Welcome back to another edition of 3 question Friday! Where our head nutritionist Ben answers his favourite 3 questions that you have asked each week.
Congratulations to Dylan, Zara, and Vanessa who all won $20 gift vouches just for asking a question! Don’t forget you can send Ben a question anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s see what we can learn this week!
- Dylan wanted to know “I’m a uni student and struggling to concentrate. Any tips on improving memory and focus?”
- Zara was curious “Is it harder to get iron on a plant-based diet?”
- Vanessa asked “My husband has atherosclerosis. What foods should he be eating?”
1. Any tips on improving memory and focus?
There are lots of claims on the internet that certain supplements can help to improve memory and focus, but are these claims really true? These supplements are sometimes referred to as ‘nootropics’ that claim to improve brain function.
Let’s start with the more credible sources first…
One of the best things you can do for brain health, including memory and focus is by consuming omega 3 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in hemp seed oil is then converted into two types of other omega-3 fatty acids in the body called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) that have been linked to many health benefits including brain health. DHA & EPA are also found in high amounts in oily fish (eg. salmon, sardines, mackerel). (1)
DHA plays an important role in the function and structure of the brain. The brain is made up of approximately 25% of total fat in the brain, and DHA makes up for 90% of omega 3 fats in our brain cells (2)(3). DHA has shown to improve memory, focus and brain function, so aim to get consume hemp seed oil daily or oily fish twice a week to get the most of your omegas! (4)(5)(6)
It’s no surprise that moderate consumption of caffeine has also been found to enhance brain function, alertness, concentration, focus and short-term memory! Keep in mind that excessive caffeine can also cause anxiety and trouble sleeping (7).
L-theanine is an amino acid (building blocks of protein) that has reported brain benefits. One study found that when L-theanine is paired with caffeine it may help to increase focus and attention... but perhaps this could just be the caffeine? (8)
Resveratrol is an antioxidant that can be found in grape skins, raspberries, blueberries, red wine, chocolate, and peanuts. There are studies that suggest that resveratrol supplements can help to improve memory in older adults and animal studies, however more research may be needed in humans to backup these claims. (9)(10)(11)(12)
There are many other popular supplements on the internet that have claims of improved focus and concentration such as lion’s mane (a type of mushroom), acetyl-l carnitine (amino acid), gingko biloba (herbal supplement), and creatine. While there is some evidence for these nootropics, many of these supplements may need further studies to prove these claims (13).
Bottom line here is if it feels like it works then why not?! Just don’t waste your money on something that doesn’t work… or has a placebo effect!
2. Is it harder to get iron on a plant-based diet?
I’m glad you asked! I get this question all the time from people… especially vegans and vegetarians. I wrote a blog earlier this week about how to get enough iron in the diet that you can access here.
The reason why everyone thinks that iron is harder to get on a plant-based diet is because we often think of iron only being found in red meat, but there are in fact lots of different plant-based sources. Iron is so important because it assists to deliver oxygen around the body that can help to prevent fatigue.
There are actually 2 types of iron found in foods: haem-iron and non-haem iron. Animal products contain 40% haem-iron and 60% non-haem iron, while certain plant foods contain 100% non-haem iron.
Haem-iron is better absorbed but is more difficult to remove from the body if there is too much, that can cause complications. Non-haem iron is less absorbed (believed to be due to anti-nutrients found in plants) but is only absorbed when the body needs it, so may help to regulate iron levels more easily!
For this reason, The Institute of Medicine suggests that iron requirements for vegetarians should 1.8 times higher, compared to iron requirements for non-vegetarians (14). Luckily, there is vitamin C that can help to improve absorption by up to a six-fold. There’s a lot more to this question than is lead on to be - Check out the blog to learn more!
3. My husband has atherosclerosis. What foods should he be eating?
Atherosclerosis is a type of heart disease that happens when plaque (a fatty substance) builds up inside your arteries (aka blood vessels). Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death. Risk factors may include high cholesterol and triglyceride (fat), high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, lack of physical activity, and eating saturated/trans fats.
There are a number of ways that you can improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease. The Heart Foundation recommends eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, protein-rich foods, healthy fats (avocados, olives, nuts and seeds) and healthy oils (hemp seed, olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and soybean oil), while also cutting back on salt, refined sugars (eg. baked goods, chocolate, lollies), chips, take-away food and sugary drinks! Exercise is another great approach to reducing your risk of heart disease (aim for at least 30 min to an hour a day) (15).
Did you know that turmeric may even help to prevent and manage heart disease! One of the ways that curcumin can support heart health is by improving endothelium function. The endothelium are cells that line the inside of your blood vessels. The endothelium plays an important role in heart health, with endothelium dysfunction resulting in an inability to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting and other various factors associated with heart disease.
Turmeric can also help to reduce atherosclerosis due to curcumin’s (the active compound found in turmeric) potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may help to reduce plaque build-up and prevent atherosclerosis (16)(17)(18).
If you have any questions or need support with your health, feel free to email our head nutritionist Ben at email@example.com
This article does not constitute medical advice and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please see your medical professional before implementing the above.