Food fuels our bodies, but also our brains.
The right foods, eaten in the right ways, can help our brains do their thing - to improve mood, get better sleep, concentrate better, and prevent age-related decline.
This is about affordable, everyday foods.
Rather than looking at expensive supplements (which might be handy too), we'll be focusing on the wonders of real, straightforward food. It's about easy to eat, nutritious, accessible food - not complicated meal plans, and definitely not restrictions, rules, or going without.
There's always a story.
Nutrition needs demystifying. The last thing anyone wants is to blindly memorise another list of foods to never/always eat. Understanding why and how foods do what they do means we can be deliberate about our choices rather than mindlessly following a fad.
#mood #anxiety #concentration #memory #anti-ageing
This won't be the first time you'll have heard how absurdly healthy green tea is.
It's basically the only natural source of L-Theanine.
L-Theanine is still being studied, but what does seem clear is that it is psychoactive - which means it can cross the blood-brain barrier to go direct to your brain. And when it gets there, it increases the amount of serotonin available.
Extra good news - it also increases dopamine and GABA. This means your synapses calm down a bit and stop firing willy nilly and making you feel anxious. Hurrah!
Plus it's a powerful, brain-cell protecting anti-oxidant.
All of this means that green tea is good not just for boosting mood - it's also particularly good at stress-reducing, concentration-enhancing, memory-improving, and protecting against long-term cell damage.
2-3 cups a day is enough to make a difference - ideally before 4pm (there's also some caffeine in there).
#mood #memory #anti-ageing
There's a reason ginger has been used as a medicinal spice for 5000 years.
Firstly - it contains curcumin, like its powerful cousin turmeric. Curcumin helps boost neurotransmitters but is also one of the world's best known anti-inflammatory compounds.
It also contains two particularly useful antioxidants - gingerols and shaogals - which protect brain cells from all the free radicals that float around inflaming and upsetting them.
Plus, it supports the brain's 'rubbish collectors' - the little guys (called glial cells) that race around cleaning up toxins that collect in brain cells.
It's easy to include in food - add it to hot water (maybe with lemon and honey) to make tea; chuck it in smoothies and juices; or cook with it in stir-fries, stews etc.
Our bodies make serotonin out of tryptophan. But the tryptophan in food we eat gets crowded out by the bigger, bulkier proteins that exist in all tryptophan-rich foods, and don't get to enter the bloodstream. It's a bit of a Catch 22.
Enter carbs. Having an intake of pure carbs a little while after eating tryptophan (nuts, meat, eggs etc) gives the tryptophan a chance to enter the bloodstream and work its magic, without all the other big hulking proteins getting in the way.
You could eat a bowl of Haribo, a slice of white bread or a plate of plain pasta. But we all know refined sugars are for losers. My solution: tea with lemon and a huge dollop of honey before bed (a good time to help with the sleep cycle). Especially as honey also has anti-inflammatory properties that protect cells and make your brain happy.
Good levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are associated with better, more stable mood. But serotonin boosting foods are not those rich in serotonin. Bummer. You can eat as much serotonin as you like (e.g. from bananas and pineapples) but it won't cross the blood-brain barrier. The key is to help the body and brain produce its own.
Brazil nuts are a source of B-vitamins, which help your body make serotonin. B6 in particular helps convert all the tryptophan you eat into serotonin. Other sources of B-vitamins include: seeds, pretty much all nuts, meat, fish and avocados.
They are the richest food source of selenium - an antioxidant chemical that has been strongly associated with mood, and which most of us are deficient in. It's not known exactly why, but we should eat more selenium if we want to feel good. (But not too much - five Brazil nuts a day is plenty).
#mood #sleep #memory #anti-ageing
Turmeric is an Indian root related to ginger. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is an absolute wonder for the brain. The science behind this stuff is epic.
Curcumin regulates the levels of serotonin (and also dopamine) in our brains, by putting a stop to the enzymes which break down these precious neurotransmitters - giving them freedom to run our our brain making us feel good, stay motivated, and sleep well.
It's also a brilliant anti-inflammatory that keeps brain cells calm and happy, and promotes the growth of nerve cells. Awesome for memory.
It's best eaten with black pepper, which makes it easily absorbable. Perfect in a curry or stew, and also easily disguised in a breakfast smoothie.
Fresh (as pictured) is great, but dried is good too.
You can't absorb serotonin directly from food - but you can absorb its building blocks, tryptophan, so your body/brain can make its own serotonin.
Eggs are packed with tryptophan - as are poultry, nuts, dairy, fish and oats.
It's important to eat enough tryptophan, but it's also important to bear in mind when/how you eat it to make sure it has an impact - more on that to come. But basically, eat your eggs.
Especially as they also contain the ever elusive vitamin D, which is closely linked to mood disorders.
#mood #stress #anxiety
This is the quickest, easiest way I've come across to eat the glory that is fermented food.
Fermented food has become fashionable recently because it has amazing abilities to rebalance our gut bacteria, which sorts out all manner of woes. Our brain and gut speak to each other constantly - which is why food is so powerful for mental health. Happy gut, happy brain.
There's a special serotonin superpower going on here as well. Too much 'bad bacteria' in the gut creates toxic byproducts, which are horrible for the brain and actively disrupt the production of serotonin (amongst other good things like dopamine). Nightmare.
Miso is easy and cheap, and is also an amazing way to incorporate seaweed (there's a little wakame hidden in this bowl). Get the 'barley' version (it'll say it on the label) for a dose of phosphatidylserine, which reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Alternatives include: kefir, sauerkraut / kimchi, probiotic yogurt (avoid sugary, flavoured ones) and good quality soy sauce.
#memory #mood #anti-ageing
Enough people bang on about omega-3s and omega-6s for us to know we should eat more of them. These are the famous 'good fats'. They're called 'essential' fatty acids because they're only available to us through food.
I first learned how important these fats are for the brain when investigating nutrition for brain cell health & longevity (e.g. protecting against cognitive decline and Alzheimer's). Especially omega-3 - which our brain cells are literally built out of.
It's kind of obvious that the health of our brain cells is closely linked to our ability to regulate mood. A healthy brain is a happy brain.
Omega-3 is the key to transporting serotonin around the brain and making it super-accessible to our synapses. Having lots of serotonin available is one thing - being able to use it is another.
Other good sources are: wild salmon, flax seed oil, walnuts, soybeans and chia seeds.
Buckwheat is a seed, which looks like a grain (and contrary to its name, has nothing to do with wheat or gluten). An easy, cheap stand-in for pasta and rice, but with way more good stuff in it - like tryptophan, which serotonin is made from. Anti-depressants work by making serotonin available in the brain - but it's possible to do this in various ways through food.
Buckwheat's balance of proteins and carbs make it a more readily absorbable source of tryptophan than other protein foods. Plus it's full of B Vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folic acid) which help your body convert tryptophan to serotonin, and regulate its levels in the brain.
Plus it's a source of both calcium and magnesium, which serotonin production is dependent on.
Other good options are quinoa, millet and amaranth.
#mood #stress #concentration #anti-ageing
The stuff that makes sweet potatoes orange is called anthocyanin - which is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytonutrient that's also found in all those 'superfood' berries. It damps down the chemicals which activate the inflammatory response, so protects cells from ever getting angry.
They also help regulate your insulin levels (as they contain adiponectin), which is super important: too much insulin causes cells to become inflamed, which ages them.
Perhaps most importantly, sweet potatoes are an easy alternative to their inflammatory nemesis: the white potato. White potatoes are part of the 'nightshade' family which contain nasty stuff called solanine. (Other nightshades are tomatoes, aubergines and peppers).
If there's one herb to always have in the house, it's this one.
It's full of Vitamin C (way more than oranges) - which is known to directly reduce levels of a particularly nasty inflammatory protein called CRP.
Parsley is also rich in antioxidant flavonoids, which run around neutralising floating free radicals so they can't damage cells.
An added bonus: there are oils in parsley that have been found to be incredible warriors against particular common carcinogens.
#mood #anxiety #concentration
Cocoa is the holy grail of food for a happy brain. Firstly, it's anti-inflammatory. It helps make sure that the right amount of cell-calming-down is going on. Kind of like being the organiser of a really efficient team of firefighters.
Aside from being anti-inflammatory, cocoa also contains: flavonols, which increase blood flow to the brain and are wonderful anti-oxidants that mop up nasty brain-cell-upsetting free radicals; anandamide, otherwise known as the 'bliss chemical'; magnesium, which directly improves the performances of synapses, so information can move more freely around the brain; theobromine, which is a gentle brain stimulant - longer lasting and without the high and crash of caffeine.
Important: a bar of Dairy Milk doesn't count. The darker the better, and raw is gold. Pictured are cocoa nibs, which are as good as it gets - no dairy or sugar to cancel out the good stuff.
#anti-ageing #memory #mood
Rice, but not as we know it.
Black rice was called 'forbidden rice' by noblemen in ancient Chinese culture, because it was so precious. And with good reason.
The same stuff that makes it black also means it's full of anti-oxidants (called anthocyanin). The same stuff that's in blueberries, but more of it (and less sugar). Hurrah!
Anthocyanin keeps brain cells calm and un-inflamed, especially in the brain. Studies have found that black rice can slow down mental ageing and improve memory.
A world away from its nemesis, white rice - which is definitely to be avoided (because it sends insulin spiking through the roof, making cells knackered and very unhappy).
Linseeds / flaxseeds
#anti-ageing #memory #mood
For the brain, the magic of linseeds lies in their epic omega-3s. Our brain cells are literally built out of this stuff. So it's not surprising that scientists have linked omega-3 deficiency with memory loss and depression.
The big issue is that we all tend to eat lots of omega-6 fats (found in cheap vegetable oils), which are *pro* inflammatory. The easiest way to redress the balance is to eat more omega-3s which are *anti* inflammatory.
Different foods have different balances of omega-3 and -6. Linseeds (and linseed oil) stand out because they have such a huge ratio of 3, and not much 6.
Other foods to maximise your 3s and minimise your 6s include: grass-fed beef, mackerel (see previous post), wild salmon and chia seeds.
A little about me.
Hi, my name's Becca.
I've been researching and bio-hacking my way to better understanding how food can influence my brain. It's changed my life, and I'm excited to share what I've learned with other people who want to make their brains happier.
The information on this website is based on personal research only, and should never, ever be used to replace the advice of trained health professionals or in place of prescribed medication.