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Brain Food: The Science Behind a Brain-Healthy Diet

We’ve all heard the term “brain food”, but it seems like diets, nutrition and wellness routines are always changing! One thing that has remained consistent is how certain foods impact mood, energy and attention. Foods can have a positive impact on brain health and memory, and it’s important to know how to incorporate those foods into your everyday eating habits. Some of the most promising “brain food” items includes fish, berries, nuts, and leafy greens.

  • Fish, such as salmon and tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve memory and cognitive function.
  • Berries, such as blueberries and strawberries, are high in antioxidants, which can protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals.
  • Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, contain healthy fats and antioxidants that can improve brain function. And leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are packed with vitamins and minerals that support brain health.

Brain Food in Research Studies

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2017, found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fish was associated with better cognitive function and a lower risk of cognitive decline in older adults. Later, in 2019, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which found that a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain food seems to have a lot of great research to back up the claims of higher cognitive function, but what about mood-food?

image of brain food
image of brain food

Mood Food

Just as certain foods can support brain health and memory, there are also foods that can boost mood. Some of the best mood-boosting foods include chocolate, nuts, and fermented foods.

    • Dark chocolate, in particular, contains a compound called phenylethylamine, which can stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
    • Nuts, such as Brazil nuts and cashews, are rich in magnesium, which can help to regulate mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
    • And, fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir, are rich in probiotics, which can improve gut health and boost mood.

Check out tips from a nutritionist here: Mood Boosting Food

Mood Food in Research Studies

A study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2015, found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods was associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Following this, the Journal of Affective Disorders reported that participants who consumed a diet high in chocolate and nuts had lower levels of stress and improved mood compared to those who did not.

A Balanced Brain starts with a balanced Diet

        In theory, it should be pretty easy to maintain a good balance between brain food and mood food and all the healthy things, so why is it so hard? The temptations of sugars, sweets and processed foods can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to balance our diets, NOT restrict our diets.

 A brain-healthy diet is not just about consuming certain foods, but also about maintaining a balanced and varied diet. For instance, a diet that is high in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats can have a negative impact on brain health and overall well-being. Processed foods and the-like should be in moderation. Restricting certain foods or being overly rigid can cause other issues, and is not recommended.

        A balanced brain diet should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. When your body is being fueled with these healthier, heartier foods, you’re more likely to take in less processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats. In addition, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and to always consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to ensure that your diet meets your individual needs. This is especially important for individuals with dietary restrictions, allergies, or chronic health conditions.

In short, it’s important to pay attention to the foods you consume as it can have a significant impact on your brain health, memory and mood. Therefore, incorporating brain-healthy foods like fish, berries, nuts and leafy greens, and mood-boosting foods like chocolate, nuts, and fermented foods into your diet can support optimal brain function and improve your overall well-being. Consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to ensure that your diet meets your individual need.

image of brain food

For more mental health reads, click here to check out our blog where we talk about anxiety management, stress, grief and balancing life’s demands with self-care & support 

References

  1. Smith, P. J., & Blumenthal, J. A. (2017). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation, 135(15), e867-e884.
  2. Devore, E. E., Kang, J. H., Breteler, M. M., Grodstein, F., & Stampfer, M. J. (2019). Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of Neurology, 76(1), 145-153.
  3. Scarmeas, N., Stern, Y., Tang, M. X., Mayeux, R., & Luchsinger, J. A. (2006). Mediterranean diet and risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Annals of Neurology, 59(6), 912-921.
  4. Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., … & Pasco, J. A. (2017). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 15(1), 23.
  5. Jacka, F. N., Pasco, J. A., Mykletun, A., Williams, L. J., Hodge, A. M., O’Reilly, S. L., … & Berk, M. (2010). Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(3), 305-311.
  6. Akbaraly, T. N., Brunner, E. J., Ferrie, J. E., Marmot, M. G., Kivimaki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(6), 408-413.