5 Insights on Enhancing Brain Health Learned This Week

   When enhancing our health, the typical focus might be hitting the gym or consuming kale smoothies. However, it's crucial to broaden our perspective. Our brain function is a significant indicator of overall well-being, and maintaining cognitive sharpness is essential for enjoying life to the fullest. After all, that's what true health is about.

In recent discoveries, scientists unveiled remarkable insights that we can readily incorporate into our lives today.

Avoid consuming fatty meals.

Had a stressful workday? Before reaching for that croissant, think again. A study published in Frontiers in Nutrition and Nutrients suggests that foods high in fat can have negative effects on the brain. Researchers at the University of Birmingham had healthy adults consume two butter croissants for breakfast, followed by engaging in challenging mental math tasks. The results showed decreased oxygen flow to the prefrontal cortex, the brain region involved in decision-making and emotions.

In essence, consuming foods high in fat can impact mood, mental health, and brain function, with a more pronounced effect under high-stress conditions. This study aligns with previous research, such as a 2020 study from Ohio State University published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The latter found that women who ate fatty meals for breakfast had difficulty concentrating on tasks.

So, as tempting as that Krispy Kreme donut may be, opting for a more balanced breakfast—especially if you have demanding tasks ahead—is advised. Experts recommend focusing on a mix of protein and carbohydrates to maintain focus and sustained energy levels.

STOP...skipping breakfast and eating inflammatory foods

For those who habitually rush out the door without grabbing a bite, it's time to reevaluate the significance of what's often hailed as the most important meal of the day. A recent study involving over 21,000 adults, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, suggests a higher likelihood of depressive symptoms in individuals who skip breakfast.

This research adds to the growing body of evidence emphasizing the benefits of eating a balanced breakfast within two hours of waking up. Prior studies have indicated that such a habit aids in maintaining a healthy weight, regulating blood sugar, and even enhancing cognitive function.

The latest findings also highlight a connection between consuming more inflammatory foods throughout the day and an increased likelihood of developing depressive symptoms. Inflammatory foods include items like chargrilled meats, sugary or fried foods, and highly refined carbs such as cookies and crackers.

To counter this, experts recommend replacing inflammatory foods with those known to fight inflammation. This includes incorporating berries, fatty fish, olive oil, turmeric, avocado, and nuts into your diet. Even better, try including these inflammation-fighting foods in the breakfast you might have otherwise skipped.

TAKE ... cocoa supplements

Can taking a cocoa supplement actually benefit your brain? Yes, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and the impact is even more pronounced for those with an overall poor-quality diet.

Cocoa, a key component in chocolate, has been the subject of previous studies exploring its potential cognitive benefits. A 2016 study in the journal Appetite found a positive association between chocolate intake and enhanced brain performance. Additionally, a 2019 analysis published in Frontiers in Nutrition suggested that chocolate may contribute to protecting the brain from cognitive decline.

While the recent study focused on cocoa supplements, the brain-boosting effects can also be derived from consuming chocolate, especially varieties with high cocoa content, such as dark chocolate. It's worth noting that indulging in chocolate cake may not be the best strategy due to its typically high sugar content, which can have adverse effects on the brain. However, enjoying a small piece of chocolate each day can be a smart and delightful treat for your brain health.

EAT ... wasabi

Here's a compelling reason to indulge in sushi tonight. According to research from Tohoku University in Japan, wasabi has been found to enhance both working memory—the type of memory crucial for completing tasks in the moment—and episodic memory, aiding in the recall of past events.

And it's not just wasabi; another sushi restaurant condiment may also offer memory benefits. Previous studies suggest that ginger might have positive effects on memory. Now, the only real dilemma is: rainbow roll or salmon roll?

IMPROVE...your sleep quality

Our screen time habits might be seriously affecting our ability to get a good night's sleep, and sleep experts are now raising concerns about digital distractions before bedtime. According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), screen time is a major contributor to sleep deprivation, with 91% of participants admitting to losing sleep due to watching TV. Online shopping is also implicated, with 75% of respondents confessing to staying up late to indulge in some late-night retail therapy.

While it may be challenging to resist screens in the evening, the benefits of consistently getting a good night's rest, including improved memory, make it worth the effort. Recommendations from the AASM include keeping phones out of the bedroom and avoiding screens for at least half an hour before bedtime. Establishing a calming nighttime routine, such as doing a few yoga poses, can also contribute to better sleep. So, perhaps giving up the late-night drama on TV for a calming routine is a worthwhile trade-off for more quality ZZZs.