The brain-boosting diet

Nourish your brain for better focus, memory and mood with these delicious and nutritious foods.

Written by Dr Jenny Brockis

The food we eat plays an important role in the health of our brains. Along with exercise, sleep, mental challenge and stress management, nutrition is a key element of brain fitness, keeping our brains functioning at their best.

By choosing a healthy, balanced diet of brain-nourishing foods, we can help boost our mood, focus and cognitive performance, as well as prevent future decline.

There are many different ways our choice of food can influence our mood and cognition. For example, science has found:

  • Low levels of Omega-3 have been associated with higher risk of depression and cognitive decline.
  • Eating food with high levels of trans-fats as found in fast foods has been shown to reduce verbal memory in middle-aged males.
  • Drinking coffee has been shown to be associated with living longer and boosting long term memory.

The plethora of diets and fads has made it difficult for people to know how make the best food choices. But when it comes to promoting better brain health, there is much to be said for following a Mediterranean style diet. Studies have shown how this diet promotes cognition and memory over the longer term.

"Studies have shown how a Mediterranean-style diet promotes cognition and memory."

Here are some of the best brain-boosting foods to fill up on:

1. Leafy greens

Yes, mum was right. Leafy green veggies provide a good array of antioxidants perfect for better brain health. Eating a minimum of two serves a day was shown in a US Study from Rush University Medical Centre to reduce cognitive decline in subjects aged 65 and older. But don’t wait until then – all brains of any age benefit from eating greens.

2. Fish

While the price of fish can be enough to cause a heart attack, eating fresh or tinned fish three times a week is possible without breaking the bank. Salmon, whiting, herring and sardines are all great choices to have either grilled or in a salad or a wrap. Fish contains high level of Omega-3, which supplies an essential component to ensure the normal flexibility of every cell membrane in our body, including our neurons. (Check out these fish recipes for inspiration.)

3. Deeply pigmented fruits and berries

While there are lots of adverts for exotic sounding fruits from remote South American forests we don’t have to travel so far – blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, red grapes and plums even beetroot are great because they all contain high levels of resveratrol. Resveratrol is believed to be neuroprotective because of its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to lower insulin levels.

4. Seeds and nuts

While walnuts take top podium position because of the amount of DHA they contain, other nuts including almonds, hazelnuts, and seeds including sesame seeds, ground flax seed are all cognitive boosters as they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E.

5. Whole grains

The brain’s primary energy source is glucose that we obtain from the breakdown of complex carbohydrates. Brown rice, brown (whole grain) bread and oatmeal are great places to start.

This is not an exhaustive list there are so many wonderful foods to try and enjoy. And of course, a little bit of top quality dark chocolate doesn’t go amiss either.

The main thing is to remove the guilt from food, include more healthy choices and train your brain to enjoy more of the healthy stuff. It’s easier than you think!

Written by Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis specialises in the science of high performance thinking. She is the Director of Brain Fit and her latest book, Future Brain, is available now through Wiley.

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