Uma Naidoo - ©2024 -

Brain Food: Best Diet Choices You Can Make For Your Brain

Many of us – even those who don’t have Alzheimer’s or early-onset dementia in our families – started worrying about brain function damage when the COVID Crisis hit. So I was delighted to see a Harvard nutritionist suggesting ways to protect our brains…

Beans Peas and Lentils - © jennieyuen.blogspot.caBeans, Peas and Lentils: They’re all… Pulses. The no. 1 food to add fibre to your diet…

I was really lucky…

I had no serious respiratory symptoms of COVID – just a heavy, rumbling, repeating cough and a lot of phlegm coming up. I was lucky. But I did have debilitating fatigue, muscle aches, dizzy spells, brain fog and other common effects from the virus.

I caught the virus around the year-end holidays in 2021. And I have only recently been able to climb at least part way out of the dark, nasty, frustrating hole it put me in. The cough, the phlegm, the muscle aches and the dizziness are now little more than an unhappy memory. But the brain fog, cognitive slowness and related issues persist.

As celebrated food scientist and culinary entertainer Alton Brown says, “My most important cooking tool is my brain.” And mine hasn’t been ‘cookin’ with gas’ lately. The result? It takes longer to do things I used to hardly have to think about. My daily blog posts take noticeably longer to compose. I find myself consulting the dictionary and thesaurus websites more often. And I live with a constant feeling that ‘facts’ I think I know also need checking before I write them into the stories.

An intriguing ‘brain food’ post

So, I was intrigued to see a detailed post by a Harvard nutritionist suggesting ‘changes you can make in your diet for a healthy brain’.

“Many people don’t realize that there’s a way in which the food we eat impacts our mental well being,” according to Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and author of “Calm Your Mind with Food.

She maintains that the health of our gut microbiome is directly connected with the health of our brains. It’s about systemic inflation, and the wide-ranging effects it can have on every system in our body.

“The food we eat, as it gets digested, interacts with the trillions of microbes in the gut microbiome, and gets broken down into different substances, which then subsequently over time impact our mental well being. Some of the foods that are less healthy, if we’re eating them, set the gut up for inflammation. […] By tweaking your diet back to a healthier norm, you can actually help to relieve some of these symptoms.”

And systemic inflammation is one of the affects of COVID that are known to persist beyond the obvious symptoms.

What you can do

Naidoo says there are definitely measures we can take to bolster our systems against inflammation and related issues. Including improving Or in my case, restoring one’s accustomed level of cognitive functioning.

Get more fibre

“An increased intake of total dietary fiber was associated with a lower chance of developing depression, according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2021.,” Naidoo relates.

You can find a comprehensive list of high-fibre foods at the detailed and inciteful Women’s Health fibre issues webpage.

Get more polyphenols

Yes, you can get them from Red Wine and Coffee. But there are better sources with fewer potential drawbacks. Healthline offers a convenient reference to common foods rich in polyphenols at its dedicated webpage.

Get more probiotics

Probiotics are, “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host,” according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP).

Fermented foods are especially great sources of probiotics. There’s no official daily recommended amount of probiotics you should consume. But it appears, from ongoing research, that the more you eat, within the realm of reason, the better. That means, basically, don’t sacrifice variety in your diet to pack in more fermented foods.

Again, it’s Women’s Health that provides the best reference I could find to common foods that are rich in probiotics.

Use more herbs and spices

Really? Yes. But those of you who already know that spices such as turmeric have important, proven health benefits, and herb teas can be valuable sources of beneficial nutrients, won’t be surprised.

Along with turmeric, Naidoo recommends you use more of the following flavour boosters:

  • Capsaicin (from chili peppers)
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Ginger
  • Garlic

My take

I already use lots of herbs and spices when I cook. I started doing that when I decided to reduce the amount of salt I add to foods. The right herbs and spices can do more for the flavour of a dish than any amount of salt!

But maybe more important, getting more fibre, polyphenols and probiotics has been touted in study after study in recent years, as a great way to fight inflammation. And just generally build a stronger body in a whole host of ways. It would be hard to go wrong with Naidoo’s recommendations!

~ Maggie J.