Body & Fitness

Why ice cream is good for your brain

From eggs to coffee and ice cream, what you eat can have an enormous impact on your brain’s performance.

Eggs fight age-related brain shrinkage

As we get older our brains shrink, by about 0.5 per cent per year after the age of 50. It’s not exactly known how this is related to cognitive decline, but there is believed to be some link. Keeping your brain ‘big’ seems to be the key, and how much it shrinks seems to strongly correlate with levels of vitamin B12 in your blood – high levels equal the least shrinkage because science has found that B12 helps protect the brain’s nerve cells. Keep your B12 levels in good shape by regularly eating fish, lean red meat and eggs.

Coffee protects your brain from harm

It’s often demonised, but when it comes to brain health, a daily cup of coffee can be protective. It seems to reinforce what’s known as the blood-brain barrier, which protects your central nervous system from chemicals and other pollutants. It’s good news all round for coffee lovers, with research showing that caffeine also protects the blood-brain barrier from the harmful effects of cholesterol.

Water makes your thoughts more energy efficient

When teenagers were tested for their ability to perform mental tasks in a hydrated or dehydrated state, the results showed that, although the outcome was the same for both groups, those who were dehydrated expended a greater amount of energy. This means you’ll be more likely to feel tired sooner if you’re dehydrated. “It’s like running a petrol-guzzling car rather than an energy-efficient one. Even though they go the same speed, the petrol-guzzler will run out of fuel sooner,” say the researchers.

Ice cream stimulates your brain’s happy centre

You were right all along: ice cream does perk you up when you’re feeling down. When scientists tested the effect of ice cream on the brain they found it revved up activity in the area that controls positive emotions and feelings of reward. But don’t get too excited – it only took one teaspoon to get these results. The flipside to this is that eating fatty, sugary treats like ice cream too often also changes the brain, but not in a good way. It can trigger a need to eat more of them – which brings us back to what we already know; the only way to avoid weight gain is to stick to a healthy diet most of the time.

Iron can speed up how fast you think

It’s well known iron boosts the development of the brain in babies, but it also keeps it functioning at full pelt in adulthood as well. A US study found women performed better at cognitive tasks when (even minor) iron deficiencies were reversed. Include more iron-rich foods in your diet like red meat, chicken and dark leafy greens – and see your doctor if you suspect that you might be anaemic.

Blueberries boost your concentration

A large helping (200g) of blueberries in the morning, eaten on their own or in a smoothie, can improve your focus in the afternoon by 15 to 20 per cent. It’s thanks to the flavonoids in the berries, say the researchers, which help to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Strawberries have a similar effect.

Walnuts might help you come to the right conclusion

If your decision-making powers need a boost, consider including half a cup of walnuts in your daily diet. The brain-enhancing nutrients they contain can help you judge what’s true or false in a situation, say researchers. It won’t make you a critical thinker, but students and young professionals in maths, physics and sciences that involve critical thinking or decision-making could benefit from eating walnuts.

Salmon improves how brain cells talk to each other

Every thought and function in your brain is triggered by your brain cells talking to each other. For this process to take place efficiently we need good amounts of the omega-3 fat DHA, of which salmon is a rich source. “Our brain and body are deficient in the mechanism to make DHA; it has to come from the diet,” say researchers, who recommend eating salmon three times a week.

Celery fights inflammation and keeps your brain young

Filling up on foods like celery and yellow pepper may help fight age-related inflammatory chemicals that inhibit memory and learning. A substance called luteolin found in certain foods seems to counteract this. Scientists are not sure yet how much of these vegetables we need to eat to fight the inflammation, but sticking to the recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables is a good place to start.

Turmeric could fight depression

It’s by no means a replacement for medication during an acute attack of depression, but curcumin, an ingredient in the spice turmeric, has been found to increase levels of a substance – brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – that is often found lacking in patients with major depression. In fact, most antidepressants work partly by increasing levels of BDNF. So try adding a dash of spice to your next meal and you might just feel a little brighter.

Strawberries switch on the brain’s natural detoxers

One of the theories as to why our brain performance worsens as we age is that there’s a build-up of proteins and other biochemical waste in the brain that clogs things up. Normally this is cleared by ‘cleaning cells’ in the brain, but as we age these start to slow down and may even start to damage healthy cells. The good news is berries come to the rescue once again, with science showing that a high intake of these sweet little gems – blueberries, strawberries and acai berries in particular – seems to revive the cells’ cleaning capacity.

Words: Helen Foster

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