What are "flavonoids" in foods, and how can they help you protect your brain?

Green tea, fresh fruit, vegetables and even red wine can increase your cognitive health and fight dementia risk

Green tea containing flavanoids
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's often said that certain foods like fruit and vegetables are considered good "brain food", but you might not know exactly why this is. You might have even heard the occasional glass of red wine and regular cups of green tea are great for your health. This is all due to chemicals in these foods known as "flavanoids" which act as anti-inflammatories, reducing the risk of a number of different inflammatory diseases and improving brain health.

A study published by researchers from the University of Athens found flavonoids reduce neuroinflammation and oxidative stress and seem to reverse symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease." This is great news, as it means you can work to prevent degenerative brain diseases with the natural chemicals found in ingredients like blueberries, apples, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale (you coud even whizz it all together in one of our best blenders), and drinks like green tea and red wine.

These flavanoids work by reducing "neuroinflammation", or chronic swelling in the brain. Some inflammation in the body is helpful – for example, when we injure ourselves and the area around the wound becomes red and tender – acting as part of the natural healing process. 

Kale

(Image credit: Adolfo Felix/Unsplash)

However, chronic inflammation in the body, which can be caused by lots of harmful lifestyle factors, can lead to cancer and diseases in our internal organs, including the brain, which can contribute to Alzheimer's and dementia. Flavanoids work as an anti-inflammatory, combatting chronic inflammation in the brain and fighting those degenerative brain diseases.

The study also said: "Flavonoids enhance cognitive function at a behavioural level and attenuate cognitive decline promoted by brain disorders." That's right: as well as avoiding a decline in brain health in later life, you can literally eat to make yourself smarter, as your brain health improves "at a behavioural level" every day.

Green tea, orchard fruit like apples and pairs, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and the occasional glass of red wine will set you on the path to a better brain. Oily fish, such as mackerel and salmon, also make for a great way to enhance brainpower, as omega-3 (found in the best fish oil supplements) also enhances neurons.