(NEW YORK) — June is national Brain Awareness Month and the start of summer is a great time to consider how our diet can potentially be beneficial for the brain.
While there is no singular food fix for better brain health, there are properties in certain ingredients that some nutritionists recommend based on scientific research and studies to incorporate in a healthy, well-rounded and varied diet.
Registered dietitian and nutritionist Maya Feller, who regularly contributes to ABC News’ Good Morning America, shared some insights backed by research to better understand what foods could benefit our brains.
Natural foods and ingredients for better brain function
“There is a growing body of research examining the link between gut health and brain health,” Feller said. “Researchers have looked at the importance of having a diverse set of colonic bacteria and seem to think the more diversity in gut bacteria the better, especially when it comes to brain health.”
Most of the research studies to date have been done in animal models, but scientists have recently started to investigate these links in humans too.
She explained that the “diversity in gut bacteria plays a role in mood, memory, cognition and the development of neurodegenerative conditions. The make-up of the gut is impacted by the foods we eat.”
For example, Feller said “pre-biotic fibers increase short-chain fatty acid production, and this is thought to have a beneficial impact on probiotic bacterial development.”
“Additionally, polyphenols found in plants have beneficial impacts on gut health,” Feller said of the naturally occurring compounds in grapes and berries. “Plant foods generally support gut health, which in turn supports brain health. I recommend enjoying a variety of plants that are affordable, accessible, and culturally relevant as an entry point to thinking about gut health.”
While Feller said there’s “not a particular magic number” of how much of a brain-healthy ingredient to consume,” she added, “The recommendation is to eat a variety of plant foods and to make them a mainstay in the pattern of eating.”
“I often recommend eating for flavor and utilizing a variety of herbs and spices, many of which contain bioactive compounds that support gut health,” she added.
According to Harvard Medical School, researchers have found the best brain foods to be the same as those that also protect the heart and blood vessels, such as leafy greens, fatty fish, berries, tea and coffee, and walnuts.
A recent study has also shown that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of dementia. This diet is also endorsed by the American Heart Association as a way to help maintain a healthy weight while improving both heart and brain health.
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