Nutrition and the brain

06 August 2021

Nutrition and the brain

Nutritional therapist Clarissa Lenherr discusses all things nutrition and the brain and shares five nutrition and lifestyle tips to support your brain power, mood, productivity and more.

Video transcript

My name is Clarissa. I'm a registered nutritionist and founder of Clarissa Lenherr Nutrition, a private clinic where I see clients on a one-to-one basis covering many different aspects of health. And today, I'm thrilled to be sharing all things nutrition and the brain. My aim is to really help people understand the brain health should be a priority for us all.

And it's not difficult or complicated. One of the most important considerations when it comes to brain health is taking preventative action. Instead of waiting until we have signs and symptoms and health crises, it's really important to take action now to support and nourish the brain so that we can have optimal brain power as we age through on life cycles.

And cognitive decline doesn't have to be an inevitable part of aging either, a 2019 paper found that those who followed a healthy lifestyle as they age had a 30% less reduced risk of developing dementia. So, there's so much that we can do through our diet and lifestyle choices to support a healthy brain.

And having a healthy brain is key to having a full and satisfying life, increasing our performance, motivation, creativity, satisfaction in life and mood. So, I'm going to share with you five nutrition and lifestyle tips to support your brain power, mood, productivity and more.

Tip 1: Omega-3

So first, one of the key things that we can do with our diet is to make sure we're getting in enough Omega-3. Omega-3 are a kind of essential fatty acids that are found in a number of different foods, but interestingly, cannot be made in the body. We must rely on our diet for the intake of Omega-3. Omega-3, when it comes to brain health, help us with new cell formation, they are anti-inflammatory, support the cognitive health of our brain in general, because 60% of the fat in our brain is actually made from the Omega-3 fats.

Now the best way to remember how to get in Omega-3 is through the acronym SMASH. Now that's an acronym that stands for Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring. These are the best sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. And I would say two to three portions of those a week are going to get you in all this wonderfully nourishing Omega-3 fats.

If you're vegan or vegetarian, or don't like those foods, you can take an Omega-3 supplement. You can get Omega-3 through plant-based sources. So, we've got chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseed, but you do need about five portions, five 30 grams portions to get the same amount as you would from oily fish.

Tip 2: Dark leafy greens

We then have the importance of greens. Now we know these aren't the most favoured vegetable out there, but the dark, leafy greens are the most nutrient vegetables that we have. They contain wonderful antioxidants and vitamins and minerals that we need for many different actions in our health, but particularly important for brain health.

So dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, rocket, cavolo nero, bok choy, these kinds of dark leafy greens contain magnesium, lutein, folate, beta carotene, vitamin K, all of which have been shown to support brain health, either through improving memory, reducing cognitive decline, etc.

I normally say one portion a day of something dark, leafy and green. A portion is about the size of a cereal bowl. So blended into smoothies, added into soups, stews, have it in a salad, try to incorporate it whichever way you can into your day.

Tip 3: Berries

We then have berries. Now berries are my absolute favourite go to for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the in betweens as well. Now berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries are really rich in nutrients and antioxidants that can support brain health. They've actually done studies where eating a 200 grams punnet of blueberries has been shown to improve memory loss, to help with tasks and even accuracy on tests. When they tested children having 200 grams of blueberries versus not, the ones who consumed the blueberries had a higher rate of success and accuracy on their tests.

And so, getting berries every day as well as the dark leafy greens is key. So having them on your breakfast, such as on yogurt for breakfast, having them as a snack in between meals, which is absolutely my favourite, I like to keep them on my desk, throwing them into salads, smoothies, etc.

Tip 4: Tea, coffee and dark chocolate

We then have tea, coffee and dark chocolate, which I've bundled together, which probably is unfair, they all need their own discussion because they were wonderful in different ways, but tea and coffee contain polyphenols, a kind of antioxidant that's great for the gut, but also great for the brain. In addition, a little bit of caffeine from tea and coffee can help bump up focus and concentration so be really great if you're having that bit of kind of energy lull all that little bit of loss of motivation, but there's a fine balance.

You need to make sure that you're not having too much coffee and too much tea, so too much caffeine, because this can actually exacerbate stress levels, leave you wired, anxious, jittery, which can affect performance, productivity, concentration, mood and more. 400 milligrams is about the maximum caffeine which is about five espresso shots or eight cups of black or green tea. So, if you want to reap the benefits of tea and coffee, if you're not sensitive to caffeine, two cups of coffee a day is about right, or seven to eight cups of green or black tea.

How can I not talk about dark chocolate? Dark chocolate contains caffeine, polyphenols, anti-oxidants. It's a great mood booster and energizer, so swap out your milk chocolate for dark chocolate - it should be 70% plus to get in that kind of benefit. And I'm not telling you to have 100 grams a dark chocolate every day, just a few squares will absolutely cut it and it's a great way to curb naturally with your sweet tooth.

Tip 5: Lifestyle, stress management, sleep and exercise

And finally, lifestyle tips. As a nutritionist, I look at holistic health, I don't just look at one area and we've got to talk about stress management, sleep and exercise as well when it comes to brain health and brainpower.

So, trying to get in movement every day if can. It doesn't have to be pounding the treadmill, going for a walk, getting outside exposure to nature's good stress levels, doing a bit of yoga, which can be good for stress management as well, or if it's your thing, boxing, running, spinning 30 minutes a day, whatever kind of movement you can.

Optimize your sleep. Try to stick to seven to nine hours of sleep when you can to get in that good, nourishing state of relaxation for the body. And finally find the stress management that works for you, whether it's meditation, yoga, being creative, being active, try to incorporate one form of stress management a day when you can. It doesn't have to be for an hour, 10 minutes, whether it's a 10-minute guided meditation, a 20-minute walk around the block or one hour having a nice warm bath, whatever that kind of self-care stress management works for. Try to incorporate that because high stress levels can affect our brainpower, productivity, mood and more.

So, whatever we can do in our modern-day lifestyles to help calm that a little bit can be really nourishing and beneficial. Thank you.