Food for thought (and body): five nutrition foods
Too often, we let convenience or calories dictate our meal choices, but neglect to consider the effect of the food – good or bad – on our brain and body.
Given that a healthy diet is a prerequisite to a sharp mind and body, reprioritising our food choices is essential.
We are, however, constantly bombarded with health and diet-related claims. A quick search of healthy eating on the internet returns several results, pushing new fad-diets, fad-foods, and fad-nutrients. In essence, the concept of a healthy diet has been overcomplicated.
Two simple guidelines
The culinary world is a colourful place, and, according to science, your diet should be, too (ref 1). To obtain the full spectrum of nutrients required by the body and mind, eat a wide range of lean meats, vegetables and fruit, unsaturated fats, low GI whole grains, and some seafood.
The best foods are real food – artificial colouring is not part of the diet rainbow (ref 2). Think: non-processed, non-refined, wild (line-caught if fish), free-range, and from the earth.
There are dozens of healthy foods out there with no single food providing a dietary solution, but knowing a few of the ‘goodies’ can help inspire extra motivation to eat them.
To get your think tanks firing, here are five foods (or groups of foods), that offer a nutritional-bang for your buck.
Oats are a rich source of soluble fibre, insoluble fibre oat β-glucan, phosphorus, thiamine, magnesium, zinc.
Oat β-glucan rids bad-cholesterols from the body by clinging to them in the gut (low-density lipoprotein cholesterols). The body does not absorb any bound-to cholesterol molecule so are chaperoned to the exit by β-glucan.
An extensive collection of research over the past two decades indicates that 3g of β-glucan a day – 3/4 a cup of raw rolled oats – can reduce levels of bad cholesterol by 5-10%, which may lower the risk of heart-related diseases (ref 3).
β-glucan may regulate blood sugar levels, so are an excellent choice for both diabetes and weight management (ref 4). There is also strong evidence that B-glucan is a crucial player in immune support (ref 5).
Rainbow trout, similar to salmon, rich in omega-3 (ref 6).
Omega-3 is your brain’s best friend because they may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The three omega’s – EPA and DPA, and DHA – are integral to brain development and form a large part of the protective wall around brain cells. Research also suggests they may help our mental health due to their action in mood regulation pathways. Omega3 compounds are at the heart of anti-inflammatory pathways so may also help to prevent the onset of inflammatory-related chronic illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer (ref 7, 8).
Rainbow trout have pushed our native trout into endangerment following their introduction to our lakes. Choosing trout over other oily fish could also help our lakes, as well as to your brain.
Farmed king salmon and New Zealand green-lipped mussel are two other delicious and sustainable sources of omega-3.
Almonds are rich in fibre, magnesium, calcium, riboflavin, potassium, and vitamin E, and have the highest fibre count of all the nuts.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, possibly capable of reducing the risk of chronic illnesses, such as liver disease and coronary artery disease. Scientists have demonstrated vitamin E’s capacity to destroy free radicals in both test-tube and animal subjects before they destroy biological cells.
Vitamin E is another nutrient that may help to boost brain function and prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, as well as reduce cholesterol levels (ref 9, 10).
Almonds are a plant-based source of omega-3; however, it’s important to note that plant foods are a low-grade omega-3 source.
Overall, nuts are a nutritious bunch but have a high (good) fat content, so shouldn’t be overindulged in.
Broccoli contains several essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and folate, and phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are a group of compounds made by plants, for plants, which act as their immune system. Lignans are the first group of phytonutrients found in broccoli and have oestrogen-like properties. Research has linked higher lignan levels to lower rates of endometrial and ovarian cancers (ref 11).
The second group are flavonoids, which may lower the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and lengthen your lifespan. Researchers have identified a relationship between flavonoids and overall longevity.
Broccoli can be a rich source of Vitamin C – another powerful antioxidant – as long as it is freshly cut.
Antioxidants are all about teamwork and need each other for biological action. Without vitamin C, vitamin E is rendered ineffective as an antioxidant, which is a strong point in our case to eat broadly within specific food groups (ref 9).
OK, so water isn’t a food. But it is the essence of life and central to nutritional pathways, so well worth a mention in the context of brain and body health. Water is fundamental to nutrient transport, absorption, and assimilation, and is a medium for chemical reactions and processing of nutrients (ref 12).
The recommended intake of water is around 8 cups a day, for women and men, respectively.
For those who struggle to drink water in winter, drink plenty of weak tea instead. Green and black teas have the potential to be another cholesterol-buster and contain L-theanine, caffeine and catechins, which may have neuroprotective properties (ref 13).
Fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and celery, have high water content, which is another good reason to add them to your plate.
Let’s remember the human body is incredible, as are the interactions between nutrients and compounds that make up biological pathways and systems.
Variety is the key to dietary success. Eat broadly among real and nutritious foods to keep your brain and body on point.
Harvard Health Publishing. Healthy eating plate. 2011. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/plate/healthy-eating-plate
Spritzler, F. 21 reasons to eat real food 2019 Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/21-reasons-to-eat-real-food
Sima, P, Vannucci, L and Vetvicka, V. 2018. β-glucans and cholesterol (Review), International Journal of Molecular Medicine, 41(4): 1799–1808 doi:10.3892/ijmm.2018.3411
Harvard Chan. T. H. The nutrition source. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/oats/
BBC. The world’s most nutritious foods. 2019. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180126-the-100-most-nutritious-foods
Dyall Simon C. 2015. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7: 52 doi:10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052
Wall R1, Ross RP, Fitzgerald GF, Stanton C. 2010. Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid Nutr Rev. 2010, 68(5):280-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00287.x.
Niki E. 2015. Evidence for beneficial effects of vitamin E. The Korean journal of internal medicine, 30(5), 571–579. doi:10.3904/kjim.2015.30.5.571
La Fata, G., Weber, P., & Mohajeri, M. H. 2014. Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during ageing and in Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrients, 6(12), 5453–5472. doi:10.3390/nu6125453
Szalay, J. What are phytonutrients? 2015 Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/52541-phytonutrients.html
Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. 2010. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews, 68(8), 439–458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
Collins, C. Health Check: five must-have foods for your shopping trolley. 2014. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/health-check-five-must-have-foods-for-your-shopping-trolley-25265