Most people don’t think about their brain when they’re eating, but the type of food and drink you consume does affect brain health. Here’s how diet and brain health are connected.
Maintaining a healthy brain is a key part of living a long, flourishing, and balanced life. When your brain is healthy, you’re better able to solve problems, communicate, think logically, manage stress, regulate emotions, and perform tasks. Your nutrition levels and the foods you eat directly impact the health of your brain. Eating large amounts of junk food can lead to brain fog, fatigue, poor mental health, learning problems, poor impulse control, and dementia. On the contrary, following a nutrient-rich diet can help slow cognitive decline, boost your mood, improve memory, sharpen concentration, and reduce symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Simply put, the foods you eat on a daily basis can strengthen or weaken your brain, which ultimately determines how you think and feel and how well your body functions.
Characteristics of a Healthy Brain
There isn’t a universally recognized definition of brain health. However, most experts believe brain health can be determined by two specific aspects: an ability to learn, judge, use language, and remember, and having a brain free of diseases that reduce functionality and cause cognitive decline. In other words, a healthy brain allows you to adequately perform all the activities you want or need to do.
When your brain is healthy, you can:
- Interpret the world using your senses. You can see, taste, hear, touch, and smell without any problem. In addition to that, using your senses allows you to better understand the world around you.
- Control your movements. Your legs, eyes, neck, feet, and arms move at your command. You have little to no involuntary movements.
- Learn new things. The brain is the body’s learning center. Healthy brains can learn new skills even as they age.
- Let things go. Healthy brains can process situations mentally and emotionally without rumination or obsessive, repetitive thoughts.
- Control your emotions and maintain your calm. The brain controls the body. Healthy brains regulate stress hormones, allowing you to maintain some level of calm when facing challenging, unexpected, stressful situations.
- Sleep well. Restful sleep removes toxins that build up in the brain during the day. Good quality sleep also encourages plasticity, allowing the brain to grow, change, and adapt to life experiences. Feeling chronically tired is a key sign that your brain may not be operating at an optimal level of health.
- Remember things well. The brain stores memories as electrical and chemical signals. Healthy brains easily maintain these signals which creates reliable, strong short-term and long-term memory.
- Make decisions easily. The frontal lobe of the brain helps you plan, think, and make choices. Being able to make rational decisions is a tell-tale sign that your brain is healthy and functioning well.
Neurological exams can also help determine brain health. During this exam, a doctor will check for alertness, muscle strength, coordination, reflexes, and your response to pain. The exam will also include basic memory tests and look for any swelling in the optic nerve, which directly connects the eyes to the brain.
You can maintain or improve the health of your brain by consuming certain types of foods and avoiding others.
How Diet and Nutrition Affects Brain Health
Most people don’t think about their brain when they’re eating, but the type of food and drink you consume does affect brain health. The brain, like a car, needs fuel to perform well. Good fuel helps the brain perform optimally. Lower quality fuel causes the brain to be sluggish and function less ideally. As cliche as it may sound, your brain “is what you eat.” Here’s how diet and brain health are connected.
- Diets high in sugar often lead to cognitive decline. Most people enjoy sweets. But studies consistently show that consuming large amounts of sugary foods leads to diminished brain function. Sugar inflames the brain, which can cause memory difficulties. Diets high in sugar also reduce brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a brain chemical essential for learning and memory formation. Low levels of BDNF have also been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Diets high in unhealthy fats and processed foods can cause impaired memory and learning. Eating a lot of trans-fatty acids, saturated fats, and omega-6 fatty acids hinders the brain from effectively processing information and decreases brain plasticity, making the brain less capable of adapting, changing, learning, and performing new skills. Researchers also discovered that eating 25g of processed meat per day was associated with a 44% increased risk of dementia.
- Eating a lot of refined carbs can weaken memory. Foods made with white flour and highly processed grains have a high glycemic index (GI) and can impair brain function. Research shows that even a single meal of high-glycemic foods can diminish memory in children and adults.
- Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids can slow age-related mental decline and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The brain is about 60% fat. Half of that fat content is omega-3 fatty acids. The brain uses this type of fat to build brain and nerve cells, boosting your capacity to learn and memorize new things. Salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, flax seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Following the MIND diet lowers brain inflammation and improves memory. The MIND diet combines the Mediterranean diet and the heart-healthy DASH diet. Mostly made up of foods high in antioxidants — such as carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, red peppers, leafy greens, berries, olive oil, nuts, and berries — the diet slows and prevents cognitive decline, improves learning and memory, reduces inflammation, and reduces the likelihood of depression.
- Consuming high amounts of whole plant foods can help prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and legumes are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re also full of phytochemicals that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These chemicals help prevent brain-cell damage and protect the brain against harmful free radicals that cause infections and chronic diseases.
Other foods that improve brain health include:
- Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli. They can slow cognitive decline.
- Berries which can help improve memory.
- Tea and coffee. The caffeine and antioxidants in these beverages can sharpen concentration.
- Nuts which can help improve memory.
- Dark chocolate which includes brain-boosting substances such as flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants.
Treatment That Improves Brain Health
Here at StoneRidge, we firmly believe that a healthy brain leads to a flourishing, well-balanced life. We also know that addiction, trauma, and mental health challenges can significantly impact the brain. That’s why we work hard to restore the brain to its optimal level of health. Our treatment programs can help you improve the health of your brain, which can help:
- Improve your memory
- Slow cognitive decline
- Boost your focus
- Enhance your self-confidence
- Ward off depression and anxiety
- Enhance your overall health
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies
Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.