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Studies Show There Are Foods That Benefit the Brain

March 29, 2022Neelem Sheikh

Out of all of your organs, your brain requires the most energy. Because the brain is so rich in nerve cells and is responsible for just about every aspect of your daily functioning, it is the most energy-demanding organ in the entire body.

All 11 organ systems, including your central nervous system, need energy to function properly. This energy is provided by the food you eat. While most foods you eat will provide you with calories, or the basic building blocks of energy, not all calories are created equal. 

Over the years, researchers have established a strong understanding of the role of diet and nutrition in brain function and overall brain health. Diets high in saturated and trans fats have been linked to increased cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia development. However, some specific foods and diets are associated with healthy cognitive aging and reduced dementia risk.

Let’s take a closer look at diets and foods that benefit the brain and how to monitor brain health when modifying your diet.

Foods That Benefit the Brain

While there are currently no proven strategies to prevent dementia, strong evidence from increasing amounts of research suggests that several aspects of healthy living, including eating a heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, may significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia.

When it comes to diet and nutrition, what is good for your heart is good for your brain; research has revealed that foods that benefit the brain also promote heart health.

Here are some of the top foods that benefit the brain:

  • Berries: Many berries contain compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can prevent damage to the brain and mitigate or reduce inflammation. Additionally, berries are packed with various phytochemicals, including a class of polyphenols called flavonoids, the compounds that give berries their vibrant hues, that may improve memory
  • Leafy greens: Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, lettuce, and collards, are abundant with brain-healthy nutrients such as folate, nitrate, phylloquinone, kaempferol, and lutein. Each of these nutrients has been positively and significantly associated with lower rates of cognitive decline
  • Fatty fish: Fatty fish, like salmon, cod, tuna, and pollack, are fantastic sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy unsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid, the protein responsible for forming damaging clumps in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Nuts: Nuts are a great source of protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E, which are beneficial for heart and brain health. Recently, walnuts have received special attention after a 2015 study linked walnut consumption to improved cognitive function.

Diets That Benefit the Brain

Three of the most studied and well-established diets for brain health and dementia prevention are the Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND).

These diets are relatively similar and typically are very low in sugar, processed carbohydrates, and saturated fats. They often include foods like leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, whole grains, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds, berries, and healthy fats like olive oil. 

A 2019 systematic review of available literature surrounding these three diets found that:

  • Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive scores in nine of 12 cross-sectional studies and 17 of 25 longitudinal studies.
  • Higher adherence to the DASH diet was associated with better cognitive performance in one cross-sectional study and two of five longitudinal studies.
  • Higher adherence to the MIND diet was associated with better cognitive performance in one cross-sectional study and two of three longitudinal studies.
  • Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower Alzheimer’s risk in one case-control study and six of eight longitudinal studies.
  • Higher adherence to the DASH and MIND diets was associated with a lower Alzheimer’s risk in one longitudinal study.

Monitoring Brain Health While Modifying Diet

When modifying your diet and incorporating foods that benefit the brain to improve brain function, you or your provider will likely want to measure and quantify brain health over time to understand how dietary changes may be affecting it.

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