Our brains are our control centre – from remembering where you put your car keys to focussing on how to make that internet bank transfer, we rely on our brains 24 hours a day.
Keeping our bodies nourished with a healthy balanced diet is essential to boost brain power and keep you thinking clearly throughout the day.
As we age, however, brain power can diminish, so it’s more important than ever to nourish your brain with nutrient-rich foods to help fuel thinking and maintain memory.
Here, accredited Practising dietitian Rhea Balmaceda shares her top foods to improve brain power.
Low Glycemic (GI) carbohydrate foods
The main fuel source for the brain is glucose. Our bodies break down carbohydrate foods into glucose. The quicker a carbohydrate food is broken down- the higher the GI is and your blood glucose levels will rise and dip quickly. The slower a carbohydrate food is broken down, the lower the GI is, meaning that glucose is released more gradually and can act as a steady fuel to power your brain throughout the day.
Ever felt that 3pm brain slump? Try adding a low GI carbohydrate to your lunch along with a lean protein source (e.g. chicken, tuna or tofu) and vegetables/salad to improve brain power in the afternoon.
Some healthy Low GI carbohydrate food options include wholegrain; breads, pasta, wraps and certain types of rice (for e.g. Doongarra rice), most vegetables and fruits, legumes including beans, chickpeas, and lentils, as well as low-fat dairy foods such as yoghurt, milk and also soy products.
Foods rich in omega 3s
Did you know that 60 per cent of the brain is made up of fat? Healthy fats that contain omega 3’s help the brain to build brain and nerve cells. Foods rich in Omega 3’s include oily fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, avocado, walnuts (~10), and flaxseed oil.
Additionally, these foods also have benefits for heart health. The Heart Foundation recommends all Australians aim to consume oily fish 2-3 times a week (a serve of fish ~150g).
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) not only provides omega 3s but is also a source of phenolic compounds that have antioxidant activity as well as an anti-inflammatory benefit. This means it has a beneficial role not only in how we think but also benefits heart health, gut health, and immunity. Studies have found that those who consumed a Mediterranean-style diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (≥4 tbsp EVOO per day) had improved cognitive function compared to those on a low-fat diet.
Reaching 4 tbsp a day can be achieved by using EVOO when cooking your meals. The high antioxidant and phenolic compound level help to protect the oil against high heat. You can drizzle EVOO over your salad, pasta, cooked meat, or fish, over toast with a sprinkle of herbs or spices. You can use it in marinades and can also use it as a substitute for butter when baking.
Foods rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C plays an important role in the brain. It is so important that if vitamin C intake is low for long periods of time, the body recycles vitamin C from other areas in the body to the brain. Our bodies cannot produce vitamin C, so it’s important to get it from food.
Studies have shown a significant association between vitamin C levels in the blood and performance on tasks involving attention, focus, working memory, decision speed, and recognition.
Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables however, some fruits that are particularly high in vitamin C include; kakadu plums, acerola cherries, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, rockmelon, kiwi fruit, blackcurrants, strawberries, and guava. Some vegetables that are high in vitamin C include; broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, chili peppers, cooked kale, brussels sprouts, and Chinese cabbage.
Keeping your fruit and vegetable intake varied throughout the week will keep your meals and snacks interesting and ensure you get a variety of antioxidant benefits. The Australian dietary guidelines recommend 2 serves of fruit (1 serve = 1 medium sized fruit or 2 smaller fruits) and 5 serves of vegetables (1 serve = 1 cup of salad or ½ cup of cooked vegetables) per day.
In addition to fat, your brain is also largely comprised of water. Keeping yourself well hydrated throughout the day ensures good blood flow to your brain. It also helps nutrients to get to your brain and toxins and wastes to be cleared out from the brain. Your water requirements can change depending on how active you are, however, a good starting point is trying to have up to 2L per day.
By adding a variety of low GI carbohydrate foods, fruits, vegetables, and omega 3s to your diet, alongside a good dash of extra virgin olive oil and plenty of water, you’ll not only be nourishing your body, but providing your brain with the food it needs to operate well and remember where you left your car keys!