If you want to keep your cognitive function sharp and alert well into your life, you should know that your, brain, like any other organ, requires proper nutrition!
Whether you’re a college student trying to keep yourself in the best possible shape for each week’s battery of tests, assignments, and papers, or a retired person working to keep your mind active and prevent the effects of aging, you need to give your brain cells the nutrients they need to do their work and keep themselves in the best possible shapev.
Though we usually think more about body fat and clothing size when we plan out our diets, making arrangements to support our brain’s health with proper nutrition and care is another key and important part of our overall physical and mental health.
Just as muscles can atrophy over time, your brain can shrink, with less-used parts of the cerebral cortex in particular losing functionality. However, omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and in several vegetable sources, can help slow several kinds of age-related deterioration in memory and brain health as well as keeping your brain robust at any age.
For example, they help improve the brain’s nerve-cells’ communication; they help you concentrate; and they may even fight inflammation. These fatty acids also help maintain simple brain volume. This is especially important for age-related issues. Alzheimer’s, for example, has been linked to shrinking brain size in the elderly.
Omega-3s are fat-soluble nutrients, not water-soluble ones, so you don’t need to eat them every single day, but having a regular intake of them is important.
The easiest way to get your dose of omega-3s is to eat fish. Fish fats, which are especially highly concentrated in the belly meat, are extremely high in these fatty acids.
For omega-3 rich fish, try herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, halibut, and trout. Salmon bellies, which you can sometimes find brined and smoked, are one of the most delicious sources. (Fish also containsselenium, vitamins A and D, phosphorous, magnesium, and iodine, which are all important!)
But, if you don’t have time to cook yourself fish on a regular basis, you can supplement your omega-3 intake by taking fish oils likecod liver oil, which are sold as nutritional supplements.
If you are vegan or just don’t like seafood, you can also try one of the many vegetable sources of omega-3s: flaxseed, Brussels sprouts, spinach, arugula, kale, and watercress, as well as chia seeds and walnuts.
One of the most damaging natural enemies of your brain’s health is the negative effects of free radicals, which are more famous for causing cancer but also damage nerve cells by causing what is called oxidative stress.
The primary workhorses of your brain’s daily activity, tissues composed of nerve cells, are vulnerable to the negative effects of this process.
Thankfully, however, there are nutrients called antioxidants that prevent and may even help reverse some of the effects of free radicals by, among other things, absorbing them before they can do you harm.
Of the many kinds of antioxidants, the ones that thus far have shown themselves most promising for promoting brain health are flavonoids and Vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a well-known free-radical fighter that protects your cells from being damaged. While the specific link between it and brain function or brain diseases like Alzheimer’s needs much more study, it’s certainly good for you and good for your brain in its own right.
You can get more of it in your diet by eating any number of Vitamin-E-rich foods, but some of the best include leafy greens like spinach, swiss chard, and dandeliongreens, as well as almonds, pecans, hazelnuts,peanutsand peanut butter, and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and oils like safflower oil and soybean oil.
Nuts also contain alpha linolenic acid and help reduce inflammation. They also increase circulatory system health and oxygen flow to the brain.
The tried-and-true way to add flavonoids to your diet is to add more color to your dinner plate. In particular, foods that are packed full of these necessary nutrients include berries like strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries, leafy green vegetables such as watercress,spinach, and kale (which also have Vitamin E in them!) and other colorful vegetables like butternut squash, plums, and avocados.
You’ll also be well served to buy red grapes, whose skins are full of the flavonoid compound resveratrol. And if you feel like indulging yourself and not just eating veggies every day, you’ll find lots of flavonoids in coffee, dark chocolate, and red wine.
Along with your occasional coffee, drink some green tea. The amino acid theanine, which is present in green tea, may help concentration and attention span. Green tea is also full of antioxidants; you’d do well to drink it daily.
Rest and Exercise!
This isn’t directly a matter of nutrition, but of course, one of the most important factors for replenishment of your cells’ health is proper rest (and sleep).
You should sleep 7-9 hours a night if you are an adult, 8-10 hours if you are a teenager, and 9-11 hours if you are a child. You should also exercise regularly, especially aerobic exercise, which strengthens your lungs and heart to get your brain tissue the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
This is particularly helpful in the morning, when it gets your blood flowing and helps you remain alert and well-oxygenated for a long day of whatever kind of work you find yourself engaged in.
Space Out Your Meals
Having meals at regular times throughout the day will also help keep your brain well-fueled. Regularity and proper timing are also important for the absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients, because water-soluble vitamins (including many of the ones you get from green vegetables) stay in your body for a much shorter length of time. As a result, your body’s store of them needs to be replenished almost daily.