Boost your brain power

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

JUST LIKE ALL the or­gans in the body, your brain needs fuel to per­form at its best. Eat­ing healthy food that pow­ers your brain can pre­vent you feel­ing slug­gish, im­prove con­cen­tra­tion and help you main­tain clar­ity and fo­cus through­out the day. Those are the im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits, but stud­ies also show that what we eat now may help ward off dis­eases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of de­men­tia in old age.

So, what does the brain need to stay as healthy as pos­si­ble?

Cut back on sat­u­rated and trans fats. Stud­ies have found those who eat a high in­take of sat­u­rated fat have a greater risk of cog­ni­tive de­cline and de­men­tia as they age. This may be due to the fat it­self, or it may be a marker for a poorer diet that has less of the nu­tri­ents the brain needs. Other stud­ies as­so­ci­ated sat­u­rated and trans fats with worse mem­ory and poorer brain func­tion.

What it cer­tainly means is that a diet of fatty meats and meat prod­ucts, pies, pas­tries, cakes, bis­cuits and deep-fried foods – all high in sat­u­rated fat – are not good for the brain.

Eat more omega-3 fatty acids. Peo­ple who eat a lot of fish have a lower risk of de­men­tia. The rea­son is likely due to their higher in­take of omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and seafood. These long-chain fats are found in con­cen­trated amounts in the brain, so we know they are im­por­tant for op­ti­mal brain func­tion. They have been shown to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion in the brain and pro­mote the growth of new brain cells – just what we want for brain health and a sparky mind! You’ll find shorter-chain omega-3s in some plant foods, in­clud­ing chia, flaxseed and al­monds, but we have only a lim­ited ca­pac­ity to use these to make the long-chain ones (called EPA and DHA) im­por­tant for the brain. To boost your in­take of these di­rectly, tuck into oily fish such as salmon, tuna or sar­dines two or three times a week (yes, the canned ones count). You could also take a sup­ple­ment, al­though these can’t repli­cate all of the ad­van­tages of a diet high in fish.

Make ex­tra vir­gin olive oil a pantry sta­ple. Peo­ple who eat more mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats score bet­ter on cog­ni­tive tests, while those that eat a Mediter­raneanstyle diet have been shown to have a lower risk of cog­ni­tive de­cline and Alzheimer’s dis­ease. There are many as­pects of this diet that may be pro­tec­tive, in­clud­ing a high in­take of fish, but the type of fat again plays a star­ring role. Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil is pri­mar­ily mo­noun­sat­u­rated fat, but it’s also a rich source of sev­eral an­tiox­i­dants and ben­e­fi­cial plant com­pounds. It truly is a su­per-food and seems to be a win­ner for brain health.

Im­prove your mem­ory and stay sharp with these six sim­ple diet changes, writes Dr Joanna McMil­lan.

It’s a myth that you can’t cook with ex­tra vir­gin olive oil. Make it your pantry sta­ple for cook­ing and dress­ings. It even helps ab­sorb more an­tiox­i­dants from your veges.

Other good sources of mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats in­clude av­o­cado (av­o­cado oil is another ter­rific op­tion for cook­ing and dress­ings), peanuts and many tree nuts, in­clud­ing al­monds, cashews, macadamias, pecans and pis­ta­chios. Tuck into a hand­ful of nuts daily for both heart and brain health.

Go for smart carbs. The brain is a glu­cose-greedy or­gan that will work best if there is a nice steady sup­ply of glu­cose via the blood.

If you’re eat­ing poor-qual­ity foods full of added sug­ars and re­fined starch – think rice crack­ers, highly pro­cessed low-fi­bre ce­re­als, white bread, ba­nana bread, muffins, cakes, lol­lies, soft drinks, en­ergy drinks, low-fat snack bars and white rice – and eat­ing them reg­u­larly through­out the day, your blood glu­cose lev­els will be all over the shop! Im­me­di­ately after eat­ing, your blood glu­cose will be sky high, quickly fol­lowed by a trough an hour or so later. Your brain picks up this drop in blood glu­cose and sends you sig­nals to eat again – the brain doesn’t like low blood glu­cose. So you en­ter that cy­cle of eat­ing ev­ery cou­ple of hours, re­ly­ing on sug­ary or starchy foods to pick up your en­ergy lev­els and con­cen­tra­tion. That’s bad news for brain health, not to men­tion weight con­trol and overall vi­tal­ity.

In­stead, go for what I call smart carbs. These are nu­tri­en­tand fi­bre-rich, but also low-GI. This means they are di­gested and ab­sorbed slowly, pro­vid­ing a steady stream to the brain. Smart carbs in­clude whole­grain low-GI breads, muesli or oats, some high-fi­bre ce­re­als, legumes, bar­ley, quinoa, ama­ranth, buck­wheat (in­clud­ing soba noo­dles), whole­grain pasta, brown bas­mati rice and most fruits.

A plus for caf­feine. While we usu­ally think neg­a­tively about caf­feine, it ac­tu­ally might be good for the brain! A cou­ple of stud­ies have linked cof­fee in­take with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, while in the short-term, caf­feine can im­prove con­cen­tra­tion and cog­ni­tive per­for­mance. The trick is not to overdo it. A cof­fee right be­fore an im­por­tant pre­sen­ta­tion can be a good idea and you can safely en­joy three or four small cof­fees a day (just don’t add sugar or a flavoured syrup). Cof­fee also con­tains some an­tiox­i­dants, which might ex­plain some of the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects. Another fab­u­lous drink is tea, es­pe­cially green tea.

Load up on dif­fer­ent coloured veg­eta­bles and fruit. This re­ally is im­por­tant. Plant foods are packed with what we call phy­to­chem­i­cals. These are com­pounds over and above the es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, and they have many ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects, some of which we are only just dis­cov­er­ing. There is no re­place­ment for eat­ing whole­foods and en­sur­ing plant foods are a main­stay in your diet.

For brain health, they are anti-in­flam­ma­tory and pro­tec­tive against cell dam­age. Be sure to in­clude many dif­fer­ent types. The rec­om­mended five veges and two fruit a day is a good start, but con­sider that your min­i­mum, es­pe­cially for veges.

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