A growing body of evidence indicates that there’s a reason it’s so hard for so many people to stop eating junk food— it’s just as addictive as illegal drugs. This. Changes. Everything!
It seems fatty and sugary snacks trigger the same pleasure centers in the brain as drugs – which could explain why many people just can’t stop themselves bingeing on the stuff. It could also lie behind the obesity epidemic.
But it’s not just unhealthy food that has a significant effect on health and behavior.
Eating right is smart. Eating right can also make you smart. More accurately, eating the right foods can give your brain the nutritional support it needs to perform at the highest level, study after study seems to show.
Your brain weighs just 3lbs or so – a fraction of overall body weight – but it gobbles up about 20 percent of your daily calorie intake. A brain-healthy diet is essential for keeping your memory and intellect sharp and your mood stable.
So what should you be eating to keep your gray matter in tip-top shape? Here are a few healthy ideas nutritional experts suggest—foods that support the health of our brains, as well as the health of our bodies.
- Oily fish, seeds, and nuts. The omega-3 fatty oils in certain fish—especially salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers—are a must-have for healthy brain function, as well as for the heart and joints. And omega 3’s can’t be made in the body, so you have to get them from your diet. Not a big fish fan? Omega-3 fats are also found in linseed or flaxseed oil, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Walnuts also have lots of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients and help promote blood flow, delivering more oxygen to the brain.
- Berries and other fruits, even juices. Antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries have been shown to stave off age-related mental conditions. Special shout out to blueberries – research suggests that compounds in blueberries may improve memory, learning and general cognitive function, including reasoning skills, decision making, verbal comprehension and numerical ability. And sugar – we’re talking here about the glucose you get from natural carbohydrate sources like fruits and juices, not candy or an extra spoonful of sugar in your coffee or cereal – can enhance your alertness and ability to focus.
- Coffee and chocolate. Okay, to preface, too much coffee can make you jittery and impact your blood pressure, while making chocolate bars your go-to study snack certainly isn’t good for you, either. But in moderation, caffeine can energize you and help you focus. And low-sugar dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, especially flavonoids for improved blood flow.
- Whole grains. Another important component to overall wellness, whole grains aren’t just for heart and digestive health. The complex carbohydrates in whole grains have a low glycemic index, so they digest slowly and release glucose—your brain’s best source of energy—over a longer period of time. The fiber in whole grains keeps cholesterol in check and lowers blood pressure. Oatmeal, quinoa, granola and cereals are a filling way to add some healthy calories and energy at breakfast time, a critical meal in determining what kind of day your brain will have.
- Tomatoes, broccoli, spinach. This trio is often mentioned in lists of ‘super foods’ for your whole body, and each packs nutrients that have major benefits for cognitive function, concentration, and brain health. Throw in other brain-boosting produce like beets and avocado and you’ve got a tasty salad designed to make you a smarty!
- Drink green tea. Many health benefits are attributed to green tea. For example, this traditional Chinese beverage may fight cancer and boost cardiovascular health. But it’s also very good for your brain. Green tea has been shown by research to not only improve memory, but also protect the brain from Alzheimer’s memory loss.