Food is a powerful force for the health of the body and the brain. The brain needs energy in the form of glucose, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), and an assortment of vitamins and minerals to operate. Here are a few tips for dietary choices to protect and promote brain health.
The most important step toward protecting your brain’s health? Get started! It’s never too late to make healthy changes to your lifestyle, and even small changes can have a big impact.
Whole grains are clean energy for your brain. They provide the brain’s No. 1 fuel source — glucose — steadily supplied as complex carbohydrates break down in the gut. Unlike their refined cousins, whole grains don’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike or plummet, creating imbalances in brain function. Also, unrefined grains provide fiber, B vitamins, and the type of starch that is vital to brain function.
Tip: Explore your neighborhood grocer’s bulk department for interesting grains like bulgur wheat, wheat berries, millet, hominy, polenta, steel-cut oats, and wild or brown rice, as well as pseudo-grains like quinoa and amaranth.
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy, polyunsaturated fats that help improve memory and performance and are critical in reducing inflammation caused by environmental toxins and lifestyle. Omega-3s are not produced in the body, so choose the right foods to support this nutritional need.
Tip: Cold-water fish are an excellent source of omega-3s; if you are concerned about mercury or other environmental contaminants choose salmon, trout, or sardines. The USDA recommends that you eat fish twice a week as part of a balanced diet. You also can find these healthy fats in plant sources like walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and avocados.
Eat a rainbow to ensure that you’re giving your brain all the best. Fruits and vegetables in a range of naturally vibrant colors provide a variety of health benefits, including powerful antioxidants that protect the brain from degeneration and improve its function.
Tip: Purchase produce when it is in season to ensure that nutrient content is at its highest. Here are the best brain-boosting fruits and veggies:
- Purple/blue: berries, eggplant, purple cabbage
- Red: tomatoes, strawberries, beets
- Green: dark leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach, and arugula
- Yellow/orange: butternut squash, bell peppers, oranges
Stacy M. Peercy, M.P.H., is a program coordinator at The Garden Kitchen.
Louisa O’Meara is an M.P.H. student in health behavior and health promotion and a program coordinator at The Garden Kitchen.
For recipes and ideas for incorporating these brain-boosting foods into your diet, visit TheGardenKitchen.org.