Nutrition and the Brain
David Heber M.D., PhD, FACP, FASN – Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute
Here are my top recommendations of nutrient-rich foods to add to your diet:
1. Fish Oils
If there is one food you can relate to brain health it’s probably this one. The main reason is that fatty fishes –such as sardines, salmon and trout – have high levels of omega-3. Farm-fed fish including tilapia and some salmon have both omega-3 and omega-6 and are less desirable.
Always ask for ocean-caught fish. About 60 percent of the brain is made of fat, and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in fish are a type of fat that is not made efficiently by your body so you have to obtain them from food. Omega-3 fatty acids also keep your heart healthy.
2. Black and Green Tea
Black and green teas provide hydration for any time of day, which is essential for the brain, while jump-starting thermogenic (metabolic) activity and boosting the feeling of energy. Caffeine is known for its natural thermogenic (metabolism-boosting) benefits and green tea for its antioxidant properties.
These teas also support the body’s antioxidant activity, which helps protect against free radical damage. Don’t drink your tea immediately: give it time so water can extract and concentrate the tea’s components, so you get the maximum benefit.
Lutein is a yellow antioxidant phytonutrient found in spinach, kale, and avocados as well as dietary supplements for eye health. Lutein is concentrated in the back of the eye in an area called the macula which is hit with the most ultraviolet light as a result of the focusing of light by the lens of the eye.
The eye is connected to the brain via the optic nerve and Lutein is transported to the brain where it is in higher concentration than in the blood (58% of carotene-like antioxidants in the brain but only 28% of this family of phytonutrients in the bloodstream). There are now studies both in young people and in the elderly demonstrating positive effects on Lutein on brain function.
4. Dark Chocolate
This delicious food is rich in flavonoids, but be sure to get chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. The flavonoids which are strong antioxidants that may enhance memory and also help slow down age-related mental decline are found in cocoa but not in all chocolate. For example, white chocolate has no cocoa and many candies are only 30% cocoa. The best news? Chocolate is a guilty pleasure, because it also causes the brain to release dopamine, which improves mood.
Eggs and eggs yolk are rich in protein and vitamins such as B, D, and E, which may help to improve memory. Choline is also found in eggs; it is a micronutrient that your body uses to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and memory. Egg yellow also has lutein which can help with brain health.
6. Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in a polyphenol called hydroxytyrosol, which is removed in refined forms of olive oil. This powerful antioxidant may improve learning and memory, but it also has a compound that mimics a painkiller. The compound, called oleocanthal, acts in the same way as ibuprofen to stifle components of a pain pathway called the prostaglandin system.
Going Beyond Food and Diet
Ultimately, make sure to consume high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Another essential part of keeping a healthy brain is neurobic exercises, which help boost attention, memory, cognition, and mood.
The brain is the one organ you cannot transplant or replace, so take good care of it. You only have one.