Your brain controls your thoughts, emotions, movements, senses, and countless other functions. It’s truly your command central. Whether you’re trying to prevent strokes or cognitive decline or support your brain after an injury, providing it with the right nutrients to function correctly is essential.
Here at Link Neuroscience Institute, our multidisciplinary neurosurgery team understands that what you eat is crucial to your brain health. Certain foods can enhance your brain function, while others can damage it.
Below, we highlight what to eat and what to avoid when focusing on optimal brain health.
While the following foods are good for your overall health, they’re especially important for optimal brain functioning.
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for brain health and can help improve memory, mood, and cognitive function.
Berries — blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries — are rich in antioxidants that protect the brain from oxidative stress. They also contain flavonoids (phytochemicals that occur in plants) that can improve brain function and delay age-related cognitive decline.
Nuts and seeds
Like fatty fish, nuts and seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, they’re rich in vitamin E, healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Snack on almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and Brazil nuts.
Dark leafy greens — spinach, kale, rainbow chard, collard greens, swiss chard, and broccoli — are rich in vitamins and minerals that support your brain health. They contain folate, vitamin K, and antioxidants to protect the brain from damage and improve cognitive function.
According to a study published in the journal Neurology, people who ate an average of seven servings of dark leafy greens per week had a 32% decrease in their rate of cognitive decline.
A tasty treat! Dark chocolate contains flavonoids — naturally occurring compounds found in plants — which can enhance blood flow to your brain and boost cognitive function. Dark chocolate also contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which can provide a temporary boost in improving mood and alertness. Eat high-quality dark chocolate in moderation and avoid chocolate with excess sugar, trans fats, or artificial flavors.
Certain foods can contribute to vascular issues like atherosclerosis and increase the risk of cognitive decline. Avoid the following types of food:
Processed foods like chips, cookies, and sugary drinks are high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives. These foods can lead to inflammation in the brain and impair cognitive function.
Always choose whole grains over refined and highly processed grains.
Fried foods are high in unhealthy fats and can cause inflammation in the body and brain. They are also linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Try baked, sauteed, or roasted options instead.
Sugary foods can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, and while this affects your overall health, high blood sugar can also affect the blood vessels in your brain. Sugary treats are also linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Alcohol can cause damage to your brain and impair cognitive function, especially in excessive amounts. It can also lead to memory loss and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
High-sodium foods can lead to high blood pressure and damage your brain’s blood vessels. This can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of stroke and dementia. Sodium can hide in sneaky places, such as canned soup and deli meat, so be sure to read your food labels and monitor for excess sodium.
Some people are sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG), so avoiding MSG can help avoid headaches.
Get comprehensive neurology care
To sum it up: what you eat plays a crucial role in your brain health. By incorporating brain-boosting foods like fatty fish, berries, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and dark chocolate into our diets and avoiding processed foods, fried foods, sugary foods, alcohol, and high-sodium foods, you can improve your cognitive function. Sometimes, though, you need additional neurological care, and that’s where our team comes into the picture. Whether you need help managing life after a stroke, preventing dementia, or treating chronic headaches, we’re here for you.
Call our Santa Barbara or Oxnard, California, office or use our online scheduling tool to get started.