Food plays an important role in our cognitive function – here’s how a healthy balanced diet can help improve brain function

Our brain is an organ that serves the central nervous system and it pretty much controls everything that happens in the body.

60% of our brain is made up of fat and we need fat for providing vital functions in the structuring of brain cells and ensuring smooth communication is possible within the brain.

When our body is depleted of vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids it has an impact on brain structure and function. 

Consuming a healthy balanced diet along with a healthy lifestyle improves our brain function and also can reduce our risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes.

If we don’t consume enough energy we start to fatigue, get headaches, difficulty focusing and sleeping that’s why nutrition is essential for brain function.

So what affects our mental health and wellbeing? The way we think and function comes from the brain, Our brain is ticking constantly and becoming stressed and anxious increases our cortisol levels and can have an impact on our health leading to erratic eating patterns, feeling unwell and sleepless nights. Do you find you are always on the go?

Making small changes to your lifestyle through diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation and mindfulness can improve the way we function and how we feel. 

Beneficial foods:
Omega 3 and Omega 6: Essential Fatty Acids cannot be made by the body so must come from the diet. Omega 6 sources include vegetable oils and pumpkin seeds, Omega 3 sources include your oily fish, flaxseed, nuts, avocados, dark green leafy vegetables and soya products. Including food sources of Omega 3 and 6 play an important role in brain function and heart health. Remember we need these fats in our diet.

Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables rich in flavonoids may have an effect on our memory such as berries, apples and citrus fruits as they contain anthocyanins which can improve brain function.

Green leafy vegetables contain iron, vitamin K, folate, Vitamin E and calcium and each of these vitamin and minerals have a vital function in our bodies. 

Good quality dark chocolate contains flavonoids and magnesium and can increase our serotonin production. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that can alter our mood and appetite and eating foods that contain tryptophan- eggs, cheese, tofu, nuts and seeds can help us produce more serotonin.  

Eat foods rich in Carbohydrates-Your main source of energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals, keeps you fuller for longer and maintains your blood sugar levels. Starchy complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, rice, pasta, sweet potato and oats can keep you mentally alert. Never avoid carbohydrates they keep you going!

Hydration: Plenty of water and herbal teas can improve your mental performance and fatigue. Yes Caffeine can help us to stay awake but consuming too much can have an effect on our body function and can make us become more jittery.

Exercise can reduce our overall risk of developing many lifestyle diseases, improve our overall mental wellbeing and definitely boosts our brain function. Try not to overdo it but incorporate exercise in your daily activities-a short brisk walk, jog, find a class you enjoy and try out different types of exercise. 

Keeping our brain active and learning something new e.g. learning a new language can improve our cognitive function and memory. 

Mindfulness/Relaxation: Life can take over, the hustle and bustle of traveling to and from work, meeting deadlines and generally feeling overwhelmed. Take a moment to pause and reflect, try out some meditation and deep breathing to help us keep calm and relaxed. Having a to do list, make time for yourself, try a digital detox, do things you enjoy, be selfish if you have to and surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. This can make a huge impact on the way you are feeling. Apps such as Calm and Headspace are useful before bed. 

Sleep: We all know what lack of sleep does to us but a good 8 hours of sleep can do the world of wonders and recharge our bodies. Reducing screen time and technology usage a few hours before bed can have a positive impact on our health.  Winding down with a hot soak, stretching and a good book can help us feel calm and practicing gratitude can enable us to feel content. 

Our brain works non-stop, it’s important to take time out and switch off. In order for our brain to function to it’s optimum; eat a colourful varied diet based on The Eatwell guide, try not to skip meals, include plenty of variety of fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy, including unsaturated fats, fluids and see food as a positive and try not to count calories. Enjoy every mouthful, everything in moderation and learn to have a healthy relationship with food. 

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