The Best Foods For Brainpower: Q&A With A Nutritionist

Food For Thought

Ever wondered how the food you eat impacts your brain? We spoke to nutritionist Milena Kaler on all things food and brain related.

Milena Kaler is a Registered Nutritionist, weight loss and digestive health specialist based in Harley Street, London. She has helped thousands of people to lose weight and keep it off. Scientific and holistic in approach Milena looks at all aspects of a client’s health. She embraces a systems-oriented approach aiming to get to the root cause of health and weight issues instead of simply focusing on the symptoms.

Milena has worked with celebrities, and has been featured as a nutrition expert in magazines such as Women’s Health, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Metro. Milena is a member of British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT), Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), and Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology (PCSG).

Here’s what she had to say:

ingredients for pasta dough preparation scattered on table
Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com

Q: How does the food you eat affect your brain?

Your brain is always on, and it requires a constant supply of fuel that comes from high quality foods containing vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants. 

Research shows that your brain affects your gut health, and your gut affects brain health. The gut has been called a “second brain”, and about 95% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps with mood, appetite, and sleep, is made in your gut. 

The vagus nerve connects your gut and brain. 90% of the signal transmitted through the vagus nerve travels from gut to the brain, and only 10% runs in the opposite direction. This is called a gut-brain axis.

Studies also show that probiotics not only support a healthy gut, but they may also help improve brain health and mood.

Q: Would you say there are foods or food groups that are bad for your brain and cognition?

Processed and fried foods, trans fats, nitrates, alcohol, as well as refined sugar such as biscuits, cakes and other sugary snacks are all inflammatory and bad for your brain, and not only they affect cognition but may also contribute to anxiety and depression.

Q: Following on from the above, are there certain foods which are considered to be good for your brain? If so, what are these foods?

Omega-3 rich foods such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines or trout, as well as walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds or chia seeds. You can grind nuts and seeds and use on soups and salads.

Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and kale are rich in brain healthy nutrients: lutein, folate, vitamin K and beta carotene. 

Tryptophan (precursor of serotonin) rich foods such as fish, turkey, chicken, red meat, bananas, beans, oats and eggs.

Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries. According to research they help improve memory. 

Probiotics (such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt) and probiotics (such as asparagus, artichokes, legumes, garlic, onions and banana).

Tea and coffee. Research says that caffeine consumption can help you perform better on tests of mental function. However, too much caffeine could make you feel anxious but it is usually okay in moderation.

coffee apple laptop working
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Q: What are the steps someone should take to improve their diet?

  1. Drink 2-3L of water per day. Your brain depends on proper hydration to function at an optimal level. When you are dehydrated you will have more difficulty keeping your attention focused. Dehydration can impair short-term memory and the recall of long-term memory.

  1. Have oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines or trout 2-3 times a week.

  1. Use cold-pressed seed oils. Use flaxseed or hemp oil for salad dressings and to drizzle on vegetables. Don’t cook with these oils because their fats are easily damaged by heat.

  1. Have protein in each meal to balance your blood sugar. Your blood sugar levels not only impact your energy, but also concentration and mood. Making sure you have stable blood sugar is vital to healthy brain chemistry.

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Your brain needs sleep in order to transfer information from your short-term memory into your long-term memory. If you get enough sleep, you are more likely to feel equipped to deal with whatever life throws at you and you will be less stressed. 

Chronic sleep deprivation leads to night-time elevations in cortisol (stress hormone). Sleep deprivation is also associated with decreased insulin sensitivity, therefore making it difficult for you to properly rest and have your body recover naturally from all exercise. 

Q: Is there a simple change people can do to improve their diet for brain health?

Start small. Trying to change too much too fast can be overwhelming. Make a list of brain-friendly foods and start adding one brain-friendly food a week until you get the wide variety of recommended foods. Start with what you like the most. Start adding them to your diet daily. You can add one by one until you eat the wide variety of recommended foods.

If you’d like to find out more and reach out to Milena, you can do so here.

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Sajal Azam

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