A healthy diet is beneficial in many ways – and it could be impacting your brain health more than you think.
A study has revealed that mice given prebiotic foods like garlic and onion had less brain inflammation and improved mental function as they age – and the findings can be applied to humans as well.
“Garlic and onion contain non-digestible fibre that provides food for our good gut bacteria,” said Dr Helena Popovic.
“We’ve found that changes in gut bacteria are linked to several degenerative brain conditions, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our gut bacteria go through a mid-life crisis if they’re not given food that makes them thrive – and because of the link between the gut and the brain, if our gut bacteria don’t thrive, it compromises our brain health.”
Eat the rainbow
“Go for inulin rich foods,” Popovic said.
“So that’s asparagus, artichoke, celery, apples, bananas, flaxseed, seaweed, and chicory root.
“The key is to not peel your fruit and vegetables – keep the skin on there because they’ve got the fibre.
“Eat your purple fruits and vegetables too – like beetroot, eggplant, purple grapes, blueberries, and even black rice. They’re rich in an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which reduces blood pressure and lowers inflammation throughout the body – which helps your memory and mental processing.
“Obviously, eat your greens. The different colours all have different vitamins and minerals. And the darker the colour, the higher the antioxidants – so your purple sweet potatoes have four times the antioxidants of other types of potatoes.”
Omega-3 fatty acids
“Salmon and sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids help to line your nerves,” Popovic said.
“Walnuts, flaxseeds and even some soybeans are beneficial.
“It’s better to eat the foods than eat fish oil supplements – but if you’re not eating any fish or walnuts and flaxseeds then take the supplements.”
Things to avoid
“Avoid soft drinks – the sugar goes directly to your brain, damages the signalling between neurons, increases toxic molecules in your brain, and lowers your memory and learning capacity,” Popovic said.
“They’ve done studies on children who have sugar breakfast cereals and soft drinks – and they don’t concentrate or learn as better as children who oats or bananas or eggs for breakfast. Avoid the sugar in all the processed foods as well.
“The World Health Organisation has said sugar is the new booze – and we need to limit consumption of sugar the same way we do alcohol.
“A woman should have no more than 24 grams of sugar a day, men no more than 30 grams, and children no more than 16 grams.
“Also avoid vegetable oils – they’re high in omega-6 fatty acids that compete with omega-3. We don’t want omega-6 because it causes inflammation – so avoid the soybean, safflower, sunflower and canola oils.
“Coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil – they’re the really good ones.”
Mind over body
Dr Helena says negative stereotypes are as powerful as your diet when it comes to the effect on the brain.
“They did a study in America looking at three groups of over 70-year-olds: the average American, deaf American, and mainland Chinese,” Popovic said.
“The people with the worst memories were the average Americans, who believe as you age, your memory gets worse.
“The Chinese don’t believe that – they believe you get wiser. And the deaf communities also have a lot of respect for the elders and don’t have the negative stereotypes about ageing.
“What we believe about ourselves has a profound impact on our capabilities as we age – know that you can continue to improve your memory as you age.”
“Build up your muscles – it helps to build your memory,” Popovic said.
“Spend time outdoors in natural sunlight and nature – it helps to regulate the rhythms in our brain and body.
“Stay socially connected – and continue to learn new things. So keep training your memory as well.”