6 food

The link between diet and heart health is well known. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests what we eat can also have a direct influence on that most complex and delicate organ in the human body – the brain.

The field of research has garnered such weight that it even has a name: neuro-nutrition.

As the centre of the nervous system, the brain houses structures that control almost every bodily function. And, incredibly, there is now proof that consuming certain foods can change our moods and help us think faster, and that a healthy diet in mid-life can also slash the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Of course, diet is not the only factor because genetics, exercise, stress and other lifestyle factors also play a part.

But building modest amounts of the following six foods – as recommended by leading medical experts – into your diet really can help you eat your way to a sharper memory, and lower the risk of cognitive decline in later years. Here we show you how…


WHAT: Olive oil is typically about ten to 15 per cent saturated fat and has a similar amount of polyunsaturated fat. However, it is more than two-thirds monounsaturated fatty acids, associated with a healthier heart and a sharper brain that is quick to sort through tricky problems.

DAILY DOSE: Three tablespoons a day of extra-virgin olive oil. Cooking with olive oil below the smoke point – 215C – does not destroy its health benefits, according to experts.


WHAT: Take your pick from oranges, grapefruit and easy-peelers because citrus fruits are our richest source of brain-protective flavanones. These chemicals have been shown to help protect the areas of the brain involved in perception and recognition (the parietal lobe, shown in pink on our diagram) and protect against dementia.

DAILY DOSE: Add an extra serving of citrus to your five a day – that’s one orange, half a grapefruit, or two small clementines or satsumas. But don’t think that you can get away with a slug of fruit juice as that can often be high in sugar, increasing diabetes risk.


WHAT: Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, and some types are high in omega-3 fats and Vitamin E, all of which have been shown to have beneficial effects on brain health.

DAILY DOSE: Try a mix of 15g walnuts and 7.5g each of almonds and hazelnuts, which have been used in trials to improve cognition and brain health. For those worried about calories, studies have shown those who eat nuts on a daily basis are a lower weight than those who do not. However, don’t think of them as a panacea.


WHAT: Salmon isn’t the only healthy fish. All seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and Vitamin D, all compounds linked to brain health. And now, research has shown those who eat any fish regularly actually have bigger brains.

DAILY DOSE: Eating at least one portion of fish a week can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by ten years,’ claims Professor John Stein, adviser to the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour. Most of us are able to eat up to four portions a week, one of which should be oily, except for women of childbearing age, who are advised to stick to two because fish can contain pollutants.


WHAT: Good news! A food most of us crave is good for our brains – the compounds responsible, catechins, are found in cocoa solids. The only downside is that this means the expensive, dark type rather than cheap milk chocolate will have a beneficial effect.

DAILY DOSE: The highest nutritional value is in unrefined chocolate, ‘Ideally, your chocolate or cocoa should be consumed raw,’ says Beatrice Golomb, Associate Professor at the University of California.

The good news is that the ‘chocolate-is-good-for-us’ message has been around for a while now, leading to supermarket shelves heaving with brands that specialise in high-quality chocolate with 70 per cent plus cocoa solids


WHAT: Blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and black and red grapes contain compounds called anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid, which have an effect on the blood vessels.

DAILY DOSE: Eat a serving of berries – that’s two handfuls of blueberries, raspberries or blackcurrants, one handful of blackberries or grapes, seven strawberries or 14 cherries – most days. Heat is known to reduce amounts of beneficial compounds in fruit and vegetables, so most experts agree you should avoid cooking them. Remember, fruit is naturally high in sugar so eating more than the recommended dose could have a detrimental effect.