What is omega 3 and why do we need it?
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The brain is responsible for consuming around 20 percent of our daily calorie intake, which is a lot given it’s only 2 percent of our body weight, and its micronutrient needs are considerable and diverse. What our diet, or the ‘fuel’ we give our brain, consists of can have a significant impact on its structure, function and longevity, according to Clarissa Berry, Nutritionist for DIRTEA.
She explained: “The brain has ways to work around not getting enough of the correct nutrients, but this can lead to suboptimal functioning and can affect brain health in the long term.
“Improving our nutrient intake can optimize brain function, leading to improvements in brain health, cognition and mental health.
“Brain function is affected in less direct ways as well. Diet can affect our immunity, sleep, digestive health, energy and stress levels, all of which can impact cognition and emotional health.”
The best way to keep your brain healthy and to optimize its output, according to Clarissa, is to eat a wide variety of macro and micronutrients through fresh, whole, colourful and varied foods.
She added: “You can also support your brain with herbs and supplements, often called nootropics, which have active compounds that go the extra mile towards optimising brain function and improving mental health.”
Seven ways to support your brain through diet, according to Clarissa:
1. Get omega 3 fats
Omega 3s are fatty acids that are essential for brain health as well as that of the body as a whole. The brain is made of approximately 70 percent fat, so getting sufficient fat in your diet is extremely important to maintain brain function. The type of fat is also crucial. Omega 3s are important to keep your brain cell membranes flexible and fluid, which helps to keep your brain running smoothly, improves memory and increases brain longevity.
You can get omega 3 fats from wild salmon and other oily fish such as sardines, halibut and mackerel, as well as from grass-fed beef and pasture-raised eggs. Some are also found in flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Because it can be hard to get sufficient omega 3 through dietary sources only, supplementation is often worth considering, however always talk to a nutritionist or healthcare professional before beginning a new supplement.
2. Balance your blood sugar
Carbohydrates are important to provide energy to the body and brain, but it’s good to be careful with how you enjoy them. Sources of carbohydrates such as bread, flour, grains, fruits and root vegetables turn to sugar inside the body and can therefore cause your blood sugar levels to ‘spike’. This temporary boost of energy can feel good but is always followed by the dreaded ‘crash’, when blood sugar dips below normal. The higher the spike, the bigger the crash. This isn’t good for your brain output, your energy levels or your hormones, but there are ways you can prevent it.
When you eat carbs, try to choose whole-grain versions which contain fibre and other nutrients that help to slow the release of sugar into the blood. Make sure to balance your meal with sources of fat and protein, which smooths the curve even further, making your energy last for longer and reducing the potential for a crash. It’s also a good idea to limit servings of sugar, sweets and chocolate and to enjoy these in moderation after a meal (containing lots of other nutrients) rather than alone.
3. Consume antioxidants
Antioxidants are protective molecules that can prevent damage to cells by free radicals. Free radicals get produced as a natural byproduct of many body functions and also come from environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke and pollution. Getting enough antioxidants through your diet is one of the best ways to protect your brain from cellular damage, helping it to maintain optimal function and keeping it strong and healthy for as long as possible. They reduce inflammation and have been shown to support learning, memory, motivation and mood. Studies show that free radical damage is associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other age-related neurological disorders.
The best place to get antioxidants is through a varied, colourful diet. Some top sources of antioxidants include berries, beans, dark chocolate or cacao, leafy greens, beetroot, nuts, herbs and spices. And here’s a pro tip: a medicinal mushroom called chaga (£29.99 from www.dirteaworld.com) is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet, with more antioxidants than 600 blueberries.
4. Stay hydrated
By weight, the brain is approximately 75 percent water, while the body as a whole is 60 percent water. This demonstrates how crucial hydration is to the brain’s optimal function. Dehydration has been shown to directly impact cognitive performance, including the ability to learn, remember, reason and make decisions. Dehydration also significantly affects mood and energy levels. Try to drink at least two to four litres of water per day, including hot drinks.
5. Eat your egg yolks
Getting a little more specific now, but egg yolks in particular are a very rich source of choline, an essential nutrient with critical roles in the brain. Choline is used to create acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory, mood and cognition. Unfortunately it is often deficient in our diets. Eggs are also nutrient powerhouses, providing protein and B vitamins among many other nutrients, which further support brain health. So don’t be afraid of those yolks.
6. Drink lion’s mane tea
Lion’s mane is the name of a medicinal mushroom that is a known ‘nootropic’, something that can enhance brain function. Studies have demonstrated its incredible benefits on brain health and cognition, even indicating its potential in the treatment and prevention of dementia.
Lion’s mane has the ability to directly stimulate neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, which helps improve cognition and memory. It’s rich in antioxidants, which as we have seen helps to protect the brain against damage and reduces inflammation.
Lion’s mane is also a powerful adaptogen, with studies showing its ability to decrease stress and enhance sleep quality, and has been shown to improve mood and symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s completely natural, has no psychedelic effects (!) and generally very safe to consume. One teaspoon per day of DIRTEA’s Lion’s Mane extract powder (£29.99 from www.dirteaworld.com) stirred into hot water is an effective and delicious way to boost your brain power each morning.
7. Enjoy coffee and green tea in moderation
Coffee and green tea can both be used to give your brain a boost due to the presence of caffeine, which increases energy levels and motivation. They are also both very rich in antioxidants. Green tea contains an additional benefit in the form of L-theanine, an amino acid that is known to have synergistic effects with caffeine.
While caffeine improves alertness and focus, L-theanine modulates the action of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, balancing mood and enhancing cognitive power. It also helps to reduce the jitters often associated with caffeine consumption. While these are useful effects, make sure to consume caffeine in moderation, up to one to two cups per day.
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