What is classed as a brain food and why?

Written by elénzia's Nutrition Manager, Christie Newman

How many of us reach for chocolate when we feel low or crave coffee when we are tired? Our guess is the majority. This is because intuitively we appreciate that the foods we eat can shape our thoughts, emotions and change the way we feel and act. But how many of us appreciate just how much of an impact food has on our brain’s mental productivity? Specifically, our executive function and the ability to process/recall information.
In our recent blog we touched on how brainfood can help boost your mental productivity, and cited links to research that associates specific nutrient compounds with the strengthening of brain function (1,2,3). Now we want to share a little on which nutrient compounds make certain foods brain boosting and what foods you can find them in.
The term brain boosting can sound a little gimmicky until you understand more the reasoning behind its terminology. The brain is by far the most complex organ within our bodies amounting to just over 2% of the body’s weight while using 20% of its energy (4) - and that’s when your resting. It’s made up of billions of cells, particularly neurons, connected by a web of synaptic pathways. These continuously fire chemicals containing messages known as neurotransmitters and nutrients play a key role in how well this happens.
When you’re working, studying or even training physically, your brain demands more energy than usual. Some of you may be thinking, that’s simple, just add a bit of sugar to coffee for a fast release of caffeine and glucose. However, this isn’t the case when it comes to effectively enhancing those more complex neurological processes responsible for mental agility and intellect, such as the frontal lobe or the hippocampus. Research finds these areas respond better when nourished by specific nutritional compounds such as specific B vitamins, polyphenols, omega 3 fatty acids, choline and soluble fibres which have shown to target and support neurological functions linked to boosting productivity (5). For example, choline found in eggs, peanuts and cauliflower plays an important role in maintaining the structural integrity of cell membranes and for cholinergic neurotransmission. This is key to the frontal lobe area which is responsible for mental clarity, focus and concentration - executive function (6,7). Whereas, polyphenols found in blueberries and red grapes have ultra-light molecular structures capable of passing the dense blood brain barrier and boosting the production of BDNF (brain derived neuro growth factor protein) in the hippocampus, which is the area responsible for processing and recalling information - memory and learning (8,9 ). – See our top five brain foods below.
So, do we switch our afternoon coffee with cauliflower and blueberries? Not quite. You can be strategic with your daily diet by ensuring you incorporate a balanced variation of the foods we mention below, combined with physical activity. But for those who seek assurance they’re supporting their brain health holistically, there is the option to supplement alongside these healthy suggestions. By holistic we mean essential nutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids or proprietary blends of key actives extracted from natural sources. For example, clinical studies have demonstrated supplementing 600mg/day of a unique blend of specific polyphenols extracted from North American blueberry and French grape, improved memory capabilities by as much as 60% in healthy older adults (10). More recently, the same unique blend of specific polyphenols was shown to boost students ability to concentrate under intense exams conditions, resulting in an average 36% improvement (11). This unique polyphenol blend is available in elénzia Enhance for those of you looking to boost your brain further through supplementation (use code beam18 at checkout for 20% off your first order until 30.04.20).
See below the recommended food groups high in nutrients for supporting brain productivity. We’ve narrowed it down into five groups to help you see what we mean by balanced. And to see how you can incorporate this balanced variety into your daily diet and enjoy the taste as well as the benefits, we’ve thrown in a few recipes.

Brain Boosting Foods

  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, bluefish, sardines, anchovies) contains a blend of nutrients that are perfect for the brain, including omega-3 fats (a brain-must), choline (converts to citicoline in the body, vital for executive function), vitamins B6 and B12 (needed to support the nervous system), minerals such as iron and magnesium (needed for healthy blood and tissues) and a good amount of protein. For those who do not eat seafood, alternative sources of omega-3s include flax seeds, olive oil, walnuts (the highest omega 3 containing nut), avocados and other plant-based foods (12).
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale and all sort of greens) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) are all full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and immune supporting nutrients that are crucial for a healthy nervous system. Large-scale studies show that people who consume one or two servings of these vegetables everyday experience fewer memory problems and cognitive decline than people who rarely eat greens. Simply eating your greens every day can help keep your brain years younger. 13
  • Berries (especially blueberries, strawberries, raspberries but also dark cherries, goji berries, mulberries) are packed with antioxidants that help keep memory sharp as you age. Particularly anthocyanins found in acai and blueberries and resveratrol found in red grapes. They are also a great source of fibre and glucose, the main energy source for the brain. They are sweet but have a low glycaemic index so they help regulate sugar levels (14).  
  • Extra virgin vegetable oils, especially olive oil and flaxseed oil which are rich in monounsaturated fat, a kind of fat that is good for the heart. These are also loaded with the omega-3 essential fatty acids and the protective fat-soluble vitamin E (15).
  • Complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, legumes and sweet potatoes, are packed with brain-supportive nutrients from protein to B vitamins to a bounty of antioxidants and minerals, such as magnesium and potassium (key compound in all brain chemical transference). They are also a good source of glucose combined with a high fibre content to stabilise blood sugar levels. The higher the fibre, the lower food’s effects on insulin. As a result, these foods sustain a balanced metabolism, while strengthening the gut brain axis by aiding a healthy digestion (16). So instead of high sugar foods, which only provides glucose, opt for complex carbs that deliver various other important nutrients.

Quick and easy brain boosting recipes

Berry Bowl



Ingredients
2 bananas, peeled, sliced and frozen overnight
1tbsp of chia seeds soaked in 125ml coconut water overnight
125g fresh blueberries (or Acai berries if you can get hold of them)
half a tsp vanilla extract
1 heaped tbsp dried or fresh coconut
2-3 ice cubes
Fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries and sliced banana to decorate

Not for whizzing*
Handful of low sugar granola*
2 tbsp walnuts*
2/3 strawberries*
Sprinkle of dried coconut flakes

Instructions
Blend (whizz) all the ingredients together until smooth.
Pour into a bowl.
Add separate sections of granola, walnuts
Sprinkle coconut flakes, strawberries and serve chilled.

Pesto Quinoa Bowl


Ingredients

(recipe for 3/4 servings of pesto)
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1 avocado
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove (roasted)
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt

1 egg (poached or boiled) or Salmon (smoked or cooked)
Handful of cherry tomatoes
Sprinkle of roasted pine nuts

Instructions
For pesto: Add basil, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice and spices into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse two or three times until the ingredients start to break down. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides as necessary until you have an almost smooth pesto.
For the base: Add roughly 1 cup of cooked Quinoa then add 1 large tbsp of your homemade Pesto
To serve: Add a poached egg or salmon. To finish sprinkle of cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and a basil leaf.

As tasty as it is brain boosting vegetable soup



Ingredients (serves 6 or more)
450g broccoli, finely chopped*
1 cup red cabbage*
1 red onion*
6 medium carrots*
6 spring onions*
4 celery sticks*
4 cloves of garlic*
2 cups frozen peas
1 cup edamame beans
3cm chunk of ginger root, grated
3 litres of vegetable broth (no added salt)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Brewer’s yeast, 1 teaspoon per person
Add chicken, fish or tofu for extra protein

Instructions
Put all the veg in a large pot. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Try cooking these al dente to keep consistency and prevent the vegetables from getting mushy, and potentially preserving more nutrients. Add any extra protein options pre-cooked, so they re-heat in the broth.
Turn off the heat, add olive oil and let cool for a few minutes.
Distribute in bowls. Sprinkle brewer’s yeast over the soup. Add brown rice for extra texture.

Inspiration for recipes were found here 17, 18, 19.  


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