Nutrition and Brain Health: What’s the link?
By Jemma Besson, RD CDE
Jemma Besson is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who works for Shoppers Drug Mart®.
The research is clear; nutrition has a huge impact on brain health. Eating the right foods, and in the right combination, can help you build new brain cells, preserve or enhance memory and possibly prevent disease1. A diet rich in fish, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables can help to maintain your brain health and may even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease2,6. Here is a list of my top 5 food combinations to help support optimal brain function:
- Fish (especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and trout) is a fantastic source of omega 3 – a fatty acid that your body can’t produce2. Specifically, we are talking about DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - a fatty acid that is required to keep the brain functioning normally and efficiently. Your brain and nervous system tissues are partly made up of fat, with a preference for DHA. Aim to include fish in your diet at least twice a week to meet your nutritional needs for DHA1-3,5. For a healthier option try poaching, broiling or grilling your fish rather than deep frying. If fish isn’t your thing, include other sources of omega rich foods in your diet like ground flax, walnuts and hemp hearts.
- Avocado contains a nutrient called lutein which aids in brain health and preserving memory4. Other sources include dark leafy green vegetables like kale or spinach. You can actually get more lutein from cooking your leafy greens rather than eating them raw. This is because heat breaks down the plant cell walls releasing more of the antioxidants which can be more readily absorbed into the body. You might even see greater improvements in cognitive function when lutein is paired with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA3,7. Pair poached salmon with sautéed kale, onions and garlic with a side of roasted sweet potato for a brain boosting dinner.
- Never underestimate the value of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. They are excellent sources of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene which can help reduce the oxidative stress on the brain and may help delay cognitive decline1,7. Every fruit and vegetable colour provides different antioxidants so always add a rainbow of colours to your shopping cart. Make your salad bright with diced yellow bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, mixed greens and mandarin oranges!
- Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice are packed full of B vitamins (except for B12) that work to help reduce inflammation of the brain, potentially preserving memory1,7. B12 is naturally found in animal sources like meat, poultry, eggs and milk. As we age, our bodies do not absorb B12 as easily, so we should make an additional effort to include this in our diet. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause symptoms such as forgetfulness and tingling in the hands and feet1,7. Try making a hearty vegetable soup with shredded chicken breast and barley for a healthy dose of B vitamins.
- Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which is another brain boosting nutrient. It plays a role in protecting our brain cells from free radical damage1,7. Vitamin E can also help our bodies to absorb the antioxidants in leafy green vegetables7. Sprinkle some slivered almonds on your next salad to make it even more nutritious!
We often forget how nutrients in different foods interact with one another, each one enhancing the health benefits of the other. Overall it is important to enjoy a diet that is rich in variety. Strive to cook and eat fresh food, savor its wonderful flavours, and remember to enjoy it with family and friends!
Are you looking to help optimize your health and nutrition through what you eat and drink? Registered Dietitian services are available throughShoppers Drug Mart at shoppersdrugmart.ca/dietitians. Book your personalized nutrition appointment today.
The information provided is for personal use, reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a Physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters. Please note: Dietitian services are currently only available in select Ontario stores. Please contact your store to learn more. ®/TM 911979 Alberta Ltd. ©2020 Shoppers Drug Mart Inc.
- Gomez-Pinilla, Fernando. (2010). Brain Foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 9(7): 568-578. Retreived from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
- Eartight.org. (2017). Brain Health and Fish. Retrieved from: https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/brain-health-and-fish
- Mohn E, et al. (2013) The relationship of lutein and DHA in cognitive function. FASEB J. 27(Suppl 1):638.18
- Hammond BR Jr et al. (2017) Effects of lutein/zeaxanthin supplementation on the cognitive function of community dwelling older adults: a randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Front Aging Neurosci. 9: 254.
- Mohajeri MH, et el. (2015). Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: implications for brain aging and Alzheimer-type dementia. Nutrition. 31(2):261-275.
- Morris, Martha et al. (2015). MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimers Dement. 11(9): 1007-1014.
- Today’s Dietitian. (2017). Nutrients for a Sharp Memory. Retrieved from: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1217p24.shtml