The Connection Between What You Eat and Your Brain Health

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly hearing about how our diet can be beneficial or harmful to our brain health. There have been plenty of nutrition-related research studies that break down the “good” and “bad” to keep your brain functioning at its best ability.


Most famously, nutrition-related research has found improved brain function in older adults who follow a Mediterranean diet.  The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and olive oil, and limits red meats and sweets.


Let’s break down one of the most recent studies…


In a study conducted at the University of Illinois, 116 healthy adults between the ages of 65-75 participated in the study to evaluate the effects of the Mediterranean diet on brain health. MRI scan of the participants brains were used to evaluate efficiency in brain networks, along with testing cognitive function. Instead of collecting diet recalls, the researchers measured blood levels of 32 key nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet. These nutrients included: omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, lycopene, carotenoids, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D.


This study found links between five “nutrient biomarker patterns” and improved memory, general intelligence, and executive function.  The nutrient biomarkers included: omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, lycopene, carotenoids, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D. They also found links between omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and carotene to enhance functional brain network efficiency.  In fact, when researchers repeated this analysis with 40 of the study participants about 2 years later, they found similar patterns as those from the original group. Thus, it is believed that the nutrient biomarker patterns remain stable over time.


So… What Does This Mean?


Based on the study results, it’ll likely benefit your brain health to adopt some, if not all, of the eating habits/style from the Mediterranean diet.  By making those changes, you’ll have a diet richer in the specific nutrients the study mentioned.


Omega 3 fatty acidscan be found in walnuts, fish and Brussels sprouts. Omega 6 fatty acidsare in flax seed, pistachios, pine nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Lycopene is an antioxidant that is found in fruits/vegetables with red pigments, like tomatoes.  Riboflavin & Vitamin B12can be found in eggs, fortified cereals, green vegetables. Carotenoids are another antioxidant that can be found in fruits/vegetables with orange pigments, like sweet potatoes and carrots. Folateis found in beans, peas, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables. Finally, vitamin Dis found in fatty fish (Mackerel, tuna, salmon), fortified foods and your skin can synthesize it from the sun!


The Mediterranean Diet As A Whole


The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle approach to good health that includes a balanced variety of foods and daily exercise. It is mostly plant-based with high amounts of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, dried beans, olive oil, and fish. Although it is called a ‘diet’, the Mediterranean Diet is not about cutting calories and restricting foods like popular trends in America today. The Mediterranean Diet is a way of life that involves enjoying a wide variety of whole, nourishing foods with friends and family, as well as practicing a healthy lifestyle.


7 Tips to Help You Follow a Mediterranean Diet:


  1. Eat an abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  2. Emphasize a variety of minimally processed, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.
  3. Use good fats, like olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, and avocados.
  4. Consume fish and seafood twice a week.
  5. Aim for low to moderate amounts of poultry, cheese and yogurt – preferably low-fat versions.
  6. Limit red meat to only a few times per month.
  7. Incorporate regular physical activity to your daily routine at a level, which promotes your well-being.


Along with improving brain health, The Mediterranean diet can also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.


Your Turn to Take Action: Challenge yourself to follow a Mediterranean diet three days out of the week. Let me know in the comments below how it goes!


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