Research has it documented that roughly 20 to 30% of Nigerians experience a mental health disorder with 1 in 6 persons in the UK regularly experiencing anxiety or depression. We know that foods contribute generally to our health but alot of times when we eat, all we have at the back of our minds is physical health. We never take out time to concentrate on foods that can nourish different parts of our system specifically, even though we focus on healthy eating. Certain foods nourish our mental health, sexual health while certain foods improve our skin health and others improve our brain health. When we think of brain health, what we are concerned about is ensuring that the myelin sheets of the neurones are pliable, strong and functioning optimally to enhance transfer of neural messages.
The brain is the control center of the human body. As the power train control module (brain box) is to a car, so is the brain to the human body. The brain allows you to think, to breathe, to move, feel. The foods we eat contributes highly to keeping the brain in a healthy state and ensuring that it functions well especially in tasks like memory and concentration. This summarises that, we have the capacity to create a highly functional self depending on what we choose to eat daily.
Certain groups of people are more concerned with improved memory and concentration. For example, students who have to study for long hours along with having the ability to concentrate and also remember what have been studied require their brain to function higher and better than the infant who lack the ability to form such complex ideas.
Diets lacking in brain foods can be seen in individuals most especially when they exhibit some symptoms like forgetfulness, poor attention span and being absent-minded. These diets rich in brain foods most times also reveals improvement in other aspects of an individual such as in their physical health and social interactions. In essence, these diets deliver nutrients not only to the brain but to other parts of the body.
Recently I have been on a healthy mission for my mental state. I learnt that a simplified meaning of health is described as what you eat, what you think and what you put on your skin. This week I have sought to attend to my “thinking” health and I realised that it is woven with what I eat. I have researched widely and deeply and come up with foods to nourish the brain. The ones listed here are not exclusive of some widely known ones in certain regions of the world but I have highlighted on the commonly known ones worldwide.
Fruits: Examples are; almonds, citrus fruits like orange, lemon, tomatoes, berries and Walnut. These fruits and nuts are rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese and omega 3. These nutrients help to maintain the level of concentration for long without feeling tired or a sudden drop in ability to concentrate. Some of these fruits like almonds have a good quantity of protein that can keep us alert and awake. Walnut is currently in season in Nigeria, Sub-sahara Africa. Apart from the fact that it is high in molecules that lowers the risk of cancers most especially colorectal and prostate cancers, it is also high in B vitamins needed by the brain for growth and function.
Berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and bilberries are one of the best foods for the brain. They are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins that decrease the rate of aging of brain cells and increase the flow of blood to the brain cells.
Fatty fish: About 60% of the brain is made of fat and half of that is made up of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 acids are postulated to slow age related decline in mental capacity. They help keep brain cells in a healthy state and affect how the nerves function. This helps decrease the risk for development of dementia.
Omega 3 fatty acids is an important nutrient that is found in large quantities in salmon, tuna and sardines. It is recommended to include oily fish in our diet 3 times a week.
Spices: The brain also needs spices like curry, turmeric and saffron. Curry is rich turmeric which is has high concentrations of curcumin and saffron has loads of vitamins B and C. These are full of antioxidants and helps fight aging of the brain, enhance cognitive functions which improves memory and concentration. Curcumin can help improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease, ease depression and help new brain cells to grow. So spicing up your dish is not only to improve taste of food but also to improve brain health.
Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables will increase the intake of calcium, copper, magnesium and iron and these are essential for brain functions like nerve signalling, learning and memory. Some say that they not only improve brain function but may influence DNA methylation that can have an effect on gene expression which is important for prevention of diseases most importantly certain cancers. Many vegetables are rich in vitamins and luteolin. Luteolin can help fight age-related memory loss and decrease the risk of developing brain diseases. Examples include, carrot, beetroot, avocado, spinach, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and pumpkin seeds. Broccoli is not only rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules but also in vitamin K. Vitamin K is used for forming sphingolipids, a type of fats highly concentrated in the brain cells. A higher vitamin K in the body has been linked to better memory.
Water: Finally, drinking more water ensures we stay hydrated. Dehydration decreases brain function leading to poor concentration, poor mental alertness and drowsiness, confusion and memory loss. It is encouraged that we drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily or more if exercising or work in a physically demanding job.
Coffee: Coffee is rich in two main beneficial components which are antioxidants and caffeine. Caffeine sharpens concentration, improves mood and increases mental alertness. Drinking coffee over a long time has been shown to decrease the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Green tea: Green tea contains L-theanine that increases the activity of neurotransmitter GABA that leads to decrease anxiety and helps one to relax better without feeling tired. It is rich in polyphenols that can protect the brain from mental decline and decrease the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Green tea has also been found to improve memory. It contains caffeine that boosts brain function by improving memory, focus, mental alertness and performance.
It important to note that it is not enough to just eat these foods for brain health but we also have to ensure that these foods are healthy, organic and free of chemicals like pesticides. In regards to the quantity of theses foods, best to be in the middle,i.e do not overfeed and do not starve too. What is important is what research shows and that is, what we eat significantly affect our brain health positively even in the short term changes could have a lasting benefit.