in vege curries. Reducing inflammation may help prevent cognitive decline.

Research into turmeric on lab rats has shown it may also help stimulate the growth of nerve cells in the brain. There’s even hope for use of turmeric in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

It’s thought that cooking turmeric with black pepper and a form of fat helps it’s absorption and transportation across the blood-brain barrier where it can do all its good work.

5. Probiotics

Ever had a ‘gut feeling’ about something? That’s because your gut is your second brain. Really. It communicates with the brain by a neural network called the gut-brain axis.

Bacteria in the gut produce the same neurotransmitters as the brain. One of these is serotonin which helps reduce anxiety and improve mood. So if you want to reduce stress start eating yogurt everyday, drink kombucha, or take a probiotic supplement.

6. Walnuts

Walnuts - Brain Foods: Six Clever Eats To Keep Those Neurons Firing

You only have to look at a whole walnut to guess which part of your body it’s good for. It’s like it’s screaming from it’s own tree top to eat it for the sake of our brain health.

Walnuts contain polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and omega 3 fats as well as Vitamin E and polyphenols all of which reduce inflammation and reduce oxidative stress. Studies on rats show a diet rich in walnuts lead to a reduction in memory, learning skills and anxiety.

Prior to changing your diet, be sure to talk to a qualified nutritionist.

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