Studies reveal that exercise and sleep both play major roles in keeping our bodies in tip-top shape. But, that's not all they do. These two activities also help shape brain evolution and cognitive capacity.
And, they are not alone. There's another player that's equally important in keeping your brain sharp. And, that's your diet.
Most people, when they focus on eating healthy, do so to prevent disease, lose excess weight or manage a current medical condition. They are not thinking about boosting their brain power.
However, continuing research proves that food plays a major role in the health of our brains and does, indeed, affect how well they function.
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Nutrient dense foods boost the body's energy and help it to thrive and respond with stellar health, including brain function, while nutritionally dead foods steal away the body's energy, destroy health (both body and brain) and can eventually, over an extended period, cause permanent harm.
For example: a steady diet of precooked and processed foods stimulates the production of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that boosts our feelings of pleasure.
Sounds innocent enough doesn't it? Unfortunately, like being addicted to drugs, too much dopamine is a bad thing and can lead to dangerous, unhealthy food cravings, causing vicious, unhealthy eating cycles.
Other dangerous foods, such as trans fats, shrink the brain, inviting life-stealing disease to take hold such as Alzheimer's.
The good news is that the right foods have the power to impact the health of our bodies and that includes our brain power/cognitive health in a positive way. Focus, memory, clarity, and intelligence all receive a major healthy boost.
Brain foods are rich in antioxidants and provide us with good fats, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. All-important players when boosting our energy and helping protect us against brain fog and severely debilitating brain diseases such as Alzheimer's.
No two foods are equal - some offer more protection than others.
Here's a short list of brain power foods you should be consuming:
Offering the highest protein content of any fruit, avocados are also packed with monosaturated fats – the good kind. The kind that makes your skin glow and your blood sugar levels steady.
These oval shaped super foods contain folate and vitamin K that help prevent blood clots and protect us from strokes. Rich in vitamin B and C, they also help to improve memory and concentration, both important cognitive functions.
I doubt anyone is surprised that "greens" is on the list. Seems spinach-loving Popeye really did know something. According to recent research, leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce and kale help prevent dementia. With so many choices available, it's time to swap out your empty carbohydrates – your pasta and breads for healthier options – lots of greens.
Loaded with vitamins A and K, they help eliminate inflammation and keep bones strong and should be included in every meal.
All berries provide a healthy array of vitamins and minerals for our body. But blueberries reign supreme when it comes to protecting our brains from degeneration because of their high levels of gallic acid.
Rich with antioxidants, vitamins C, K and fibre, they give grapes a run for their money for the top notch as nature's "fun" candy. So, don't be afraid to pop a few in your mouth as a health snack and use them in salads as well.
It turns out just munching on a few walnuts a day can improve your cognitive health. Seems this is one nut that can keep you from "going nuts!"
Providing vitamins and minerals and a heavy dose of antioxidants, it improves mental alertness. The vitamin E in the nuts can also help ward off Alzheimer's.
Again, not a surprise to see this green vegetable on this list. You must give mum credit for pushing this one. It is one of the best brain foods that is readily available. Offering high levels of choline along with vitamin K, it works to keep memory sharp.
Loaded with vitamin C, just one cup provides us with 150 per cent of our daily requirement. It's also fibre rich, helping us to feel full quickly.
For a vege that offers so many benefits, it will cost you few calories! Perfect for those looking to lose weight.
This nutrient dense vege offers high levels of polysaccharides and antioxidants that act as natural anti-inflammatories and can help to alleviate issues related to inflammation, like joint pain.
Versatile and good for you! As you age, it helps with memory loss and even works in your gut destroying bad bacteria. It's also a powerhouse against inflammation. In fact, there's almost nothing that this natural antioxidant can't help healing.
Who says brain foods can't be delicious and fun? Dark chocolate can be good for you. Providing an array of flavanols offering anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that work at improving blood flow to the brain and heart and lowering blood pressure.
Not all chocolate is created equal.
A lot of chocolate offers little if any benefits. The darker the chocolate the better the benefits, so stay away from commercially branded milk and white chocolate and opt for a high percentage cocoa (minimal 70 per cent ... the higher the better) dark chocolate.
No matter how much you exercise or how much sleep you are getting, if your diet is filled with the wrong kinds of foods (processed and sugar sweet), the health of your body suffers along with your brain.
All that hard work put in exercising and all that time spent sleeping never gets a chance to shine.
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.