7 foods to support brain health no. 1 – blueberries

The first food in my series ‘Seven foods to support brain health’ is the beautifully dark purple juicy blueberries.

Blueberries contain a group of powerful phytonutrients called anthocyanins. These tiny chemicals are found in all deep purple, red and blue fruit and vegetables and are particularly powerful in blueberries.

Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants and help the body to reduce oxidate damage and reduce inflammation. This is relevant to all parts of the body but particularly in the brain. Anthocyanidin found in blueberries is particularly potent. Research indicates they can protect the brain from oxidative stress and reduce the effect of age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you’ve just read the above and wonder what oxidative stress is all about, I cover it in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. But in case you haven’t got a copy to hand (and why not? 😉 ) here’s a quick explanation.

If you remember your chemistry lessons at school, the human body contains many different structures made from a combination of atoms and molecules. Atoms carry and electric charge and when involved with chemical processes in the body can become unstable. This is particularly so for oxygen-containing molecules. Readily involved in cellular processes, they lose an electron making their number uneven. These are free radicals. To remedy this, these molecules go on a hunt for other molecules to react with. This process is called oxidation.

Antioxidants on the other hand are molecules that are able to donate an electron without becoming unstable themselves. Donating an electron to a free radical stabilises them, reducing the damage they can do to other molecules.

When there are more free radicals than antioxidants in the body, there are higher level of oxidation – processes going on that are harmful to the cells, tissues and organs. This is called oxidative stress.

A cut apple is the best illustration of an oxidative process. We all know that when you first cut an apple the flesh is white and unblemished. However, leave it out on the worktop for even 5 minutes and the flesh changes to a mottled brown. That is oxidation. Add lemon juice (high in vitamin C) however and the flesh is unblemished. Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant and stops the oxidation in it’s stride. Whenever you read something about free radicals and antioxidants, just imagine your body as a slice of apple!

Oxidative stress accelerates the ageing process in the body and contributes to chronic long term health conditions – including that most sensitive organ, the brain. This is what we want to avoid and it seems blueberries are particularly good at keeping those pesky free radicals under control.

Fresh blueberries are delicious but their season is short in the UK. During the summer, you can find fruit from around Europe, but for much of the year it is flown in from around the world and therefore carries high air miles. And to be honest don’t have much flavour either.

Out of season, frozen blueberries are a good option and have just as good nutrition profile as fresh, maybe even more when you consider tired, jet-lagged fruit! They’re also more affordable and you can take out individual portion sizes rather than trying to use up a whole punnet, especially if you live alone.

A handful of blueberries a day are a great way of contributing to improving brain health. There’s lots of ways to eat them like:

  • adding to muesli or porridge for breakfast
  • Blueberry chia dessert
  • Topping for pancakes or raw cheesecakes
  • Popping in a smoothie
  • Mixing into dairy-free yoghurt and top with granola
  • Make blueberry chia jam

I like to bake with blueberries as well, although heating them will lose some of their vitamin C and antioxidant power. My lemon and blueberry cake is a particular favourite. They also work well with other red fruit or apples in crumble.

There is another way of including blueberry power into your diet and that is through freeze dried will blueberry powders. Wild blueberries have even more antioxidants and research suggests a beneficial impact on brain health. The downside is that whole blueberries freeze dried and package come with a price tag. But a spoonful a day can be very effective, so worth considering if you are struggling with brain health.

My favourite brand is Haskapa – you can find them here (I don’t receive any payments from them, I just like their product and use it myself). I’ve made so amazingly purple pancakes with the powder and often add it to my morning muesli.

Other dark purple fruits like blackberries and blackcurrants contain similar properties to blueberries. Most people find blueberries more palatable however that is where the research is focused.

So if you want to support your hard working brain (as well as other parts of the body) then try to add a good handful of these purple beauties to your diet every day – or at least a few times a week. My poor brain certainly appreciates all the help it can get!

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