Having a foggy brain is not uncommon and can affect people at any age. However, brain function does noticeably decline in our 50s and accelerates as we get older. The good news is that we can do so much to support brain function and the sooner we start the better.
The brain uses about 25% of all the energy we take in as food. It is a highly complex organ and acts as the command centre for the nervous system; as such it needs a wide range of nutrients to effectively perform its many functions.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares three of her top nutrients to help support your brain.
Omega-3 fish oils
Omega 3s play a key role in brain health. The brain is made up of 60% fat, much of which are the essential omegas (essential because the body can’t make them, so they need to feature in the diet). In general, the UK population has a lack of these through not eating enough in the diet.
Deficiency is mainly down to omega-3s only being found predominantly in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines – foods that are not widely eaten. Omega-3s are also found in flaxseeds, nuts, and seeds but they have to be eaten very regularly to obtain what the body needs.
Ideally aim for one to two portions of oily fish every week and sprinkle at least one tablespoon of flaxseeds onto your cereal, yoghurt or in a smoothie every day. Your brain will certainly thank you for it.
The mineral zinc is one of the busiest, being involved in around 300 different enzyme reactions in the body. Zinc is significant when it comes to brain health because it’s needed for the production of those all-important brain neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, needed for mood and motivation, and melatonin, essential for sleep. Zinc is also used in the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, essential neurotransmitters for the stress response.
In short, the brain can’t function without zinc. Minerals are often referred to as ‘trace minerals’: they are of course needed in small amounts but are crucial to overall health. Therefore, the diet should ideally be rich in foods containing zinc – think wholegrains, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, and eggs. The best source of zinc is oysters, so never worry about enjoying them more regularly rather than as a treat.
It’s not that difficult to be slightly lacking in zinc, with white spots on the nails being a tell-tale deficiency sign. General hormonal disruptions can also be a nudge that you need to eat more zinc-rich foods.
The family of B-vitamins all work together but vitamin B12 does stand out as one of the key members when it comes to brain health. This is because it plays a role in one of the body’s most important biochemical reactions known as methylation. Whilst it’s not necessary to understand methylation, it’s important to know that it can’t happen without vitamin B12, nor can the brain work correctly.
As part of this biochemical process, memories are formed, and concentration and focus are achieved. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, and in some fortified foods such as cereals. Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are the best sources, so vegetarians and vegans should consider taking a supplement to ensure the brain’s not missing out.
If your brain is feeling foggy or you’re lacking in energy (another sign you may be deficient in B12) then it might be time to increase your intake.
The brain is certainly a nutrient-hungry organ, but eating enough of these three nutrients is a really good start.
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