What Brain Healthy Foods Should I Eat? Part 1

Examples of brain healthy foods

You’ve probably heard of the saying “Eating for two” when people talk about pregnant women.  When women get pregnant, they often become very aware of what they eat and drink. They start taking better care of their health. They choose to eat healthier food, start taking supplements to increase their baby’s brain development, cut down the coffee and drop the alcohol.

Even if you’re not pregnant (or if you’re a man, of course), I’d like to suggest a similar way of thinking about what you eat and drink. Only this time, your baby is your brain!

What if you thought of your brain as a delicate, growing ‘baby’ that needs to be nurtured carefully?

What would you eat and drink to ensure it develops to its highest potential?

What would you avoid or have less of?

Here are simple 5 simple tips to help you get more brain healthy foods into your diet:

1. Drink more

So this one isn’t actually about eating but it’s vital. Keeping well hydrated is one of the simplest ways you can help keep your brain health. Click here to find out some facts about how even mild dehydration can negatively affect your brain. Always have a bottle (preferably metal or glass, not plastic) of water within reach. Set a reminder on your phone to go off every hour to remind you to drink.

To make water more appealing, add slices of cucumber or lemons, a few sprigs of mint or rosemary (crush the leaves to release their amazing aromas) or a couple of drops of high quality, organic, food grade essential oil (lemon, grapefruit, lemongrass and orange are great options). Alternatively, drink green, herbal or fruit teas. Smoothies are a good option too, as long as they contain vegetables as well as fruits. Avoid coffee and black tea which have a diuretic effect (they make you pee more, therefore you lose more water) and avoid fruit juices, soft drinks and energy drinks because they have high sugar levels that play havoc with your blood sugar levels.

2. Eat more home cooked meals

Home cooked food will always contain less (if any) additives, colourings, flavourings and preservatives which can often impact how we think and feel. One common food preservative, Sodium Benzoate, has been shown to cause damage to the cells of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination, in animal studies.  Home cooked food also generally contains less sugar and salt, which manufacturers add in copious amounts to get consumers hooked on their products. Eating pre-packaged ready meals is also associated with exposure to higher levels of plastic chemical compounds from the packaging. These have been linked to a host of health problems.

3. Be a label reading ninja

When you do buy food and drink products, take a good look at their labels before you decide if they’re good for your brain ‘baby’. As a general rule, look for products that contain five ingredients or less. If any of the ingredients are not the kind of ingredient you would ever have in your own food cupboard or fridge, put the product back on the shelf. If you don’t keep High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sulfur dioxide, Butylated hydroxyanisole or E113 in your home to add to your meals, why would you eat it if it’s in pre-packaged or prepared food products? These additives are unlikely to be in brain healthy foods. For a good guide on reading food labels, click here.

4. Cut out, or at least drastically cut down, sugar

The brain is very sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations. If you regularly spike your blood sugar from consuming sugary food and drinks, your pancreas then comes to the rescue by flooding your blood with insulin to reduce blood sugar levels. This up and down of blood sugar levels plays havoc with your brain function, causing irritability, mood swings and drops in concentration and focus.

5. Reduce carbohydrates, especially simple carbs

Speaking of blood sugar levels… Remember the food pyramid we used to get taught in school back in the 80s and 90s? The one that has carbs and grains as the biggest food group at the base of the pyramid? Well, they got that wrong! Carbohydrates, especially simple or refined (processed) carbohydrates, get converted in our bodies to SUGAR. So even if you’ve cut out sugar from your diet, you could still be spiking your blood sugar levels by eating large portions of simple or refined carbohydrates like pasta, white rice, peeled potatoes, bread and chips. Recent research has actually shown that a predominantly carb heavy diet is strongly associate with increased risk for diabetes, obesity and dementia. Here are two recent health guideline illustrations from the School of Public Health, Harvard University, which show a diet you should aim for that is healthier for both your body and your brain. Choose one as a guide for your meals. Print out the one that appeals the most to you and stick it up in your kitchen as a reminder for you and anyone else in your family.

Start with these 5 simple changes for the next 10-14 days. Remember, when making a decision about what to eat or drink, ask yourself, “If my brain was a baby, would eating/drinking this be good for my baby’s health?” Next time, I’ll post another blog with further tips about brain healthy foods to add to your day to day routine.

For now, start with making these 5 simple changes first. Your brain baby will thank you for taking these first few steps.

Would you like to take a look further to find out how to improve your brain health? Contact me to arrange a FREE, no obligation 30 minute Health Exploration call.

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