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Make the right food choices for your brain health

It was seen that omega-3, omega-6 and carotene had a link to better functional brain network efficiency. © Shutterstock

Proper nutrition can make a lot of difference to your overall well-being and especially your brain health. Read on to know what foods you can add to your diet to get optimum benefits.

Most people do not associate diet with brain health. But nutrition is essential for the proper functioning of your brain. It can boost your brain function and help you prevent many cognition disorders. The right foods can boost your alertness, cognition function, memory power, decision-making ability, bring down your mental response time and improve mood. Foods that contain antioxidants and essential nutrients offer protection to the brain. Essential fatty acids stimulate and make brain cells strong.

According to a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, several key nutrients in blood have a link with better brain connectivity and cognition in older adults. For the purpose of the study, researchers narrowed in on 32 key nutrients in the Mediterranean diet. These nutrients were shown to have an association with better brain function in ageing in previous studies. This study had 116 participants and all of them were healthy adults between the ages of 65 to 75.

NUTRIENTS ARE IMPORTANT FOR COGNITION AND BRAIN CONNECTIVITY: STUDY

According to researchers, the aim of this study was to investigate whether diet and nutrition predict cognitive performance in healthy older adults. To do this, they linked specific patterns of a few nutrient biomarkers in the blood to better brain health and cognition. The nutrient patterns included omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, alpha- and beta-carotenoids and vitamins B and D.

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Instead of asking the subjects of the study to answer food-intake surveys, which are dicey because it needs accurate recall of participants' food intake, researchers looked for patterns of nutrient 'biomarkers' in the blood. They also took the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging to carefully evaluate the efficiency with which various brain networks performed. These can indicate the efficiency of individual brain networks, according to researchers.

They say that they then looked at how well information is shared within a spatially confined set of brain regions and also 'global efficiency,' which reflects how many steps are required to transfer information from any one region to any other region in the network. According to them, if your network is more efficiently configured, then it should be easier, on an average, to access relevant information and the task should take you less time. Besides these, they also ran several cognitive tests on participants.

DIFFERENT NUTRIENT HAD DIFFERENT EFFECTS: RESEARCHERS

They saw that there was a significant link between higher levels of several nutrient biomarkers in the blood and enhanced performance on specific cognitive tests. According to them, different nutrient patterns appeared to moderate the efficiency in different brain networks. It was seen that omega-3, omega-6 and carotene had a link to better functional brain network efficiency. Researchers also say that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids paralleled the positive relationship between a healthy frontoparietal network and general intelligence. This network is essential for the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behaviour.

To test whether the nutrient-biomarker patterns were stable over time, researchers invited 40 participants back for a second analysis around two years after the first tests. They witnessed similar nutrient patterns in this subset of the original group even after this time lapse. They, therefore, concluded that diet and nutrition have a very significant association with functional brain network efficiency and cognitive performance. The journal NeuroImage published this study.

NUTRIENTS FOR THE BRAIN

The above-mentioned study narrowed in on a few of the essential nutrients for brain health. Let us take a look at the nutrients that they focussed on and where it can be sourced from.

Omega 3 fatty acids Seafood, walnuts, Brussels sprouts

Omega-6 fatty acids - Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, pistachios

Lycopene This is what gives a vivid red hue to tomatoes, watermelon and a few other fruits and vegetables

Alpha- and beta-carotenoids This is what makes sweet potatoes and carrots orange

Vitamin B Almonds, sunflower seeds, legumes, dark leafy vegetables

Vitamin D Sunshine and a few foods like cheese and egg yolks

FOODS THAT WILL BOOST BRAIN HEALTH

A good diet is important for overall health. And, a healthy balanced diet is essential for brain health. You must add essential nutrients to your diet to boost cognition and for better brain efficiency. Let us take a look at some foods that you can add to your daily diet.

Vegetables

Vegetables are a must if you want to be healthy. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale can have an amazing effect on the brain. They contain antioxidants and nutrients that protect and improve brain health. Leafy greens are also rich in Vitamins A, C, and K. These offer protection against the damages of free radicals, improve brain power and boost cell health. These are also rich in folate, lutein, potassium and iron, which again are good for your brain.

Sea food

Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids like DHA. These are important for brain health. Add salmon and tuna to your diet. It will stimulate brain cell growth, improve mood, and reduce stress. It can also bring down your risk of dementia and related disorders.

Eggs

An egg a day can keep brain disorders away. They are a rich source of choline, healthy cholesterol, antioxidants and protein. These nutrients stimulate the brain's neurotransmitters and improve brain function. It also rejuvenates brain cell membranes and strengthens the cells of the brain.

Olive Oil

This is a good source of polyphenols, which offers protection to your brain. It also contains antioxidants that boost brain function and reduce the risk of any disorders related to the brain including depression and dementia as well. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can make you a healthier person. You can use olive oil for cooking. You can also drizzle it over salads.

Nuts

Eat a lot of almonds and walnuts. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein. These are good for brain cells and better cognitive function. These nuts also contain antioxidants and vitamin E. It protects the brain and reduces the risk of dementia.

Soy

This is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron and lean protein. An iron-rich diet is necessary for memory, attention span and learning ability. Include a lot of edamame, tofu and soy-based protein to boost your brain cells, memory, cognitive function and learning ability.

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