General HealthNutritionOverall HealthPreventive Medicine

Eating for a Youthful Brain

By Greta Hittle, MPH

A recent study on brain metabolism published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that women retain a higher rate of brain metabolism throughout their lives. In other words, women tend to have more youthful brains than men.[1]

This is positive news for women! Not only do we live longer and suffer less from chronic diseases,[2] but we also have more youthful brains. Although this is great news for women, what about all of the men in our lives? What about our husbands, dads, brothers, and male friends? We also want healthy, youthful brains for them. Luckily, there are two ways men and women alike can maintain a healthy mind and body as they age:

  1. Staying physically active: Physical activity has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression; improve self-esteem, sleep, and cognitive function; and provide stress relief.[3]
  2. Eating a healthy diet: Read the information below to discover how a healthy diet can help keep you younger longer.

Brain Foods

I often think of food as the source of energy for my body. When that afternoon slump hits, and my desk starts to look like a perfect pillow, nothing perks me up like yogurt and berries, or peanut butter and apple slices. Likewise, our brains require a substantial amount of energy in order to function properly.[4] Just as in the body, not all energy sources are considered equal when fueling the brain. Here’s a short list of some of the best foods for a youthful brain and the reasoning behind their beneficial effects.

  • Salmon

Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of fat the brain uses to build brain and nerve cells.[5] Getting enough omega-3s in our diets may improve memory and cognitive function.[6] Bonus: omega-3s are also great for the heart,[7] which is another important organ for a long, healthy life. If you’re not big on salmon, other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include tuna, flax seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds.

  • Blueberries

Blueberries are high in flavonoids and antioxidants.[8] Flavonoids have been shown to improve cognitive function, while antioxidants help reduce inflammation and may help improve communication between brain cells.[9] Bonus: Blueberries are an easy and delicious addition to any meal or snack! If blueberries aren’t your thing, apples, green tea, chocolate, red wine, and pomegranate seeds are other good sources of flavonoids and antioxidants.[10]

  • Broccoli

I know, I know. It’s broccoli. Just hear me out. Broccoli is high in vitamin K. Vitamin K helps metabolize important fats needed in brain cell signaling functions[11] and may improve cognition and behavior among older adults.[12] Bonus: evidence shows that vitamin K may also prevent Alzheimer’s! If you still can’t imagine eating broccoli, other good sources of vitamin K include kale, brussel sprouts, eggs, fish, and spinach.[13]

Bottom Line

Living a healthy lifestyle while you’re still young in age can lead to a healthy, youthful life for years to come.  This is true for women and men alike. So, start making small changes. Add salmon to your dinner rotation or sprinkle walnuts into your oatmeal; grab a handful of blueberries instead of a handful of M&Ms; and give broccoli a chance! Try these small changes in March (National Nutrition Month), and hopefully they will become healthy habits for the rest of your long, youthful life.

About the author:

Greta Hittle, MPH, is the wellness program manager at Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC. She received her Masters of Public Health at the University of Louisville: School of Public Health and has a robust background in individual behavior change and public health policy. At Sony, Greta collaborates with employees to create healthy work environments and encourage healthy lifestyles. She enjoys getting to know new people, working out, being outdoors, and spending time with her husband and family.

References:

[1] Manu S. Goyal, Tyler M. Blazey, Yi Su, Lars E. Couture, Tony J. Durbin, Randall J. Bateman, Tammie L.-S. Benzinger, John C. Morris, Marcus E. Raichle, and Andrei G. Vlassenko. (2019). Persistant Metabolic Youth in the Female Brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[2] Harvard Men’s Health Watch. (2010). Mars vs. Venus: The Gender Gap in Health. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/mars-vs-venus-the-gender-gap-in-health

[3] Sharma, A., MD, Madaan, V., MD, Petty, F., MD, PhD. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 8(2): 106. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/

[4] Gomez-Pilnilla, Fernando. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. July 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/

[5] Jennings, Kerri-Ann. 11 Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory. HealthLine. May 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#section1

[6] Gomez-Pilnilla, Fernando. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. July 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/

[7] Aubrey, Allison. 6 Food Rules That Could Help You Live Longer. NPR Life Kit.  January 2019. https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=676170139

[8] Leigh Smith, Dana. 30 Best and Worst Foods for Your Brain. Eat This, Not That. December 2018. https://www.eatthis.com/foods-for-brain/

[9] Jennings, Kerri-Ann. 11 Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory. HealthLine. May 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#section3

[10] Strand, Erik. Flavonoids: Antioxidants Health the Mind. Psychology Today. July 2003. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200307/flavonoids-antioxidants-help-the-mind

[11] Ferland, G. Vitamin K and Brain Function. Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis. 2013l 39(08): 849-855. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24108469

[12] Chouet, J., Ferland, G., Feart, C., Rolland, Y., et. al. Dietary Vitamin K Intake is Associated with Cognition and Behaviour among Geriatric Patients: CLIP Study. Nutrients. August 2015. 12;7(8): 6739-50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26274973

[13] Sauer, Allison. How Vitamin K is Good for the Brain and Alzheimer’s Prevention. Alzheimers.net. August 2016. https://www.alzheimers.net/2014-07-09/vitamin-k-alzheimers-prevention/

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