You need the right food to keep your brain healthy. A study published in The Lancet in July concluded that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health and strengthened the brain’s network by improving their diet, not smoking, doing exercise, keeping a healthy weight and treating high blood pressure and diabetes.
Brain health is easy
Without the right nutrition, the brain cannot produce neurotransmitters or neurochemicals like serotonin or dopamine that are responsible for mood, social behaviour, appetite, memory and even sexual desire, say Luke Coutinho, doctor of alternative medicine and founder of the health start-up Pure Nutrition. “The right foods can boost numerous aspects of mental health, including memory, concentration, intelligence, cognitive thinking, and help in the prevention of diseases like depression, Alzheimer’s, etc,” he says.
If your lifestyle includes a lot of processed food, that can lead to toxic accumulation, increased inflammation and oxidative stress, ultimately leading to brain deterioration. “People who eat less balanced diets and include a lot of processed foods high in sugar, caffeine and alcohol in their diets have a higher chance of undergoing mental health problems like depression, and obsessive compulsive disorders,” says Ushakiran Sisodia, head of department, diet and nutrition, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai.
Your brain needs rest
The reason is simple. Your brain is working, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without rest. That needs a lot of energy. The brain realizes this, which is why it’s intricately connected to your stomach, communicating every moment through the vagus nerve, one of the largest nerve systems in the body.
Ritika Samaddar, regional director and chief clinical nutritionist, Max Healthcare, Delhi, says what you eat has a direct effect on your mood. “The most important nutrients the brain needs are omega 3, zinc, B vitamins, especially B12 and B9, choline, zeutin, probiotics, magnesium, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamin D and iron,” she says.
Omega 3 fatty acids help the brain build proper neural connections and create barriers that protect the nerves, while magnesium, vitamins D, E, C, B complex, iron and zinc are needed to aid in brain function and health, adds Priyanka Rohatgi, head of department, nutrition and dietetics, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru. “High-quality foods that contain a lot of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourish the brain, protecting it from oxidative stress,” she explains, adding that a balanced diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, complex carbohydrates, fibre and healthy fats and protein would be ideal.
So, if you want to give your brain an added boost, make sure these items are on the menu.
Coconut oil comes loaded with medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a kind of fatty acid which, when oxidized, converts to ketones, a high-powered energy that feeds brain cells, increases blood circulation to the brain and provides all the good cholesterol the brain needs, says Sisodia.
To keep your brain from ageing, add turmeric to your curries. It’s both anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety. “Turmeric acts as a nootropic (smart drug) to enhance brain function, is therapeutic in the supplemental form and protects your brain from premature ageing,” says Coutinho. Curcumin, the ingredient found in this wonder spice, fights Alzheimer’s, is anti-inflammatory and kills free radicals.
Berries and cherries
Brain health is dependent on reducing inflammatory foods in your diet, says Shamsah Sonawalla, consultant psychiatrist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Center, Mumbai.That’s why berries and cherries, which are rich in antioxidants and help prevent free radicals (unstable molecules) from damaging the body, also protect you from developing neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s. “In addition, they contain flavonoids that enhance mood, help in hormonal balance and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone,” she adds. In season, have a cupful of berries, grapes (for the average Indian diet, grapes, gooseberries) or cherries every day to keep your brain fit.
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