How diet affects the brain

It is easy to forget that it is as important to fuel our brain as it is to feed the rest of our body. Indeed, increasing evidence suggests that diet can play a significant role in protecting us from diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s.

Not only that, but over a lifetime, we can choose brain foods that don’t just prevent neurological decline later on, but actively promote a healthy, hardy brain throughout our life.

Brain food for children

It all starts early, with research suggesting that what a mother eats during pregnancy can impact on the long-term brain development of a child. Studies conducted on nearly 12,000 women showed a strong link between low seafood consumption throughout pregnancy and the child’s lower capability relating to their social behaviour, communication and motor skills.

What’s more, it seems that the food we feed our children in those early years has a real bearing on how their intellect may develop. One study showed that children between the ages of seven and nine, who were lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, had poorer reading and memory scores, with another suggesting that omega-3 supplements, consumed by children aged from 18 months to six years, increased cognitive function later on – specifically rule learning, vocabulary and intelligence testing.

Mindful eating

Looking to incorporate brain-friendly foods in our diets doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at childhood, with most benefits accumulated over a lifetime of healthy habits.

While there’s evidence to suggest that simply eating sufficient amounts of fish, vegetables and unsaturated fats can offer neuroprotective benefits, more details on what makes up a brain-boosting diet have recently come to light. Developed by Dr Martha Clare Morris at Rush University, Chicago, the aptly named MIND diet is a combination of two already well-established diets – the Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension).

The aim of Morris’s innovative approach is to bring together years of research surrounding antioxidant-rich foods that have been shown to improve the longevity and health of our brains – most specifically in the area of dementia-prevention. A study into antioxidant-rich foods in 2015 showed remarkable results, with adults who followed the prescribed diet most rigorously exhibiting cognitive function comparable to people seven-and-a-half years younger in age.

Brain-boosting foods

So, which are the best brain-boosting foods? Morris recommends focusing on leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and even wine.

This mackerel with blueberry agrodolce and walnuts is a fantastic way of incorporating these powerful brain foods into a delicious recipe. The foods seen to be detrimental to promoting brain health were, according to Morris, red meat (although grass-fed meat does have a beneficial fatty-acid content), butter, margarine, cheese, pastry, and fried and fast food.

Ultimately, a balanced diet full of fresh, colourful and wholesome produce is always the ideal starting point.

Wellbeing Wisdom

  • Experts have recommended leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, and olive oil to help support brain health.
  • One study into antioxidant-rich foods showed that some adults who followed the prescribed diet exhibited cognitive function comparable to people seven-and-a-half years younger.