Expert nutritionist Michael Salvadore Lynch Jr. explains how good nutrition improves cognitive health.
Neurons in the brain communicate with each other and other organs in the body. Messages sent from the brain through neurons help with executive functions, including learning, memorizing, and planning.
A healthy diet helps with a process known as neurogenesis, in which the brain makes new neurons. The production of new neurons is helpful. The more neurons in the brain, the better the executive functioning.
Good nutrition also helps with synaptic plasticity, which refers to the number of connections the neurons make. Neurons communicate better if they make more connections. The better the neurons communicate, the better the executive function.
Neurons use molecules to send and receive messages. One type of molecule is the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF also helps improve neurogenesis, which improves cognitive abilities such as learning, memory, and attention. It can also improve your mood and mental health.
Omega-3 acids are critical to good health. The body cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids; they only enter the body through our diets.
Studies have shown that brain inflammation may occur if we fail to eat enough Omega-3 fatty acids. Brain inflammation negatively affects executive function because it leads to dysfunction in the neural stem cells. It can also lead to early dementia.
On the other hand, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid, can reduce the risk of brain disorders. Fish oils contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
A diet rich in DHA is essential for young people with still-developing brains. Young people who lack sufficient DHA in their diets can also have problems with neurogenesis. However, they can reverse these effects by increasing their intake of DHA.
Plant-based foods provide many benefits for your mind. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains nourish the brain because they are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Plants also produce phytochemicals. Phytochemicals help prevent inflammation in the brain and other parts of the body.
Some experts believe the Mediterranean diet, which includes plant-sourced oils, lean proteins, and a range of fruits and vegetables, is one of the healthiest for the brain. Studies show that even a slight shift toward the Mediterranean diet can improve executive function. The Mediterranean diet, or any diet rich in plant-based foods and oils and with a moderate amount of lean protein, is particularly helpful in improving memory and helping people avoid cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
What we eat does matter. A healthy diet improves executive function by producing neurons and helping them make connections and send and receive messages. Eating Omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation in the brain. Eating a diet comprised of plant-sourced oils, a range of fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins can also improve executive function and help you avoid cognitive decline from dementia.
Michael Salvadore Lynch Jr., of Gaston, NC, is a nutritionist and health advocate. He has worked as a nutritionist for more than a decade. He advises many people on improving their diets and collaborates with many nonprofits in promoting wellness. He has a degree in nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a native of Canada and a fan of the Ottawa BlackJacks basketball team. He is married and has two daughters.