By: Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN
Did you know that the brain is the most energy-demanding organ in your body? It uses between 20 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake to function. Every single thing you do — from sitting still to hitting the gym after work to cooking dinner — requires your brain to do some work. Your brain requires a lot of fuel to function optimally.
Where does that energy come from?
Researchers have studied the connection between diet and brain health, and while there is still a lot to learn, it appears that what you eat can make a big difference in both short and long term health. It doesn’t matter how old (or young!) you are, we could all use a little brain boost — don’t you agree?
For better focus, eat fiber-rich plants
The brain’s preferred fuel source is glucose, a simple carbohydrate. That’s one of the reasons you crave sugar when you’re really hungry — your brain is asking for quick fuel! But the key is to choose carbohydrate-rich foods that also contain fiber. Fiber keeps your blood sugar stable, and as a result the energy going to your brain is more consistent. When you’re energy is stable you stay focused and mentally sharp. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes are excellent sources of fiber-rich energy.
To fight inflammation, choose antioxidant rich foods and plant-based fats
Inflammation has been linked to mood disorders, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Research suggests the antioxidants found in plant foods may reduce inflammation-related disease. Colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts and seeds are a great source of a wide variety of antioxidants, but all plant-based foods contain some. One important antioxidant found in nuts and seeds is Vitamin E; it plays a role in brain function . So, enjoy a snack of almonds, a good source of vitamin E, and fiber-rich fruit for a mid-afternoon brain booster that may also help with long-term brain health!
In addition to antioxidants, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts and chia, flax, and hemp seeds may fight inflammation and promote healthy aging of the brain. Walnuts, in particular, are known to be “brain food.” As a rich source of omega-3’s, phytonutrients, and other important vitamins and minerals, walnuts promote neural signalling and have been tied to better motor function and memory in aging adults.
For an extra boost, bulk up on beets, blueberries, and beans
All plant-based foods offer some brain health benefits, but these are a few of the powerhouse plants. Beets have been studied recently for their high concentration of nitrates, which has been tied to improved blood flow to the brain. They also offer inflammation fighting phytonutrients, which may improve overall brain health.
And, finally, beans are chock full of b-vitamins and folate, two important nutrients energy production in the brain. In fact, both berries and beans are two of the top recommended foods on the MIND diet, a dietary pattern that has been linked to reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Purple Carrot Meals Can Support a Healthy Brain
While some foods like berries, walnuts, and beets are known to be superstars for brain health, an overall healthy diet that includes a variety of plant foods is what matters most. Purple Carrot meals are full of brain boosting plant foods, making eating plant-based meals easier for the whole family. Check out this week’s menus for a little taste of what’s to come.
Sarah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from The George Washington University and a Master of Science in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She completed her Dietetic Internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard University teaching hospital in Boston, MA.
When not in the kitchen, you can find Sarah seeking out the latest restaurant opening, teaching indoor cycling, running, training for triathlons, or hiking or skiing with her husband, son, and golden retriever pup.