Eat your way to sharper thinking with our handful of hints & tips
Supplement your diet
Ever walk into a room and can’t remember why you went in there? We’ve all had moments like this, but regular bouts of forgetfulness can be a warning sign for something more serious. Of course, always see your GP if you’re concerned, but the right nutrition can help. Research shows our risk of developing dementia can be reduced by taking vitamin B and fatty acid supplements. A two-year
study from Oxford University revealed these can slow down Alzheimer’s related brain shrinkage. The B-vits trialled were B6, B12 and
folic acid, so you could take a supplement or
include more vitamin B-rich foods in your diet.
There’s an array of evidence showing that eating good fats is great for our grey matter. In particular, DHA, a type of omega three fatty acid found in oily fish. A study from New Zealand’s Massey University revealed that memory function was boosted by 15 percent after volunteers took fish oil supplements containing DHA for six months. The experts say this means regularly eating oily fish or taking a supplement could help ward off cognitive decline as we age. Oily fish includes salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring, plus they’re good for our waistlines too, so eat up!
Balance your blood sugar
Suffer with mental fogginess? Stepping off the sugar rollercoaster could be exactly what you need, says Dr Carel Le Roux from Herbalife’s Nutrition Advisory Board (herbalife.co.uk). He explains why: “Brains need glucose to function and if glucose in your bloodstream decreases too much then your mind will create significant symptoms. These may include an inability to concentrate, blurred vision, sweating and feeling very tired. Patients who have type one diabetes can sometimes experience these symptoms, also known as hypoglycaemia. For people not suffering with diabetes, the brain can sometimes use the same indicators to signal when it’s distressed. For example, if you eat sugary foods your blood sugar level will increase rapidly, followed by an equally fast rise in insulin from your pancreas. The insulin then reduces blood sugar quickly, but this change from high to normal blood sugar can be so rapid it creates warning signs. Typically you can then feel unwell 30-60 minutes after a sugary meal. Another common issue is when you have normal blood sugar levels, but haven’t eaten for a few hours. Your brain detects the normal blood sugar level, but because the appetite centres are signalling hunger, your brain decides to make you feel dizzy with a lack of concentration. This is then sometimes wrongly interpreted as having low blood sugar when in fact, you’re just hungry. “Both of these problems can be addressed by eating the right food. By avoiding highglycaemic index foods, your body can absorb nutrients without having to mount a massive insulin response. Typically protein and/or vegetables with a bright colour will give your body the nutrients it needs without the sugar crash. What’s more, these increase satiety for longer. This means the appetite centres in your brain don’t have to try and fool you with symptoms of low blood sugar to make you eat more. If you can avoid rapid changes in blood sugar or hunger then your brain will be allowed to work optimally for longer periods of time.”
Go for blueberries
Tough day at work ahead, or a test perhaps? Munching blueberries in the morning can keep you firing on all cylinders for hours. Researchers from Reading University found that those who drank a blueberry smoothie for breakfast had higher concentration levels and performed better in memory tests that afternoon than the control group. It’s thought that the powerful antioxidants in this superfood encourage blood flow and oxygen to your brain, keeping your head fresh. They can also prevent cell damage from oxidative stress in your brain and throughout your body.
Eat your greens
Upping your intake of veg is one step towards a healthy bod, and your mind stands to benefit too. Particularly broccoli and other brassica vegetables, which are rich in phytochemicals. These little powerhouses offer protection against age related diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and strokes, according to research from the University of Bologna. Apparently, the clever compounds slow the breakdown of key neurotransmitters vital for the health of your central nervous system, and keep your mind sharp. We love purple sprouting broccoli and Tenderstem, which go with just about any meat or fish dish – or why not make them the star of the show with a cheesy pasta sauce?
Here are some other things you can do to keep your head clear
Get some scents: according to folklore, rosemary can boost brain power and recent research from Northumbria University backs this up. In the study, classroom students performed better in memory tests when they worked while enjoying the aroma of rosemary oil, but it could also be worth adding the herb to your cooking.
Move your body: regular exercise slows down the mental ageing process and helps us digest and sort information faster, says research published in the journal Comprehensive Physiology. And a healthy diet is thought to increase the brain benefits of working out even more.
Feel the love: a healthy sex life can keep your grey matter sharp. Researchers from Coventry University found that regular bedroom action improved vocabulary and visual awareness in the over-50s. It’s thought that the feel-good chemicals released during lovemaking stimulate more than the obvious areas – parts of the brain linked with learning, too.