Nutrition for a Healthy Brain

food May 20, 2021
Tasty chicken salad with dessert and juice
Photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade / Unsplash

Food is not drugs, but it can possibly, over the lifetime of consumption, alter the development of certain diseases.”

An adult Human Brain on average weighs 2% of their body weight and it has soft, delicate and gelatinous tissue which is made up of 100 billion of nerve cells. Each cell needs a constant supply of oxygen and glucose and all these cells consume 20% of the energy produced by the body.

Brain has 3 main parts namely, fore brain, mid brain and hind brain.
Fore brain is the largest part and it has 4 lobes.

Frontal lobe – associated with Cognition or intellect, reasoning, translation of perceptions and memories into plans of muscle movement, expression of emotions, will power and problem solving.
Parietal lobe – associated with movement, orientation, recognition and Sensory perception of touch, pain, heat and cold,
Temporal lobe - associated with decoding and interpretation of sound, memory, and speech
Occipital lobe - associated with visual processing

Mid brain is the centre for sense of sight, hearing, eye movement, and body movement.

Hind brain is the centre for sleep, maintains muscle tone, posture and equilibrium.

What is the relation between the food we eat and our brain functions?

To maintain balanced energy levels, regular intake of food is necessary. Of course, not all, but some foods are particularly good for our brain, and they are consumed as a part of balanced diet.

Minor changes in our eating habits can lead to major changes in our health. What we eat not only affects our day- to-day health but also helps to determine the quality of our life and even how long we will live. The brain requires energy produced by the body to carry out its normal functions. This energy comes from the food we eat. If brain does not get sufficient energy supply, people may suffer from a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, memory problems and concentration problems.

When we eat food, it enters the gut and stimulates the gut hormones to be released into the gut. They enter the brain and influence the cognitive ability.

What type of food is needed to maintain a healthy brain?

All foods contain different levels of nutrients, but no single food can provide all the nutrients our bodies need, in right amounts.

Some foods are better for our brain because they are rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins and minerals. They provide energy and help in protecting the brain against brain diseases. By eating a variety of foods in sensible proportions we can obtain optimum levels of every nutrient needed to maintain good health.  So, nutritious foods benefit the brain by keeping it healthy.

There are few diseases that diet cannot help to prevent, cure or at least make more bearable.

Nutritional needs vary individually, depending on a variety of factors including age, sex, metabolic rate, physical activity and state of health.
To maintain health and efficient function of brain, a balanced diet is needed. If a balanced diet is followed as part of a healthy lifestyle, it will reduce the risk of many serious conditions and also helps to manage neurological problems.

A balanced diet consists of six daily servings of complex carbohydrates, five servings of fruit or vegetables, two servings of milk or yoghurt and 15-25g of fats and oils.

Complex carbohydrates are found in starchy foods like wholegrain bread, brown rice, potatoes, cereals and whole wheat pasta. They release energy slowly and help the brain to function in stable way. To maintain the health of the brain and mental performance, wholegrain foods like whole meal bread should be used instead of refined forms like white bread.

Photo by ABHISHEK HAJARE / Unsplash

Proteins are found in milk, oats and other foods like oily fish, eggs and meat.
Our mental abilities and our moods are regulated by neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids which are the functional units of proteins. Neurotransmitter like serotonin is important for sleep and it is made from the amino acid tryptophan. As our mood depends upon the food we eat, for a good night’s sleep, food or drink rich in tryptophan such as milk should be taken before going to bed.

60% of the dry weight of the brain contains fat and a fifth of this fat is made from good fatty acids i.e., the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.

Foods containing good fatty acids are nuts, seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts. They can reduce the risk of both depression and dementia. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in poultry, eggs, avocado and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, seeds, especially flax seeds, and nuts, especially walnuts. For non-fish lovers, Fish oil supplements (up to 1,000 mg per day) are a good substitute.

Sardinhas assadas
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Green leafy vegetables like Kale, broccoli, spinach and others are rich in nutrients essential for brain health. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, other deep-coloured fruits and vegetables like strawberries, beetroot, beans contain antioxidants which slow aging in the brain and protect body and brain cells from damage and diseases.

Vitamins and minerals are important for the proper functioning of brain and to carry out vigorous and energetic tasks.  Vitamin or mineral deficiency can affect brain functions which in turn affects our mood.

For the healthy functioning of the nervous system, B complex Vitamins such as folate and B12 are required. A deficiency in either of these vitamins can cause a wide range of problems such as memory loss, fatigue, muscle weakness, psychological problems and mouth ulcers.

Vitamins B, D and E are found in eggs and egg yolks and they help to improve memory. A combination of vitamins C (500 mg) and E (400 international units) have a potential benefit to brain health.

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants. They increase the blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation.
One of the world’s most popular beverages, Coffee, (up to three cups of black coffee a day) improves memory and decreases the risk of dementia.
Black and green teas contain antioxidants which help in boosting the brain functions.

The essentials of a good conversation.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

A Mediterranean diet may help to decrease the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and also to maintain cognitive functioning in old age. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by high consumption of extra virgin olive oil rather than other fats, high intake of fish, high intake of fruit, vegetables, cereals and legumes, moderate intake of alcohol (usually red wine), low intake of meat (in particular, red meat), low to moderate intake of dairy products

Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash

Red wine and the skin of red grapes contain Resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant which reduces cell damage associated with aging and may protect the brain from the formation of damaging plaques in the brain. But the red wine should be taken in moderate i.e., daily one glass for women and two for men. In the case of non-wine drinkers red grape juice is recommended.
Many herbs and spices – such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger contain antioxidants that may decrease harmful inflammation in the brain.

Foods with negative effects on brain are

Readymade foods like cakes and biscuits are not good for brain health. They contain ‘Hydrogenated fats ‘or Trans fats which are bad fats.
Foods that contain Hydrogenated fats or oils also should be avoided. Hydrogenated fats do not allow essential fatty acids to function properly,
Eating foods high in saturated fats, like red meat, butter and dairy products should be avoided. They are associated with the development of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

To achieve a well-balanced, healthy diet for the proper functioning of brain, the recommendations offered by Health authorities are to be followed. They are:
Eating regularly and enjoying the meals and snacks. But remember that both snacks and meals count towards the balance.
Eating enough food to maintain a healthy weight
Eating a wide variety of foods
Ensuring to get plenty of vitamins and minerals in the food
Avoiding too much fat food
Limiting the intake of sweets, salt, sugar, trans fats and alcohol
Avoiding processed foods.

Food supplements are no substitute for good eating habits


A. Sandhya

M.Sc Zoology

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