Good health starts in the gut and increasing evidence suggests that mental health is linked to the stomach. Recent reports show that the metabolism of a high-fiber diet helps promote regeneration in the brain by preventing the neurodegeneration of the cells, and healthy neurons mean a stronger mind and memory. Wholegrains are high in fiber, which is essential to keep things moving, as well as reducing the risk of type-two diabetes and heart and bowel diseases. Wholegrains are easy to introduce into your diet by simply replacing some of the foods you already eat with their healthier alternative; for example, choose brown rice, pasta and whole-wheat bread. You can also swap sugary cereals for oatmeal or bran to kick-start your day properly.
It has long been recognized that fish makes you brainy, but the best of the catch is cold-water oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, pilchards and mackerel. Not only are they some of best sources of protein but also of vitamins B and D, selenium and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, an armory that fights heart disease, prostate cancer and lowers blood pressure. Studies have shown these components can also slow down age-related macular degeneration, which is a common cause of sight loss in older people. Even more importantly, omega-3 prevents dementia by decelerating memory loss. Not only does it directly affect the hippocampus—the area of the brain responsible for learning and retaining information—but it provides the essential fats in the outer membrane that surrounds each of the brain’s cells.
Our ancestors looked to nature when it came to dealing with aches, inflammations, sore throats and bad tummies. Now many of these herbs and spices, are readily available in stores, but more importantly, a number of research projects about their efficacy in combating cognitive decline are being carried out. Sage, for instance, has been found to contain compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. Ginger is the go-to cure for nausea in all its forms, but its powerful anti-inflammatory properties also protect brain cells from damage by forestalling neurodegenerative changes. Turmeric also is now recognized as an effective nutritional supplement thanks to its main ingredient, curcumin, which, like cayenne pepper, has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
While you should aim to include a rainbow of colors in your diet, greens are given more weight due to their strong health credentials. As a general rule, the leafier the better, for example, spinach, chard or kale, which are rich in the antioxidants necessary to fight free radicals that can attack your bloodstream and breakdown brain cells as you get older. Recent research from both Harvard Medical School and Rush Medical College in the US have shown that eating dark leafy greens helps slow down this cognitive decline. Bonus points also go to kale for its relatively high levels of quercetin and kaempferol, which improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, as well as having antiviral and antidepressant qualities.
Not only do they look good and taste delicious, but the latest research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry tells us that berries may benefit the brain by preventing age-related memory loss. Berry fruits contain a wide variety of antioxidants, protecting cells from damage by harmful free radicals. They also change the way neurons in the brain communicate, thereby reducing inflammation and enhancing cognition and motor control. The enzymes contained in berries—particularly black and blue varieties—regulate the concentrations of serotonin and dopamine, the happy hormones that stabilize our mood and control the brain’s pleasure centers. Whoever said life is just a bowl of cherries must have been on to something!