Reverse Your Brain Age in 9 Easy Steps | Healthy Diet

Reverse Your Brain Age in 9 Easy Steps

Ever noticed that your memory isn’t quite what it was? There are steps you can take to help your powers of recall. Anna Blewett shows you how…


Healthy Diet

By Healthy Diet

Reverse Your Brain Age in 9 Easy Steps

Eat a wide range of fresh fruit

A clinical review published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that ‘flavonoids’ – a group of plant nutrients (or ‘phytonutrients’) naturally occurring in bright berries, orchard fruit and citrus fruit – have a protective effect on brain function and may even reverse deteriorations in memory. Researchers from the University of Reading collating existing research papers which stated that complex interactions in the brain were significantly impacted by flavonoids, benefitting the cell ‘architecture’ crucial for the storage, processing and retrieval of memory. They concluded that the effects of the flavonoids helped to protect those brains studied from age-related deterioration slowing the natural decline in the brains’ processing power.

Cut down on sweet treats

“Keeping inflammation in check is probably one of the most important things you can do to preserve your brain health and cognition,” says registered nutritional therapist Karen Alexander (
“Reduce your sugar intake and remove refined sugar from your meals and
snacks. Sugar can drive inflammation in the body and should be replaced by healthy sources of protein, fat and slow-release carbohydrates such as oats
and buckwheat. Don’t be fooled by the many ‘health’ foods on the market that
often contain ingredients to replace the refined sugar. Dates, honey and maple
syrup are still sugar and should be kept to a minimum.”

Look after your gut

If you think brain and bowel are unconnected, think again! A growing body of research links our brain’s intricate functions with the health of our digestive system. “The gut, also known as the second brain, and is where many neurotransmitters and hormones are made that then travel to the brain,” explains Karen. “An overwhelming amount of evidence shows that beneficial gut bacteria supports positive mood, emotional well-being and cognition. Therefore avoiding or reducing some substances and increasing others alongside healthy lifestyle changes could increase your good bacteria and provide excellent benefits.” Choosing a varied diet of high-fibre foods (fresh fruit and veg and wholegrains, for example), plus ‘probiotic’ foods such as live yoghurt, kefir, and unpasturised fermented products, has been shown to benefit the ‘microbiome’  of good bacteria that live in your gut.

Shun ‘low fat’ products

If you’re trying to keep your weight in check – a sensible move given the links between obesity and a whole range of life shortening diseases and conditions – you might be choosing low-fat products in the supermarket aisles. Bad idea, says Karen. “Low fat diets are best avoided as they lead us to opt for higher sugar options that have been highly processed to have the fat removed. Fat is hugely beneficial for the gut and the brain so make sure you get your fats from a variety of healthy sources such avocado, organic free-range eggs, grass-fed meat, wild caught fish, nuts and seeds, cold-pressed oils such as hemp, flax and olive oil and olives.”

Get a little ‘Med’ into your meals

Is there anything the Mediterranean diet can’t do?! Long hailed for its protective effect on heart health, this healthy way of eating has also impressed nutritionists with its benefits for cognitive health. In fact, a clinical review conducted in 2016 rubber stamped the benefits of this high-fibre, low sugar diet with its emphasis on olive oil, oily fish and fresh veg. Studies show that memory is particularly improved, with different elements of recall, long-term and working memory boosted by a spell adhering to an Mediterranean eating plan. Want to Med up your own diet? Reduce red meat and dairy to rare treats; make sure you’re getting a wide range of leafy greens, legumes, beans and pulses and nuts; and switch to olive oil as your main fat source.

Eat more oily fish

We all roughly know that oily fish is ‘good for the brain’ but contradictory research findings cast doubt on whether Omega-3 supplements, often taken in the form of fish oil capsules, make any difference to cognition, especially in older adults. Eating foods naturally rich in fatty acids, however, does show promising results, though experts agree more research is needed. To up your intake opt for fresh anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon, and sprinkle a variety of seeds – flax, chia and hemp – onto salads and cereals. Clinical trials involving walnuts suggests that this nut, another source of omega 3, is also a strong ally in slowing cognitive decline.

Consider your gluten intake

As we’ve seen, links between what we eat and how our brain functions can be surprising and complex. And while healthy wholegrains or wholemeal products bring essential fibre to our diet, Karen believes there’s an argument for keeping a careful eye on the bread, pasta and other carbs we eat – particularly if they form the base of most of your meals. “Gluten can often cause inflammation in the gut which in turn can cause problems in the brain for some individuals,” Karen suggests. “You can be sensitive to gluten without being coeliac so reducing gluten can be useful for many.” Gluten is found in wheat (including varieties and derivatives such as spelt, semolina and durum), rye, barley and some products used in food production so check labels if you’re looking to reduce your intake.

Switch your regular brew

Tea is a rich source of flavonoids, so if you enjoy regular brews keep up the
good work! However, while the standard British favourite of black tea with milk will provide you with this important nutrient, switching up to green tea
could make a real difference. That’s because this un-oxydised (and therefore pigment-retaining) tea is an especially
good source of catechins – powerful anti-oxidants that help stop oxidative
damage to cells. Herbal teas could also bring benefits, with research from the
University of Northumbria finding that peppermint tea improved cognition, and
helped to improve long-term memory. Rosemary tea also had a beneficial impact on memory, with camomile
and lavender actually decreasing participants’ powers of recall.

Seek out Vitamin K

No matter how your memory is fading, you can probably still remember being nagged to “eat your greens!” as a child! Actually your parents were onto something; research shows that older adults with high levels of vitamin K in their bloodstream had better ‘episodic memory’ than those with lower levels. This is significant, because it is this element of memory that causes many of us the most frustration. It allows us to timeline our activities in a correct order, helping us retrace our steps and reconstruct recent events. If you spend an inordinate amount of time looking for your keys/glasses/ wallet you may want to up your intake of dark leafy greens such as kale, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Our expert
Karen Alexander is a nutritional therapist with an MSc in personalised nutrition, and is based in Farnham, Surrey.