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Heart Health and Brain Function Foods

By: Ann Marie Coppen

Anne Marie Coppen

PhD, FNP, Nurse Practitioner

For a personal response to your health question, Ask Ann Marie at askannmarie@lindora.com. Selected questions will be featured in future columns.

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What foods can I integrate into my diet to enhance heart health and brain function while I am at it?

Great question!

Every month we try and provide tips to improve your health, well being, level of happiness, and healthy lifestyle. We have discussed how to decrease risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. In decreasing risk for these health issues, you are on the path to enhancing heart health and brain health!

By maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, controlling portion sizes, and maintaining a positive outlook, you are on the right path.

I will start with sharing foods that are particularly good for brain function.

Last month I shared with you what the ‘glycemic index’ is and what are the best food choices to select based on glycemic index. Foods with a low glycemic index are the better choices because they help keep your blood sugar and insulin steady, avoiding a ‘crash’ resulting in you feeling sluggish and this includes your brain. With a steady blood sugar flow to the brain, we maximize function and energy.

Last month I shared a list of high, moderate, and low glycemic foods. Summarizing the best foods for brain function (low glycemic index) is:

  • Fruits (blueberries, apples are the best)
  • Cereals (oatmeal and bran preferred)
  • Dairy
  • Vegetables (lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans are great options)
  • Grains

Protein is also a great source to peak brain function. Protein supplies our brains with amino acids (building blocks of proteins) which prompt the creation of neurotransmitters (facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses). This allows part of the brain to more effectively pass on information. Neurotransmitters fed with quality food are more effective, quicker, and more powerful in communicating!

Great sources of protein include:

  • Skinless poultry
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Fish, particularly cold water fish which are high in Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, tuna)

Complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal identified above, are a great source of enhancing brain function. The reason follows that of the glycemic index. The longer period of time it takes to digest and breakdown a carbohydrate, the steadier the blood sugar flow to the brain is. Oat bran and barley are additional great sources of complex carbohydrates.

Other things that you can do to improve brain function include:

  • If you drink alcohol do so in moderation
  • Cut down on soda
  • Consider drinking coffee moderately
  • Limit red meat consumption 
As you can imagine, foods that are good for the brain are good for the heart as well.

The leading foods for a healthy heart include:

  • Fruits and vegetables, particularly:
    • Blueberries
    • Carrots
    • Oranges
    • Papaya
    • Cantaloupe
    • Asparagus
    • Spinach
    • Broccoli
    • Asparagus
  • Oatmeal
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Salmon  (Omega 3)
  • Brown Rice
  • Red wine (limit to one glass per day)
  • Dark chocolate (may have cardiovascular benefits [the flavonols in dark chocolate has been suggested to help by searching for free radicals and improving platelet and endothelial function].  Don’t get too carried away, however; too much will defeat the benefits.)

In summary:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Select whole grains
  • Control your portion size
  • Choose low fat proteins
  • Limit your sodium intake (2,300 milligrams per day-about 1 teaspoon; 1500 mg per day for those over the age of 51, are African American, or have been officially diagnosed as having chronic kidney disease or high blood pressure).

By integrating these suggested foods, you can have a healthy brain & heart!

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