From cereal to blueberries - 5 foods that may help improve brain health

Forgetting names, brain fog or just feeling blah? We all know that sensation when our brain just doesn’t feel like it is firing on all cylinders. While there’s no simple solution, what you eat may help.

Eating a diet rich in wholefoods, like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, could protect your brain now and as you get older, too.

The science shows immediate benefits of eating brain foods include a better mood memory, clearer thinking and helping to combat depression. What you put on your plate can also pay off in the longer term by helping to protect or delay age-related damage and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Mediterranean diet and MIND diet are among the plant-rich diets that have shown significant brain health benefits.

The relationship between the brain and the gut is so important it’s been given its own name, the gut brain axis – a veritable highway of nutrients, proteins and hormones. As we’re discovering more about how the gut and the brain interact, we’re also learning more about the best foods for brain health.

Sanitarium dietitian Charlotte Moor shares her 5 favourite foods to help support your brain health.

1. Wholegrain cereals 

The glucose from carbohydrates is your brain’s preferred energy source. But the choice of carbs matters. Staring the day with a lower GI wholegrain cereal will help to release glucose into your bloodstream more slowly which provides a steady supply of fuel for the brain.

Studies have shown eating breakfast can help improve concentration and when it comes to kids, that extends to better behaviour and learning in school.

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By choosing a cereal that’s high in wholegrains you’re also gaining the benefits of all the nutrients grains contain - a wide range of minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, iron, iodine, zinc, B vitamins (folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin), vitamin E as well as carbohydrate, protein and fibre. Emerging research shows higher fibre diets may help protect the brain from dementia.

Make your brain and gut happy: try this oven toasted granola.

Oven toasted granola

2. Blueberries 

These little guys pack a serious nutritional punch. Berries are bursting with antioxidants and phytonutrients, which have been shown to boost cognition and memory in both adults and kids. Blueberries are also high in polyphenols and flavonoids, the natural plant pigments that give berries their vibrant colour. Research shows these flavonoids contain high amounts of antioxidants which help reduce forgetfulness and mild confusion, a common part of ageing.

So, whether you’re after a healthy snack or something to boost your morning smoothie, a handful of berries is a no-brainer.

Make your brain and gut happy: try this blueberry and cashew smoothie.

Blueberry and cashew smoothie

3. Leafy greens 

It’s no secret that green leafy veggies, such as spinach and kale, are great for your health. Not only do they help support the immune system and keep an ageing brain sharp, they are also a source of iron and a rich source of folate. Folate is a natural form of vitamin B9 that’s important for healthy red blood cell formation. Research has found that improving folate status can have beneficial effects on your cognitive function. While the idea of chowing down on a bowlful of greens may not be your cup of tea, you can add them to things like veggie curries and stir-fries for delicious dinners.

Make your brain and gut happy: try this tofu and broccoli green curry.

Tofu and broccoli green curry

4. Nuts and seeds 

Grab a handful of nuts for a great brain boosting snack. Eating nuts has been linked with a reduced risk of depression as well as better cognitive function, learning, memory and mood. The combination of healthy fats (especially omega-3 fats found in walnuts and seeds like chia and flaxseeds) and nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in nuts may help protect vital functions of the brain and its blood vessels.

Make your brain and tummy happy: snack on a handful of nuts or try them in these delicious bliss balls.

Weet-Bix bliss balls

5. Fermented foods  

Fermented foods are created when carbohydrates in food are converted into alcohol or acids by live microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and/or moulds. This helps to preserve the food and is used to create foods such as yoghurt and kefir (with live cultures), sourdough, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and kombucha.

Eating fermented foods with live bacteria, namely the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, may help to improve gut health and reduce anxiety. A review of the research on fermented foods and cognition found promising signs for improved learning, memory, and protecting brain cells.

Make your brain and tummy happy: try this tempeh and vegetable stir fry  – tempeh is made from fermented soy beans.

Tempeh and vegetable stir-fry