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Berries can help slow cognitive decline.
Berries can help slow cognitive decline.

Foods to boost your brain

The brain uses one-fifth of all the blood pumped by your heart. So pay attention to what you eat and drink if you want to keep it energized and in perfect working condition

Complex carbohydrates

For fuel, the brain uses glucose, which it gets from carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are found in wholegrain bread, pasta and rice; they release energy slowly, and help the brain to function properly.

For better concentration, choose wholegrain foods (like wholemeal bread and brown or unpolished rice) instead of refined versions (like white bread and white rice). Avoid simple carbohydrates like cakes, pastries and juices.

Essential fatty acids

The brain is about 60% fat, and 20% of this fat is made from essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6. Essential fatty acids are so named because the body cannot make them; they must be supplemented in the diet.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are found in equal amounts in the brain, so we should eat them in equal amounts. But our diets are such that most of us eat more omega-6—found in foods like poultry, eggs and nuts—than omega-3, found in oily fish like salmon, herring and mackerel. Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats, are particularly bad for the brain. These can be found in most products that are canned, tinned and packaged. They are also found in patisserie products like cakes and biscuits. So check the labels for “hydrogenated" fat or oil and avoid these foods when possible.

According to research, foods containing “good fats", such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (nuts, seeds, fish and leafy green vegetables) and monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, avocados and nuts), may help reduce the risk of depression and dementia. Amino acids form the neurotransmitters in our brains. They are responsible for our moods. Some of these amino acids come from food, others are made by the body. For example, serotonin, which keeps us in good spirits and is important for sleep, is made from the amino acid tryptophan, found in milk, oats and turkey meat. That’s why, when you have a problem sleeping at night, most dietitians will suggest you drink a glass of milk at bedtime. Vitamins and minerals help convert amino acids into neurotransmitters, and carbohydrates into glucose; so they’re important too.

Polyphenols found in berries and other darkly pigmented fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, spinach and beans, may help slow cognitive decline through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Water

The brain is about 80% water, so it is important to drink lots of fluids for it to function properly. We lose about 2.5 litres of water each day through sweat, breath and urine. To replace this, you should drink at least 1.5 litres of non-alcoholic fluids every day unless you have a specific heart or renal condition.

Water, milk and fruit juice are all healthy ways to keep hydrated. Tea and coffee work too as long as they are had in moderation, and without sugar.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Here’s how you can keep your brain healthy:

DHA: Studies link high levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, with decreased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Aim for 1,000mg per day.

Turmeric: This spice, known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, also helps improve glucose metabolism. Studies say turmeric may help reduce the risk for brain-related diseases. Try to consume 7mg daily.

Coconut oil: Research shows that coconut oil could help prevent Alzheimer’s. Have at least 1-2 tablespoons daily of an organic variety.

Alpha-lipoic acid: Alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that works to protect the brain and nerve tissues. Look to get 600 mg/day.

Vitamin D: Do get tested before supplementing with this vitamin, but it is imperative to have optimum levels of this vitamin to preserve nerve and brain health. It is ideal to start with 5,000 units of vitamin D3 daily. Get tested after three months, and adjust accordingly.

All supplements should be consumed only after consulting a doctor.

Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.

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