You hardly need me to tell you to eat your vegetables, but it’s worth knowing your brain’s favorite diet

Overall diet
The most commonly cited recommendation from research on brain health and nutrition is to follow a Mediterranean diet. A study of more than 2,000 residents of New York City, averaging 76 years of age, found that those eating a Mediterranean diet had a 68% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Mediterranean diets will have varying definitions, but ideally you want to eat fresh and natural whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, fresh and varied vegetables (especially green, leafy ones), pulses, whole grains, seeds and nuts.

Particular foods
Researchers have also found some particular foods to have neuroprotective qualities:

Fish and seafood: Eat more oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and trout, that are high in the type of fats your brain needs. Despite the prevailing fear of fat, more than two-thirds of your brain’s dry weight is fat.

Vegetables and leafy greens: No surprise that your brain needs vitamins, too. A diet rich in vegetables and leafy greens to help maintain sufficient levels of vitamins C, E and K to keep your brain sharp.

Eggs: Egg yolks are one of the richest dietary sources of choline, a precursor for acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter needed to keep your memory sharp.

Nuts and seeds: Walnuts contain high levels of omega 3 and vitamin E. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium which can improve brain health. Flax seeds are excellent brain snacks as they are high in omega 3, and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc, important for maintaining memory.

Berries: Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cherries are high in antioxidants. Coming from a variety of sources, antioxidants help regulate the oxidative stress that damages your brain cells, so a diet high in antioxidants may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as dementia.

Green tea: Green tea also serves as a neuroprotector through its detoxification and anti-inflammatory qualities. Even black tea has an antioxidant effect

Turmeric: High in curcumin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, turmeric can help protect neurological tissue as well as enhance the growth of new brain cells.

The importance of water
Often overlooked, adequate hydration is essential for maintaining mental performance. Your brain is more than 70% water, and dehydration will negatively affect your concentration, energy and mood. One of the easiest ways to give your brain a boost, start each day with a large glass of water and stay hydrated throughout the day.

The risks of sugar
The link between sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s disease is so well established that Alzheimer’s is now often referred to as “Type 3 diabetes”. While your brain needs glucose to perform, a diet high in carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, a condition associated with increased risk of dementia. Sugar also reduces the production of BDNF, a protein involved in learning. So eat fruits and complex carbohydrates, but be wary of added sugar in processed foods and drinks.

What to eat before / during a mentally grueling day
I’m reluctant to offer specific advice because I’m not a nutritionist and try to avoid being ‘prescriptive’. However, this is a question I get asked, and so for what it’s worth…
When I have a demanding day (perhaps I’m running a multi-day offsite for a leadership team), I try to have a protein-filled breakfast and a carb-free lunch. For example:
Breakfast: A pint of water, a green tea, and an omelette (e.g. two eggs + spring onion, asparagus and mushrooms). Then I will have a coffee.
Lunch: A salmon or tuna salad, plenty of water, and another green tea.
Dinner: Probably vegetarian, ideally consumed no later than 8pm.

So there you have it, eat well and keep your brain healthy.


3 point review
Eat a Mediterranean diet with plenty of oily fish and seafood, plus lots of varied and fresh vegetables.
Drink a pint of water when you wake up and stay hydrated throughout the day
Consume less sugar, fewer refined carbohydrates and less processed foods

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