One common misconception is that our brains stop developing once we hit 25. After that, it’s often claimed, it’s all downhill.
But that’s just not true. In fact, our brains can continue improving throughout our lives.
Scientists proved as much in the mid-1990s. Brains, they discovered, continue changing until death – something known in the field of neuroscience as neuroplasticity – and food plays an important part in keeping the brain healthy.
Choosing the correct diet doesn’t just help prevent future illnesses like dementia, but it can also dramatically improve the function of the brain today.
A study conducted by the Food and Mood Center at Deakin University in 2017 found that severe depression can be treated by making dietary changes.
When participants in the study cut sugar, fried food and processed meats from their diets, while eating more vegetables, olive oil, nuts, fish, whole grains, legumes and lean red meat, their depressive symptoms were radically reduced.
Finnish neurobiologist Miia Kivipelto, an expert on the effects of diet and lifestyle on brain health, further found that healthy eating can boost cognitive function more generally.
Kivipelto’s study was based on 1,200 older adults deemed at risk of cognitive decline. Half the participants were enrolled in social support groups for loneliness, depression and stress, while simultaneously taking part in nutritional and exercise programs. The remaining participants received only social support.
The results? The first group saw their cognitive function rise by an astonishing 25 percent, while their decision-making and interpersonal skills improved by 83 percent in comparison to the second group.
So that’s the science behind healthy eating. Better dietary choices can make you smarter, happier and more productive.
If you want to boost your cognitive health and become much cleverer, just follow the 5 tips of healthy diets below:
If you want to boost your cognitive health and become much cleverer, just follow the 5 tips of healthy diets below:
1. Cut Down on Grains and Replace them with Vegetables.
Grains are loaded with carbohydrates which push your insulin levels through the roof, and that goes for regular bread, rice and crackers as well as whole-wheat alternatives.
So what exactly is the problem with carbs?
The pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods to convert sugar molecules into energy, but high carbohydrate intake over long periods of time can result in a resistance to insulin.
That, in turn, sends a signal to your pancreas to release more and more insulin into your bloodstream to convert sugar into energy.
And insulin resistance can lead to all sorts of brain health complications.
One effect is a buildup of amyloid beta plaque – a sticky protein that’s a major symptom of Alzheimer’s.
That means your brain will thank you if you cut out that daily bowl of pasta and embrace a low-carb diet.
Take it from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging: The institute conducted a metabolic health program for people suffering from severe cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s.
Alongside a range of measures addressing issues like exercise, sleep and nutritional deficiencies, the program also instructed participants to eat a “low grain” diet.
After six months, cognitive testing showed that nine out of ten participants had much better memory and overall mental performance.
2. Get More ketones as an Efficient Form of Fuel for Your Brain.
The best way to get them? Feasting and fasting.
A study published in 2016 in the scientific journal Cell Biology found that ketones help produce a “growth” hormone called BDNF that supports learning, brain plasticity and mood balance.
Intermittent fasting is one way to go about producing plenty of ketones. That’s because it limits the supply of glucose and carbs your body usually relies on as its source of energy.
Restricting your food intake or eating a diet low on refined carbs forces your body to look for alternate fuels, such as fat reserves. Once it starts burning through those it begins manufacturing ketones.
A great place to start is by allocating 16 hours a day to fasting and limiting the window of time in which you can eat to eight hours.
But reducing your intake of food isn’t the only way of creating more ketones. In fact, sometimes eating more of the right things can be just as effective!
The key is to make sure you’re eating ketone-generating foods.
That means foodstuffs rich in medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Coconut oil, palm oil and goat milk, for example, all contain fats that head straight to your liver to generate ketones.
So why not sauté your vegetables in coconut oil next time you take an eight-hour break from fasting?
3. Help Yourself to Cholesterol-rich Foods
Eating healthily isn’t all about abstinence.
On the contrary, feel free to help yourself to cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs, shrimp and other seafood.
That’s because cholesterol – a fancy term for the fats in your cells and bloodstream – are essential to your brain’s health.⠀
In fact, a full 25 percent of your body’s total cholesterol is found in the brain. The brain needs all those fats to help create an insulating sheet known as myelin, which protects your neurons and helps keep your brain plastic and your nerve impulses firing away.⠀
A Framingham Heart Study carried out in 2005 found that participants with high cholesterol levels performed better during cognitive tests used to analyze concentration, verbal skills and abstract reasoning. ⠀
Cholesterol-rich foods like eggs are actually incredibly nutritious. They’re a great source of choline – a compound which nourishes cell membranes, and acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that supports learning and memory.⠀
The problems start when the so called low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which transport cholesterol through the bloodstream, become damaged by high-sugar foods, alcohol, refined carbs, chronic stress and fiber deficiency.⠀
That, in turn, makes it harder for the liver to process them, leaving them to circulate in your bloodstream until they eventually attach themselves to an artery wall.⠀
When that happens, immune cells rush to the scene to help out by creating multiple foam cells, which begin forming a layer of plaque – the real culprit behind high cholesterol-induced cardiovascular disease.⠀
So it’s not cholesterol itself that’s the problem, but sugar and carbohydrates.
Steer clear of them and you’ll be in much better shape.
4. Reduce Your Intake of Sugar
Sugar can compromise your brain’s functioning.
It is a true master of disguise.
This is especially true of refined sugar – the most concentrated source of carbohydrates.
It’s often found hiding in everything from juices to crackers, condiments, and soft drinks.
Wheat, corn, rice, potatoes, and sweet fruits are also packed with starches and sugars. Then there’s corn syrup, lactose and date sugar.
Glucose is another type of sugar. It’s especially important to look out for this one because it compromises brain function.
That’s because it sticks to, and eventually damages, the surface of proteins and cells necessary for the proper functioning of major organs and tissues, including your brain. This process is called glycation.
Glycation triggers the formation of what’s known as AGE: Advanced glycation end-products. A brain with Alzheimer’s disease has AGE levels three-times higher than a healthy brain.
Another study carried out in 2016 at the Mayo Clinic, a Minnesota-based nonprofit medical center, found that high fruit consumption was also associated with metabolic and cognitive impairments.
That means your best bet is eating low-sugar fruits like coconuts, olives, avocados, and cacao.
Berries are another great option. Low in fructose, they’re packed with powerful antioxidants which have been shown to boost memory.
5. Eat Plenty of Prebiotic Fiber
The microbiome in your gut is a biological system in communication with the brain.
The human microbiome is made up of around thirty trillion single-celled bacterial organisms which live in the gut, which is responsible for extracting energy and synthesizing vitamins.
To facilitate the process, your gut needs a balance of bacteria, which depends on whether we eat plenty of prebiotic fiber.
Prebiotic fiber is a special form of carbohydrate that helps nurture the growth and activity of gut bacteria. You’ll find it in avocados, sunchokes, leek, berries, coffee, unripe bananas, arugula and fennel.
But wait, what does that have to do with your brain?
Because the brain and the microbiome are closely connected.
Prebiotic fibers are converted into short-chain fatty acids called butyrate, and these help the brain fight against aging and inflammation – meaning you’ll be more focused and have better memory.
To see how much of a difference regular consumption of these fibers makes, consider a 2016 study published in the Journal of Gerontology.
The paper’s authors spent a decade looking at a sample of 1,600 adults. Participants who ate a fiber-rich diet were a stunning 80 percent less likely to suffer hypertension, diabetes, dementia and depression than their counterparts who ate a fiber-poor diet.
There’s also the indirect relationship between your gut and your brain: the former controls your immune system, which directly affects the latter.
The gut has the final say in telling your immune system what needs attacking. If it’s not in good health, it’ll start instructing the immune system to attack itself – something known as autoimmunity.
6. Choose Omega-3 Fats
Different kinds of fats and oils can either nourish or degrade your brain health.
Let’s look at the different kinds of fats contained in oils, starting with polyunsaturated fats: these can nourish the brain, but only in specific circumstances.
Omega-3 fats are a good example of healthy, polyunsaturated fats. They’re found in wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs and grass-fed meats. They support the functioning of brain cells and boost memory, mood and executive function.
A study at the Charité Hospital in Berlin showed just how effective these fats are. Adults who’d been given Omega-3 supplements for 26 weeks showed a 26 percent increase in executive functioning compared to the control group.
However, it’s a completely different story when it comes to refined, heated or processed oils like those used to fry food.
These processes transform fats. Once they’ve been treated, they contain huge amounts of aldehydes – a byproduct of oxidized fats.
That’s a problem. Aldehydes impair the functioning of the brain. Too much fried food causes a buildup of plaque in the brain – one of the key characteristics of Alzheimer’s.
Then there are monounsaturated fats: these nourish the brain and should be consumed in abundance.
That’s because they protect neurons and boost neurotransmission. Extra virgin olive oil, avocados and macadamias are great sources of monounsaturated fats.
The effectiveness of consuming large amounts of these fats was demonstrated in a study in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal in 2015.The paper looked at the “Mediterranean diet,” which is rich in monounsaturated foods.
Participants consumed a liter of olive oil each week and found that their cognitive functions such as reasoning, attention and memory improved, while their risk of dementia declined after just six years.
Finally, there are trans fats. These should be avoided as much as possible as they can stiffen neuronal membranes, making it more difficult for them to transmit information.
These are typically found in pre-packaged, processed foods like cookies, margarine and vegan cheese.
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