Your brain is an amazing organ that is more powerful than any computer. It only weighs about three pounds. Yet it uses 20 percent of your body’s oxygen and 25 percent of its sugar or glucose resources, according to the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. Diet has played a critical role in its development to the super machine it is today.

Back before humans became humans, brain size increased dramatically. Development of cooking skills and access to food helped fuel the way for evolution to bring us where we are today. It has become more efficient that it’s even getting smaller. We have our diet to thank for that change. So, it makes sense we want to give our brains the best nutrition we can.

The Importance of Diet

Scientists know that what we eat has a profound impact on our health and lifespan. After all, it provides the building blocks for everything we are and can do. But humans are complicated creatures. It’s taken decades of research to find out what makes us tick. It turns out that the best diet includes a variety of food groups. There are also certain amounts we should try to consume.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) provides some fact-based answers. Researchers identified several foods that can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. These are the first and fifth leading causes of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Let’s look at what you should include in a healthy diet.

Nuts

brain foods and nutsNuts are a rich source of so many essential vitamins and minerals that support brain health such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Magnesium alone support over 300 chemical reactions in the human body. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified several of these nutrients as ones that both children and adults are lacking.

These recommendations were supported in the JAMA study. The scientists followed the participants and their food consumption over 10 years. They found that individuals who ate less than five one-ounce servings of nuts each week had a greater risk of disease. How many more delicious ways can you find to improve your health?

So, get your snack on with almonds, walnuts, and pecans. Try a variety of nuts. But watch the sodium levels. The researchers also found an increase in blood pressure and brain health risks with too much salt in the participants’ diet. Try to keep it under 2,000g a day to keep your heart healthy. And beware of additives like sugar which provide no nutritional value.

Omega-3 Rich Fish

Fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of dietary omega-3 fatty acids especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They keep your brain healthy by providing the raw materials your body needs for nerve cells and brain structure. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week. Fish sticks don’t count.

Fish offers a better dietary source of protein than others such as red meat. It also contains healthier unsaturated fats than the saturated ones found in beef. But you don’t need to give up your steak dinner. Just try to keep your consumption at less than four ounces per week. Explore other protein sources like fish the rest of the time.

Whole Grains

Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat are high-quality sources of dietary fiber. They help your body eliminate bad cholesterol (LDL) from your diet. High levels can increase your risk of stroke. The JAMA researchers found that 4 ½ ounces a day was ideal to decrease your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Enjoy a variety of whole grains in your weekly diet.

Notice we said brown and not white rice. The good stuff is in the unrefined grain. The same thing applies to white bread. They fall more in the category of nutrient-deficient foods with empty calories because of their low health value. Besides, whole grains will leave you feeling sated longer because it’ll take your body more time to digest them.

Beans

Brain foods and beansThe scientists also found compelling evidence that suggests beans and legumes are essential too for good health. Think peas, lentils, and kidney beans. If you’re a vegetarian, they’re an excellent source of protein. They also provide iron, calcium, and zinc. They’re low in fat and won’t cause your blood sugar to spike if you eat them.

Aim for about one to three servings per day. With so many delicious options, you’ll have no problem including this healthy food in your diet. Just be careful about hidden sources of fat such as lard in refried beans and high sugar content in dishes like baked beans.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables provide your brain with high-quality sources of sugar to keep it fueled. A diet with adequate amounts will help prevent strokes and heart disease. It’s best to consume a wide variety of produce. No one fruit or vegetable provides all the nutrients you need. Besides, it’s more fun and tasty to mix and match your choices.

Your diet should include plenty of these healthy choices. Ideally, you’ll get 10 ounces of fruits and 14 ounces of vegetables, split over multiple servings. But skip the juices. First, they contain too much sugar and too many calories. That can lead to weight gain which is a risk factor for many diseases that affect the brain.

Second, you miss out on the other good stuff that fruits and vegetables provide like fiber. After all, it makes sense to get all the nutrition you can from eating them. But watch the sodium and fat. A serving of peas slathered in butter may sound good, but only if your keep the saturated fats in moderation.

Good nutrition supports brain health by providing the vitamins and minerals it needs for optimal functioning. You’ll ensure that it has enough energy and nutrients to manage everyday events and to respond to threats. There are so many tasty ways to keep your brain performing at its best. It’s the best health insurance that you can buy.

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