For a long time, we’ve made the connection between the food that we eat and the way that we look, the health of our hearts and the likelihood of disease, but the connection between our diet and the health of our brains is something we have only relatively recently started focusing on. Jenny Tschiesche, the Lunchbox Doctor, explains that when it comes to staying mentally sharp and focused, eating plenty of brain-healthy foods really does matter.
Over to you Jenny…
The gut-brain link
The gut and the brain are tightly connected so when we focus on giving our bodies whole, nutritious food we take care of both. Several important hormones and neurotransmitters are created in the gut that then enter the brain, which influences cognitive abilities, such as understanding and processing information, as well as memory and concentration. This means that a well-functioning gut is essential for sending the brain the kind of chemical signals that keep us functioning and at our best.
Keeping the gut healthy means providing the right kind of fuel to the range of bacteria that already exist there and introducing new, healthy bacteria through better food choices. A gut-healthy diet is very low in added sugars, alcohol, processed foods, and white, refined carbohydrates. It contains 30g of fibre per day from a range of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit as well as from whole grains, alongside some fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, and miso.
A poor-quality diet can lead to more inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers) than is healthy, which studies show can contribute to inflammation that ends up damaging the brain. Whilst some inflammation is necessary to help protect us against illnesses and repair the body e.g. when we cut ourselves, chronic inflammation is a different ball game. It’s been linked to several cognitive conditions including dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Foods linked to increased inflammation include sugars, too much alcohol as well as fried and processed foods. An anti-inflammatory diet should focus on omega 3 fatty acids, ideally from fish but if fish is not something you enjoy then fish oil supplements and algal oil supplements for vegans are recommended. It should also include a range of antioxidant-rich foods such as brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, turmeric, nuts and dark chocolate.
To help you achieve these dual goals here are some meal and snack suggestions that combine many of the ingredients above:
Breakfasts: Smashed avocado on wholegrain toast, Yogurt with berries and nuts or Porridge with flaxseeds and a drizzle of maple syrup.
Lunches: Miso soup, stir-fried veg, and leftover chicken or some cashew nuts, Rocket salad, mozzarella, avocado and tomatoes with apple cider vinegar & lemon-based dressing, or Veg omelette and salad.
Evening Meals: Baked salmon with pesto, roasted tomatoes and new potatoes,
Lentil and sweet potato curry on wholegrain rice, or Smoked salmon carbonara – made with wholegrain pasta and eggs.
Snacks: Apple wedges and almond butter, Dark chocolate x 2 pieces or Hummus and pepper sticks.
To optimise the health of your brain, and to attempt to prevent memory loss, diet can play a key role. From reducing inflammation to supplementation and diet, to focusing on the health of your gut, there are many foods which can actively help improve the health of the brain.