So does eating fish make you brainy??
There are a lot of claims about the benefits of particular foods and drinks. Many of us were told as children that ‘eating carrots help you to see in the dark’ or that ‘eating the crusts of bread will make your hair curly’. Even now people make these statements. It is often difficult to tell the difference between fact, fiction and folklore. So let’s try to demystify these claims. Dietitians help people to do this by translating research and scientific evidence into practical dietary advice. In this blog let’s look specifically at food and how this affects your mood.
‘Eating fish makes you brainy’
So let’s start with the title of this blog. Although not strictly true, there is some scientific basis to this claim. Oily fish such as mackerel, pilchards, crab, sardines and salmon are high in a substance called omega 3. Omega 3 is also present in vegetable oils, nuts, soya products and green leafy vegetables. Some foods such as bread, milk and spreads are also fortified with omega 3. There has been a lot of research into omega 3 and findings have suggested that it may be beneficial in reducing risk of stroke and heart disease. Research is ongoing but there is no conclusive evidence at present to suggest omega 3 can help to prevent or treat dementia. So although it does not make you brainy it can help keep your brain and the blood vessels that supply it healthy. It is important to eat a portion of oily fish high in omega 3 at least once a week.
‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’
The claims about breakfast do have some truth. It is important to eat food regularly throughout the day to provide your body with a steady flow of nutrients and energy. The nutrient carbohydrate which is found in starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, cereals and grains is particularly important as it provides the energy our brain prefers to use. People often believe that eating carbohydrates will make them gain weight but this is not true. Often it is the portions being taken or what is being added to these foods such as butter, sugar or full fat milk that might cause weight gain.
It is important to include a food which is high in carbohydrate at each main meal. Choosing wholegrain varieties is recommended as they are high in fibre which can help prevent constipation, reduce cholesterol and help with weight control. Cereals are also often fortified with important vitamins such as iron and vitamin B12.
‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’
Fruit and vegetables are key sources of vitamins and minerals and a group of substances called anti-oxidants which help to fight harmful substances called free radicals which can damage the body including the brain. Although eating them will not necessarily stop you needing to see a doctor they do have a number of health benefits. Vitamins and minerals are needed to fight infection and disease, heal wounds and keep your body healthy and well. You will also have heard the old adage about ‘carrots helping you to see in the dark’. The claim is due to their high vitamin A level which has been shown to have benefits to eye health. Eating a good balance of foods including fruit and vegetables helps to provide the right amount of vitamins and minerals to help your body work to its full potential.
‘What’s so special about superfoods?’
The term ‘superfood’ has become very popular in recent years especially with celebrities and is often part of the latest fad diet. It is a term used for foods such as goji berries, pomegranate juice, green tea and wheatgrass. By eating or drinking these foods it is claimed that you will experience a variety of health benefits. Unfortunately there is little evidence to back up these claims. Often foods which are high a particular vitamin or mineral are labelled in this way, but these nutrients can be found in a range of other foods. For example 100mls of orange juice contains 50mg of vitamin C, which more than meets the recommended intake for the average adult of 35-40mg per day. Eating a wide variety of foods will help you to achieve all the nutrients you need to keep healthy body and mind.
Mind the Gap
A free and often overlooked nutrient is water or more generally fluids. Dehydration can make you feel tired, dizzy, light headed, affect your concentration, affect your skin health and increase the likelihood of headaches and constipation. Obviously it is best to avoid feeling like this. Everyone should try to have between 1500-2000mls or 8-10 cups of fluid per day. Hot weather, having an infection or having the heating on high can increase this amount by a further 1-2 cups of fluid. Fluids include water, tea, coffee, fruit juice and milk. Some foods are also high in fluid such as grapes, melon, ice-cream, jelly and soup.
A word on caffeine and alcohol….
Caffeine and alcohol both act as a stimulant and a diuretic – they can give you a feeling of having more energy or being more awake. Unfortunately short term feelings of having more energy do not last and can lead to feelings of agitation, fluctuating energy levels and mood. High caffeine drinks such as coffee, cola, energy drinks and alcoholic drinks can also act as a diuretic causing you to pee more often and add to dehydration. Try swapping to lower caffeine alternatives such as decaffeinated coffee or tea, caffeine free fizzy drinks, diluted drinks or water!
What about taking nutritional supplements?
When you are able to eat a good range of foods there should be no need to take additional supplements unless you have been advised to by your doctor or health professional.
A number of supplements such as Ginko Biloba have been marketed as being beneficial for memory and brain health. While there have been some studies to suggest there may be a benefit there is no conclusive evidence and further research is required. If you are considering taking any nutritional supplement you should discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist first to make sure this will not adversely affect any other medications you are taking.
Thank you for reading my blog, it would be great if you would like to comment on the ideas I have written about. Also during dementia awareness week #DAW2016 (Scotland), if you have any questions on diet and nutrition and dementia and are at the Alzheimers Scotland conference on the 3rd June, come to STAND 26 where my colleague Evelyn, (@Evelynnenewman17) a registered dietitian will be there and happy to have a “blether” with you. The AHP stand is in the exhibition centre called
“Allied Health Professionals – who are they & how they can help you”
BLOG Nutrition and dementia : what you need to know https://letstalkaboutdementia.wordpress.com/tag/eating/
Eating well with dementia guide. A carers guide: http://www.ndr-uk.org/vmchk/EDS/Eating-Well-with-Dementia-a-carers-guide.html
Dietitian Key Facts Dementia by British Dietetic Association https://www.bda.uk.com/professional/iap/dementia_kf_sheet
Blog post by Gillian McMillan, Specialist Dietitian – Mental Health, NHS Lanarkshire