Many of us struggle with poor memory or lack of concentration from time-to-time, and for some, more frequently. Whilst the brain will always show signs of ageing, generally from age 50, we’d all like some extra brain power, whatever our age!
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five foods to give your brain that extra boost.
Eggs are not only an all-round superfood, they’re rich in choline, a member of the family of B-vitamins. Choline’s main ‘claim-to-fame’ is that it helps make acetylcholine, the brain’s key memory transmitter. Importantly, a deficiency of this nutrient could be the single most common cause for a declining memory.
One large egg contains around 300 mg of choline. Choline has two major functions; it’s needed for the structure of brain cells, plus the production of acetylcholine. The human body can make some choline in the liver, but it’s not usually sufficient to make healthy brain cells, hence it’s needed regularly in the diet.
Eggs are also a great source of protein, containing the full profile of amino acids. Having an egg-based breakfast will help keep blood sugar levels in balance throughout the day and this will also keep your brain in sharp focus.
Oily fish is rich in brain-loving omega-3 fats. These fats are key for good brain health because they’re part of the myelin sheath within the brain structure and are also needed to make those all-important neurotransmitters. The best fish to eat are primarily cold water ones that consume other fish! This means herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna. Try to include some oily fish in your diet around three times a week.
If you’re vegetarian, then you don’t need to miss out. Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a key omega fat which the body converts into the most active form being EPA (rich in fish). So the brain will still get what it needs.
This perfect, conveniently wrapped fruit is high in vitamin B6, which is another nutrient that’s essential for the production of those essential neurotransmitters. It’s no coincidence that bananas are a popular weaning food for babies, maybe for this reason. Plus, of course, they’re easy to digest (when fully ripe).
The brain needs a constant supply of certain nutrients to keep these neurotransmitters ‘firing’ and sending messages between cells. Several B-vitamins, and in particular B6, also encourage the production of acetylcholine as well as keeping nerves healthy.
Bananas are one of the easiest foods to incorporate into the diet because they’re so transportable but also versatile in dishes. They’re also a great start to the day on top of your morning oats with some natural yoghurt.
We know that the brain contains lots of fats, which are key to its make-up. However, this makes the brain susceptible to attack from damaging free radicals. If not stopped in their tracks, free radicals can cause damage throughout the body, particularly to nerves, which will inevitably impact on brain function.
The good news is that nature has provided a wealth of foods containing protective nutrients. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in avocados, works in partnership with vitamin C in the antioxidant department. Interestingly, people with good blood levels of antioxidants may do better in memory tests!
Whilst some people shy away from avocados because of their higher calorie load, the benefits of including one in your diet, three times a week, far outweighs any negatives. They’re particularly delicious with prawns, in salads, smashed on toast with eggs for breakfast, or with bacon and grilled chicken.
The humble pea is rich in folic acid, which works alongside vitamin B6 in helping produce the brain’s neurotransmitters. Plus, they’re so versatile and tasty too! They’re a good source of protein and fibre, helping to keep blood sugar levels in good balance and therefore, the brain in great working order.
Peas are a very popular frozen vegetable because they’re so quick and easy to add to a meal. The freezing process can actually retain more of their nutrient content because they’re frozen quickly after harvesting, so don’t worry that these frozen vegetables are any less nutritious than fresh ones. They will also certainly contain less starch. We tend to forget that peas also come in the form of mange tout or the sugar snap variety, which are both equally great for the brain.
So add some of these brain-boosters to your diet this season and stay sharp!
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