This week is Global Brain Awareness Week, a campaign which promotes awareness of brain health and research.
While many of us know about the link between fish oil and brain health, there are a number of other nutrients which have been shown to support the brain, improving memory and focus, and protecting against age-related cognitive decline.
Read on for some valuable ‘brain boosting’ foods to add to your weekly shopping list, and some useful ideas to incorporate them simply and easily into your everyday meals and snacks.
1. Breakfast Brain Booster: Supergreens
A recent study on brain health and nutrition conducted at Rushmore University Medical Center found a ‘protective benefit from just one serving per day of green leafy vegetables’ (1). Leafy greens such as kale, romaine lettuce and spinach are a rich source of vitamin K, believed to slow brain ageing and improve memory and cognitive abilities.
Add a handful of kale into your fruit smoothie each morning, or stir spinach into your scrambled eggs. Supergreens powders – leafy greens in concentrated form – are also easy to add to smoothies or stir into porridge.
2. Smart Snacking: Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate boosts mood, focus and alertness, making it a guilt-free snack. Just a couple of squares of dark chocolate supplies enough potent flavonols to boost the brain’s supply of oxygen, enhancing brain function for around two hours (2).
Try a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate, a cup of cocoa or a handful of raw cacao nibs mid-morning, to keep you alert until lunchtime.
3. Lunchtime: Brain Boosting Beetroot
Dietary nitrates, such as those naturally present in beetroot, boost blood flow to the brain. An optimum supply of blood and oxygen to the brain is essential for mental alertness and cognitive function. A recent study confirmed these benefits, showing that older adults displayed brain patterns and activity similar to much younger adults after a daily shot of Beet-It beetroot juice and a brisk walk (3).
Try a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad for lunch, or add nitrate-rich rocket and raw grated carrot to sandwiches and wraps. A shot of beetroot juice is another great way to boost your dietary nitrates after lunch. Follow with a brisk walk to boost the flow of oxygen to the brain and keep your brain sharp throughout the afternoon.
4. Dinner: Black and Blue Brain Boosters
Anthocyanins – touted as being the most valuable plant pigment for brain health – help to repair and protect brain cells. These powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients are found in very dark coloured plant foods such as black beans, black rice, aubergines, blueberries and blackberries.
Studies have found that these blue-black foods rich in anthocyanins improve brain signalling, which has a positive effect on learning and short-term memory (4).
Try a bean chilli for dinner, using brain-boosting kidney beans and black beans. Use anthocyanin-rich black rice instead of white or brown rice. Tart and juicy blackberries work well with evening meals too, mixed with fresh side salads or paired with rich meats such as duck or venison.
1. Morris MC et al (2017) Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline. Neurology. December 20.
2. University of Nottingham. “Boosting Brain Power — With Chocolate.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070221101326.htm (accessed March 4, 2018).
3. Meredith Petrie W. et al (2017) Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 72, Issue 9, 1 September 2017, Pages 1284–1289
4. Krikorian R et al (2010) Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7): 3996–4000.