The month of September always seems to signify new beginnings. Now that BBQ season is over and late night beach bonfires no longer tempt you with a s'more (or two), it feels like the right time to settle into your routine. We set goals for ourselves come Fall. Back to work, back to school, back to getting your diet on track, back to eating healthy to increase your productivity. That's why today we're talking nutrition for cognition.
It’s not news that you need food for energy and muscle repair. But what you might not realize is that certain foods can help to boost your memory, improve your mood, and provide protection against age-related cognitive diseases. As any organ in your body requires nutrients for growth and maintenance, your brain is no exception. In fact, at rest your brain uses somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of your energy intake, and even more when you’re problem solving. Now do you understand why it can be difficult to concentrate when you skip a meal? You should, however, be smart about the foods you choose to fuel your brain, because when it comes to cognition, not all calories are created equal.
Dark berries: This means blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, acai berries, etc. These guys get their dark skin from a class of phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants. Remember, antioxidants are molecules found in foods that inhibit cell damage. As we age, our cells inevitably become damaged by means of normal metabolic activity. Think about it like this – when you buy a new computer, it works smoothly at high speed. As you download more programs, leave windows open, and perhaps spill the occasional beverage on your keyboard (guilty), it slows down and becomes less efficient. Well, the same goes for your brain. Not to mention, your brain is particularly susceptible to oxidative injury thanks to its demanding metabolic rate. This is why it is important to get those antioxidant foods into your diet, to combat cell damage and protect your neurons.
Nuts: Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews… You get the picture. We’re going to reiterate the antioxidant concept discussed above for a moment. Nuts are a major source of vitamin E, also a potent antioxidant that, according to research, presents promising outcomes for both prevention and treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. When we’re young, we think we’re invincible and nothing bad can happen to us. We’re telling you to eat smart because worldwide, more than 26 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and if actions aren’t taken to prevent or delay its onset, the number of people affected by it is anticipated to double over the next 40 years. Try making a doggy bag of homemade trail mix to bring to work with you and, if you want to go nuts, throw in some dark chocolate for an added boost of antioxidants.
Hemp, flax & Chia seeds: You’ve probably been wondering why it’s uber trendy to drink Chia-infused beverages, add flaxseeds to your morning oatmeal, or swap cow’s milk for hemp milk in your smoothie. Well here’s a good reason: these seeds are rich in omega-3’s. Why do we need omega-3s? They are an essential fatty acid (EFA), meaning our bodies can’t make them on their own, so we must consume enough from our diets. EFA’s are important for nervous system, vision, immune and inflammatory function. Furthermore, our brains are made up of about 60 percent fat, so it is imperative that we consume EFA’s to provide our brains with adequate reserves.
Leafy greens: As if you need another reason to include greens in your diet. Aside from the fiber and antioxidant content, green leafy vegetables like spinach and turnip greens are sources of B vitamins. These vitamins are major players when it comes to brain function, and in fact, low levels of B vitamins have been associated with learning and memory dysfunction. Other dietary sources include dried beans, peas, bell peppers, garlic and bananas.