For a really small organ that weighs only about two per cent of your body weight, the brain does consume a lot of oxygen and energy—a good 20 per cent of the body’s energy needs are for the brain, says a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report from the US. Why? Because the brain is always on, always working, even while we are sleeping. It is constantly processing thoughts, memories, pain and pleasure. While it is true that food is the fuel for the body, what really fuels the grey matter lodged up north?
Much like the body, the brain too functions well only if it is fed well. What food is good for the brain, you say? Carbs—a good dose of healthy carbs do the job to power it. Not sugar-laden refined foods; that’s a big no-no. Studies have shown that the brain can get easily addicted to sugars—it lights up the very same regions in the brain that addictive substances like cocaine do. Here’s a quick list of foods that keep your grey matter in ship shape!
Also read: Diet for the mind: Chef Rishim Sachdeva's guide to a healthy brain
Wanted: Good 'ol home-made, traditional diets
Traditional diets with plenty of freshly cooked local foods are the best source of nutrition. This is because any home-cooked, traditional diet, be it Mediterranean, Japanese, Chinese or good ‘ol Indian, is rich in fruits and vegetables which are a good source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that power your brain, boost your memory and keep it young and free from diseases and inflammation. Moreover, traditional food processing methods like fermentation (dosa batter), soaking (lentils), germination, etc are found to increase the micronutrient content of the food and eliminate antinutrients like phytates. One example is the traditional practice of soaking lentils which are found to remove antinutrients phytates and tannins from the grains.
Also read: #AskUsAnything - Will consuming nuts everyday help improve memory?
Traditional diets are also a good source of good fat. For example, avocados in the Mediterranean diet and fish in the Japanese diet and various oils used traditionally in Indian cooking provide good fat that favour the process and functions that control emotions and behaviours—there’s a reason you reach out for that bar of chocolate when you’re feeling mopey!
Include Fermented Food in Your Diet
Did you know that the humble idli contains bioactive compounds that boost memory and enhance your mood? For centuries, fermented food has featured in the diet of various cultures. Our foods like idli, dosa, dhokla, axone (akhone), kinema, etc play an important role on the dinner table. Now, increasing evidence points to the fact that fermented foods are excellent for brain health too. Some research suggests that fermented foods have been elevated to the position of functional foods that promote cognitive health. Fermented dairy products like curd and buttermilk prevent the effect of toxins in the neurons, thereby reducing the effect of stress on the human body. These food products are also found to have mood-enhancing properties.
Also read: Your ultimate guide to fermented foods for a healthy gut
Eat a rainbow, err not the cake
This is one advice that can never go out of vogue in nutrition. Chowing down a rainbow refers to including colourful foods in your diet. Nope, a tray of colourful cupcakes doesn’t count. The natural, vibrant colours in fruits and vegetables is a good indicator of the phytochemicals present in them, says a research published in the journal, Food and Nutrition Sciences. So step out of your veggie comfort zone and pick colourful peppers, pumpkins and gourds, brinjals and tomatoes. These antioxidant-rich, colourful veggies are vital nutrition for your grey matter. They slow down the damage caused to the cells by free radicals (unstable molecules the body produces as a reaction to external variants like environmental and other pressures). Free radicals can speed cell damage resulting in ageing and diseases.
Mind your gut
A strong, healthy gut is essential for the overall health of the body and the brain simply can’t be excused from this equation. Probiotics and the fermented foods have good bacteria that can help the gut remain healthy and strong. The gut-brain axis is like the expressway on which important biochemical signalling takes place, says a research by a group of American scientists. Too hungry? Too full? Want something healthy? Craving sweets? The gut also called the second brain—is even capable of manifesting a physical issue as emotional discomfort. Or vice versa. Notice how you are wont to running to the loo more often when stressed? The stomach is also capable of producing some important neurotransmitters produced in the brain, like serotonin (a mood regulator) and dopamine (reward, pleasure inducer).
How You Eat is as Important as What You Eat
It is no mumbo-jumbo. Mindful eating is the simple act of savouring your food, of holding the warm grains of rice between your fingers, of breathing in the flavours on your plate. Mindfulness, a Buddhist meditation technique, is about being aware of what’s happening within you and around you so that you fully imbibe the experience. Mindfulness points to the importance of details because the real joy of any action lies in the details. When you pay attention to every detail of the food—the colours, flavours, texture and aftertaste, it slows down the eating process and prevents you from overeating. It is a great exercise for the brain too. Studies on mindful eating and cognitive development have revealed that mindful eating can reduce the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and improve cognitive abilities.
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