Is your brain feeling a little sluggish? Everyone has episodes of "brain fog" -- poor memory or concentration -- from time to time. Your diet may affect your brain more than you think; the same healthy foods that make you feel well physically also help your brain function properly. One essential nutrient, omega-3, is especially important to brain health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that you must get from food, because your body doesn't manufacture them itself. These fatty acids tend to be highly concentrated in your brain and are important to your cognitive and behavioral functions. If you don't get enough omega-3s, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, poor memory, mood swings and depression, all of which can make you feel like you have "brain fog."
Getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet may reduce your risk of heart disease, arthritis, cancer and macular degeneration. These fatty acids can also reduce inflammation, making them helpful for conditions such as existing arthritis or menstrual pain. In addition to brain and memory problems, dry skin, heart problems and poor circulation can result from an omega-3 deficiency. It's especially important for pregnant women to get plenty of omega-3s, because a fetal deficiency can result in vision and nerve problems later on.
The most concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, sardines, albacore tuna, herring and salmon. Eat a serving of these fish at least twice a week for optimal omega-3 intake. Vegetarian sources include flax seeds and flax oil, walnuts, dark leafy green vegetables, kidney and pinto beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, papaya and canola oil, as well as beverages and dairy products specially fortified with omega-3 DHA.
You should also try to balance the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. Although both are important, Americans tend to eat too much of omega-6-containing foods, such as red meat, and not enough foods containing omega-3s, which can lead to inflammation. Try a Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fresh produce, fish and olive oil and does not include much meat.
Other Brain Boosters
A healthy lifestyle that includes a diet rich in omega-3s promotes brain health, as well as physical health. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and make time for friends and laughter. Reduce your stress levels and take steps to combat any issues with depression. Eating more fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, limiting your saturated-fat intake and drinking wine in moderation can all help give your brain a boost, as well.