School clothes, backpacks, school supplies—all are important when heading back to school. But don’t forget about diet. It’s just as important. In fact, the brain has certain foods that it simply loves.
“The brain is a highly active organ that needs a lot of blood, a lot of oxygen and a lot of nutrients,” says Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore. He recommends a Mediterranean-style diet that includes fish, plenty of fresh veggies and healthy fats and is packed with B vitamins and vitamins C, D and E. (By the way, nuts and seeds—walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, flaxseed and more—are great sources of vitamin E as well as protein and some healthy fats.)
Likewise, keeping a healthy weight is important for brain health. Obesity harms the brain by reducing blood flow, increasing sleep apnea and being associated with a smaller-sized brain, which can affect short-term memory and risk of dementia.
Also, Fotuhi says to avoid trans fats at all costs. They’re linked to smaller brain size and reduced brain function. On the other hand, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is important for the repair and maintenance of brain cells. Studies point to DHA supporting a healthy memory, learning ability and cognitive performance, while lower levels of DHA are associated with smaller brain size, increased risk for Alzheimer’s and possible behavior issues in children and adolescents. Wild salmon, sardines, herring, nuts and seeds—including chia seed and flaxseed—are all packed with brain-healthy omega-3s.
Blueberries, spinach and possibly quinoa can also support a healthy brain, says Fotuhi. And speaking of blueberries. . . Steven Pratt, M.D., on staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California, calls blueberries “brainberries,” citing that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress.
And let’s not forget about avocados. They contain monounsaturated fat, which supports healthy blood flow, and healthy blood flow leads to a healthy brain.
Pomegranate juice—as well as colorful veggies and fruits—is also healthy for the brain, since it provides potent antioxidant benefits, protecting the brain from damaging free radicals. David Perlmutter, M.D., board-certified neurologist, says, “Probably no part of the body is more sensitive to the damage of free radicals as the brain.”
And this is a happy brain-healthy food: dark chocolate—in moderation, of course. It, too, contains powerful antioxidant properties as well as some naturally energizing components, including some caffeine, which supports focus and concentration and stimulates the production of endorphins to help support a healthy mood.
Here’s to a great school year and a healthy back-to-school brain with these brain foods—all organic, of course.