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Nourishing the Brain – Food for Brain Function

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As exam season approaches, it’s essential to recognise the critical role that nutrition plays in supporting cognitive function and managing anxiety. The brain, responsible for orchestrating our thoughts, emotions, and actions, requires a steady supply of nutrients to perform optimally. By fuelling our bodies with the right foods for brain function, we can enhance brain health, improve performance, and alleviate exam-related stress. As a food scientist and nutritionist in functional medicine, I’m passionate about empowering individuals to make informed dietary choices to support their overall well-being, especially during periods of heightened mental demand to eat food for brain function.

The brain is a metabolic powerhouse, consuming approximately 20% of the body’s total energy expenditure. Therefore, it is crucial to power the brain with nutrient-rich foods for brain function that provide the building blocks necessary for optimal function. While maintaining a balanced diet is important year-round, exam periods place additional demands on the brain, making proper nutrition even more critical for success.

Here are the top ten foods for brain function – Foods that can help bolster cognitive function and manage anxiety:

Fatty Fish: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are essential for brain health. Omega-3s support the structure and function of brain cell membranes, promote neuroplasticity, and reduce inflammation, thereby enhancing cognitive function and mood.

Blueberries: Packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and flavonoids, blueberries have been shown to improve memory, cognitive function, and mood. These vibrant berries also contain compounds that protect the brain from oxidative stress and age-related decline. They are great foods for brain function that are also low in calories so perfect if paired with nuts.

Dark Chocolate: Indulging in a small serving of dark chocolate can provide a powerful cognitive boost. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, caffeine, and theobromine, which have been linked to improved attention, memory, and mood. Having treats is also very important – therefore find a dark chocolate that your child enjoys that also happens to be good for them.

Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are excellent sources of nutrients such as vitamin E, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Consuming foods for the brain such as nuts and seeds regularly can enhance cognitive function, support memory, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support brain health. These nutrient-dense vegetables contain folate, vitamin K, and lutein, which are essential for cognitive function and neuroprotection.

Eggs: Eggs are a nutrient powerhouse, providing essential nutrients such as choline, vitamin B12, and protein. Choline, in particular, plays a crucial role in brain development, memory, and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Avocado: Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fats, which support healthy brain function and improve blood flow to the brain. Additionally, avocados contain vitamins E, C, and B-complex vitamins, which promote cognitive function and reduce oxidative stress.

Whole Grains: Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice provide a steady source of energy for the brain. These complex carbohydrates are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals, which support cognitive function, mood stability, and overall brain health.

Turmeric: Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric contains curcumin, a compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier and exerts neuroprotective effects. Consuming turmeric regularly may improve cognitive function, memory, and mood.

Green Tea: Green tea is rich in antioxidants and caffeine, which can enhance brain function, improve alertness, and boost mood. L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, promotes relaxation and mental clarity, making it an ideal beverage for exam preparation.

Incorporating these top ten foods for the brain function into your diet can be simple and delicious. Try starting your day with a nutrient-packed smoothie featuring leafy greens, berries, and nuts. Snack on a handful of walnuts and blueberries during study breaks and incorporate fatty fish or tofu into your evening meals for a dose of omega-3s. Additionally, swapping out sugary snacks and processed foods for whole, nutrient-dense options can further support brain health and improve exam performance.

By prioritising nutrition and incorporating brain-boosting foods into your diet, you can fuel your child’s brain for success during exam season and beyond.

References:

Harvard Health Publishing. “Brain Foods: The Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function.” Accessed [April 3, 2024]. [Link]

National Institutes of Health. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” Accessed [May,2018]. [Link]

American Heart Association. “The Skinny on Fats.” Accessed [Feb 20, 2024]. [Link]

University of Oxford. “Flavonoids and Cognition: The Latest Evidence.” Accessed [Jan,2009]. [Link]

University of California, Berkeley. “The Brain-Gut Connection: How Gut Bacteria May Treat Depression.” Accessed [Jan,2023]. [Link]

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