5 ways to boost your Brain Nutrition Score

Did you know that your brain's health is directly affected by nutrition? Read more with our Brain Nutrition Assessment.

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In some recent research, we established that more than 99% of the UK population don’t get what their brains need to thrive. What this means is that the vast majority of people are not following the optimal diet recommended for what we call ‘base brain nutrition’. And, while this statistic is surprising, it’s not that useful unless we can tell you what to do about it.

With that in mind, we created the Brain Nutrition Assessment to:

  1. Help you understand what base brain nutrition looks like

  2. Get a feel for how close you are to getting what you need

  3. Make it easy to fill in your gaps and improve your score

Understanding your nutrition is a vital first step in your journey to better brain health. So, whatever your score, this article is here to help you understand what goes into calculating it, and the highest impact things you can do to improve it—starting today.

How nutrition affects your brain

As your control centre, and your body’s hungriest organ, your brain manifests sub-optimal nutrition in all sorts of ways. Nutrition can affect your brain in several ways:

  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating for long periods

  • Taking a long time to fall asleep, or not enough quality sleep

  • Low energy levels, or feeling fatigued too easily

  • Unstable and unpredictable moods

There are, of course, lots of factors that affect these things, but if you don’t have the right base brain nutrition, it’s an uphill battle from the start. Brain health and nutrition are strongly linked, it is a key habit in improving your brain health .

Five ways to boost your Brain Nutrition Score

We’ll get into precisely how much of everything we advise consuming later on. But first, these are the things that our research has shown most people don’t manage to get—totalling 35/100 nutrition points.

1. Eat oily fish regularly or take a daily algae-based omega 3 supplement (up to 10 points)

Why? 60% of the dry matter of the brain is fat, so you need a constant supply to keep up with your brain cells, as they regenerate every second of the day.

If you eat fish, try to get 2 portions of oily fish (think salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna or trout) a week.

If you don’t eat fish, the easiest way is to get your DHA and EPA omega 3 from a supplement derived from algae oil. It’s worth noting that, although a type of omega 3 (ALA) is found in flax, chia, and hemp seeds, too little of it is converted to DHA + EPA omega 3 to make them a sufficient source.

2. Make sure you pack in B-complex vitamins (up to 5 points)

Why? B vitamins are essential for the nervous system and help prevent fatigue induced by a pressurised life.

If you are an omnivore, 2 portions of red meat, or 4 eggs, per week should give you what you need. If you don’t eat red meat or eggs, then look to products fortified in B vitamins (e.g. fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, vegan spreads, meat substitutes, fortified non-dairy milk) for your fix.

3. Eat berries almost every day (up to 5 points)

Why? Anthocyanins , found in berries are powerful antioxidants. They fight ‘free radicals’—electrons in the brain that attack healthy tissue.

Find a way to get 5 portions of berries (e.g. blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, strawberries or red grapes) into your routine—for breakfast, in a smoothie, or with coconut yoghurt for an easy dessert.

4. Work out where you’re going to get your vitamin D from (up to 5 points)

Why? Vitamin D is critical in the fight against cognitive decline.

The UVB radiation from the UK winter sun is not strong enough for our bodies to produce vitamin D naturally, even if you’re outside daily. This means, as the NHS’ recent lockdown advice will concur, that we need to consume it as part of our diet.

In fact, it can even be hard to get in the summer, as you need to have a lot of suncream-free skin exposed—which isn’t always the best idea. In our recent study , the majority of participants were deficient in vitamin D, despite it being right at the end of summer.

5. Eat the rainbow (up to 10 points)

Why? Many of the phytochemicals that give fruit and vegetables their colour are antioxidants, which are critical to protecting healthy cells from collateral damage as a result of the brain’s oxidative processes.

Try to cover the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple—with your fruit and vegetable intake as much as you can.

Get everything your brain needs whatever life throws at you

As you can see, it can be hard work to get all these nutrients week in and week out—especially if your lifestyle avoids certain food groups. While we all have the best intentions, busy lifestyles and a lack of time mean that, sometimes, the ball is going to drop. This is why, as a dietitian, I recommend supplementing—as a safety net.

Brain healthy foods

We base our recommended brain healthy foods on the MIND diet. The MIND diet (or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet), is a brain-focused edit of the Mediterranean diet that’s widely recommended by the NHS for general health.

So, here’s what you need to get, every week, for good base brain nutrition:

  • Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for five or more servings per week.

  • All other vegetables and fruits: Aim for five different coloured fruits and vegetables every day.

  • Berries: Eat berries at least five times a week.

  • Nuts: Try to get five or more servings of nuts each week.

  • Olive oil: Use extra virgin olive oil as your main fat source and consume it at least five times a week. Cooking with it is fine, drizzling it onto salads is better!

  • Whole grains: Aim for at least five portions per week. Choose whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, and brown bread.

  • Fish: Eat fish at least twice a week or take an algae-based omega 3 supplement if you don’t eat fish. It is best to choose oily fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel for their high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids.

  • Legumes and pulses: Include beans in at least five meals every week. This includes all beans, lentils, and soybeans.

  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins: Try to eat chicken or turkey at least twice a week. If you’re eating a plant-based diet then varying your protein sources is key by aiming for at least three different protein sources per day (lentils, pearl barley, soy products).

  • Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin. Even if you’re getting outside every day in the UK during winter, the sunlight is not strong enough for our bodies to produce vitamin D naturally, which means we need to consume it in the form of a supplement.

  • Processed food: Minimise your intake of processed foods. Processed and convenience foods are associated with poor health as they're often higher in salt, saturated fat, colourings, and preservatives in comparison to their homemade alternatives.

  • Wine: Both red and white wine may benefit the brain, but aim for no more than one glass daily.

  • Coffee and tea: One or two cups a day work, but five is a definite no go for the MIND diet. Unfortunately, when we consume too much caffeine, it makes our bodies work really hard and uses up more nutrients than we gain from it.

  • Water : Drink at least 2 litres a day, or, more precisely, 500ml for every 15kg of body weight.

For more on brain healthy food check out our top 12 brain foods .

About the author:
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Sophie Medlin

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The average brain health score is 51/100. Take our 3-minute quiz to learn how yours measures up and how to boost it.

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