There is plenty of health-related folk wisdom passed down to us through the ages. You’ve likely been told that fish is good for your brain or that snacking on carrots will improve your eyesight — anyone else remember frequent refrains of ‘You’ve never seen a blind rabbit, have you?’
There might be more hard science behind these than we think. The latest scientific thinking supports the notion that food promotes brain health and function. With a host of mental conditions affecting young and old alike (everything from autism to Alzheimer’s), it might be high time we took food more seriously.
Your brain uses up to a fifth of your body’s energy, which is why mental impairment is a big part of general fatigue. Like everything else inside you it runs on blood glucose, and one of the healthiest sources of glucose is low GI grains like brown cereals, wheatbran, granary bread and brown pasta.
A landmark Tufts University study found that a family of chemicals called flavonoids found in blueberries may have a marked effect on a host of brain functions from memory and learning to reasoning and decision making skills. What’s more, the study found they might slow mental decline, meaning defense against degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
3. Green leafy vegetables
Kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus and a host of other greens contain vitamin K, which boosts concentrations of brain sulfatides. Trials in rats have shown that a decrease in vitamin K intake might have a role both in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease and in making brain damage from cardiovascular disease worse.
4 & 5. Tomatoes and Curry
They seem a strange thing to have together, but turmeric (which gives curry and mustard their yellow curry) and tomatoes contain chemicals that fight against mental decline. Curcumin, found in turmeric, stimulates the process of creating new brain cells. It might also clean out amyloid plaques, which some researchers believe is the gunk that can gum up the works and inflame nerve cells. And lycopene, found in tomatoes, protects against free radical cell damage that can also lead to degenerative conditions.
All seafood is high in phenylalanine, but crab won’t be as high in mercury like some fish products. Phenylalanine is an amino acid we need to make dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are all pretty important if you’ve ever wanted to feel good or run from danger. Just one serving of crab has more than your daily requirement of the chemical as nearly twice your daily requirement of vitamin B12.
7. Red meat
As well as being a political issue, it seems red meat swings between being good and bad on a constant basis. But whatever the risks or downsides, the B12 boost we get from beef, lamb and pork is the easiest way to ensure our daily requirement – don’t get enough and you can suffer nerve and brain damage. Of course, the meat product with the highest content – beef liver – isn’t for everyone.
8. Oily Fish
So your gran was right. Your body can’t synthesize essential fatty acids that contribute to the building of brain cells, so you have to consume them in food. One of the best sources is oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines, which contain one of the EFAs (docosahexaenoic acid) in ready-made form.