Can you really eat your way to a higher IQ? According to research, yes. Here are the best ways to feed your brain
Break out the bubbly
Never has there been a more welcome research finding. Scientists at the University of Reading found that champagne contains something called “phenolic compounds”, which stimulate signals in the parts of the brain used to control memory and learning, counteracting memory loss associated with ageing. In particular, it is helpful with spatial memory, which allows us to record information about our surroundings and navigate around it. The benefits are noticeable with one to two glasses a week, but it can’t be any old fizzy white wine, as the nutrients are only abundant in the two red grapes used to make champagne – pinot noir and pinot meurier.
Chew it over
The longer you chew your food the better – and not just because that makes it easier to digest. A number of studies have linked having no teeth with the degeneration of cognitive function, and higher dementia risk, and one hypothesis was that if you can’t chew, there is a reduction in blood flow to the brain. In 2012, a team of Swedish scientists put the chewing connection to the test. They looked at 550 people aged 77 or over, and found that those who had difficulty chewing hard foods such as apples were significantly more likely to develop cognitive impairments. Plus, chewing more slowly allows time for your food to settle, so you feel full sooner and don’t overeat.
Bake your own
Not all fats are bad for you, but trans fats – found lurking in ready-made cakes – are public enemy No 1. A 2009 study at Oregon Health and Science University found that high levels of trans fats in the bloodstream correlated with lower cognitive ability and smaller brains. What better incentive to steer clear of nasty, processed cakes and bake your own? For recipes by the master baker Dan Lepard, go to theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/series/howtobake.
We’re always being told to eat more oily fish, but until recently there was little conclusive evidence that omega fatty acids (also found in eggs and nuts), could benefit mature brains. This year, a study published in the journal Neurology showed that fatty acids help maintain brain function into old age.
After six months of upping their intake, a test group at the Universitätsmedizin in Berlin were better able to plan, organise, strategise, concentrate and remember. For bonus points, sardines are also rich in a fatty substance called phosphatidylcholine, which is the key nutrient for memory function.
B is for brain
It’s not just bad fats that can damage your brain – everything you eat affects the health of your grey matter. A recent study from Oxford University found that high levels of B vitamins could slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. So that means plenty of green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach, lots of avocado on toast to keep your folate levels up, and plenty of milk, shellfish and, if you can stomach it, liver. They all contain super-vitamin B12, which will keep your brain a healthy size and slow cognitive decline.