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How diet plays a role in brain function

Hayley Simonson, Police Reporter

Maybe it’s the cramming before an exam, excessive class load, or 9 a.m. twice every week – whatever it is, college students know what it’s like for brain function to feel like it’s hitting a plateau, and perhaps there are some nutritional choices to help mitigate this issue. 

Many articles and studies claim that consuming certain foods can lead to improved brain function and memory. Corinne A. Labyak, an associate professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at UNF, explained that while diet does play a role in brain health, there are no specific foods that can guarantee ultimate brain health and function. 

However, there is research that highlights specific foods that might help boost brain power. According to the American Brain Society, the top 10 superfoods identified through research are blueberries, wild salmon, dark chocolate, turmeric, coffee, nuts and seeds, sage, avocado, whole grains, and beans.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adding vegetables, especially cruciferous ones and dark leafy greens, walnuts, berries and omega 3 fatty acid sources to the mix of your diet can contribute to memory health.  Individuals whose eating pattern is similar to the Mediterranean diet have been shown to have stronger and healthier brain function,” Labyak said.  

The Mediterrenean diet is founded upon plant-based choices and whole grains. Only moderate amounts of dairy, poultry, eggs, seafood, and red meat are used. 

According to Labyak, recent evidence points to a newer diet called the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet. This diet has been shown to slow the cognitive decline that occurs with ageing. This diet is a combination of two healthy popular diets including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and Mediterranean diet. This diet regimen encourages individuals to eat foods like dark leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, beans, poultry, fish and a glass of wine daily.  The program suggests that individuals avoid or limit  butter and margarine, cheese, red meat, fried foods, pastries and sweets. 

Common components of these so-called superfoods listed include antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, fiber and omega acids. Labyak says wild salmon, nuts and seeds are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids. 

“Avocados contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats along with vitamins c, e, and folate.  Whole grains and beans contain fiber that helps to contribute to a slower release of blood glucose, which helps with brain function,” Labyak said. 

A myth behind nutrition and its correlation with brain function is that one single nutrient is the cure for all matters of optimal brain function.

“Consumers frequently hype up one food or nutrient in the media and focus on how it is the best for brain function.  The truth is that the best dietary advice to improve brain health is to follow a balanced diet like the dietary pattern noted in the Mediterranean diet. These are dietary patterns that will have the best overall outcome with brain health versus just increasing one food in your diet,” according to Labyak.  

The night before a test, Labyak suggests eating a dinner fish with whole grain rice and a salad with dark greens and some blueberries on top.  In the morning, try eating a nutrient-packed breakfast with good protein and some whole grain carbohydrates. This could be a whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter and a glass of milk. Make sure to stay hydrated with water, because dehydration can lead to exhaustion, headaches, and reduced alertness. Don’t forget to pack a snack mix of nuts and dark chocolate.

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How diet plays a role in brain function