Best diet for the brain: Harvard expert shares six foods ‘people aren’t eating enough of’

Dr Zoe says walking can reduce risk of dementia

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Psychiatrist, brain health researcher and nutritionist Dr Uma Naidoo said she’s often asked how people should eat to enhance brain power. Based on her work with hundreds of patients, she’s suggested a number of brain-boosting foods “people aren’t eating enough of” – eating them “can improve your mood, sharpen memory and help your brain work at peak efficiency”.

The first is spices, their antioxidant properties could help the brain fight off harmful free radicals.

In turn this could prevent oxidative stress which can damage tissues.

Writing for CNBC, she explained: “One of my favourite spices is turmeric — a standout when it comes to reducing anxiety. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can decrease anxiety and change the corresponding brain chemistry, protecting the hippocampus.

“I also love saffron. In 2013, a meta-analysis of five previously published, randomised and controlled trials looked at the effects of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression among participants with major depressive disorder.

“In all these trials, researchers found that consuming saffron significantly reduced depression symptoms compared to the placebo controls.”

The second food she recommended is fermented foods.

She said: “Fermented foods are made by combining milk, vegetables or other raw ingredients with microorganisms like yeast and bacteria.

“Some examples include plain yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. These are all sources of live bacteria that can enhance healthy gut function and decrease anxiety.

“In the brain, fermented foods may provide several advantages. A 2016 review of 45 studies indicated that fermented foods might protect the brain in animals, improving memory and slowing cognitive decline.

“Probiotic-rich yogurt can be a powerful part of your diet, but keep in mind that yogurt that undergoes heat treatment does not have the same benefits. One such example is yogurt-covered raisins — these aren’t going to help your anxiety, as the heat-treated yogurt has no beneficial bacteria left.”

Dr Naidoo goes on to recommend dark chocolate because its a great source of iron which helps make up the covering that protects neurons and helps control the synthesis of the chemicals and chemical pathways involved in mood.

Avocados contain high amounts of magnesium, which is important for proper brain function.

Dr Naidoo said nuts have healthy fats and oils our brains need to function well.

And leafy greens contain vitamin E, carotenoids and flavonoids, which are nutrients that protect against dementia and cognitive decline.

Alongside including these foods in your diet, Harvard Health recommends other ways to keep your brain in good health.

One of these is through physical exercise. It explains: “Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind.

“Animals who exercise regularly increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in ageing animals.

“Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.”

Improving your blood pressure is also key, as high blood pressure in midlife has been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline in old age.

Preventing diabetes and improving cholesterol levels have also been shown to stave off dementia.

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