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Finnish berries are brilliant brain food – Research: "Berries over any imported fruit" 04.10.2018
Kati Latva-Teikari
Link to the article (only in Finnish)

The brain needs constant refuelling but pay attention to the type of fuel. The brain needs fibre, vitamins, fat, and sugar. Nutrition affects mood, alertness, and even memory.

Suvi Kattilakoski prepares a green smoothie every morning. This woman from Kokkola, Finland, loads Finnish berries and avocado into a blender. The combo wouldn’t be complete without celery, spinach, nettle powder, and spirulina algae. "My goal is to prepare a tasty smoothie, but to be honest, I wouldn’t serve this to my best friend," she says and laughs. Taste is not the priority for her. "I’ve tried porridge, yogurt, and cottage cheese, but they weren’t good for me. My personal well-being is the reason for this sort of breakfast". Brain researcher Minna Huotilainen emphasizes the importance of breakfast when it comes to alertness and brain health. The human mind tends to enjoy a clear-cut eating routine, snacks included. The brain doesn’t have an energy storage of its own; therefore, regular refuelling is important for maintaining proper level of alertness," advises Huotilainen. The brain needs sugar, but one doesn’t need to stuff their face with it; rather, let the body form sugar on its own as carbohydrates break down into glucose and other sugars. Health professionals recommend eating slow carbohydrates, such as porridge, vegetables, and whole-grain bread.

Cloudberry is the ruler of fibre and vitamin C in forest berries

According to researchers, the Finnish berries in Suvi Kattikoski’s morning smoothies are excellent brainfood for the day ahead. Both neurologist Satu Mustanoja from Helsinki University Central Hospital and cancer researcher Docent Anna-Maria Pajari from the University of Helsinki speak in favour of berries. For breakfast or snack, Anna-Maija Pajari advises whipping up as colourful of a berry cocktail as possible. Every forest and garden berry has its own beneficial component in the battle of keeping our bodies healthy. "I definitely recommend eating Finnish berries instead of imported fruits". Pajari mentions that Finnish berries beat these fruits in fibre content, for instance. Indeed, fibre is very important when it comes to gut health. It also slows the blood sugar surge down after meals and benefits the blood’s lipid levels. "Cloudberries have the highest fibre content: 6.3 grams per 100 grams. Wild Bilberry isn’t far behind with 5 grams. In third place is the lingonberry, with a respectable 2.3 grams. When comparing forest berries, cloudberry contains the highest amount of vitamin C and carotenoids, both of which the body uses to create active vitamin A compounds," advises Pajari. Berries also triumph over most fruits as the source of bioactive polyphenols. For instance, flavonoids are important polyphenolic compounds, and they are proven to have various health benefits. "Anthocyanins have been found to affect the activity of enzymes responsible for the metabolism, or conversion, of neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Consequently, they might be able to control the serotonin and dopamine levels in the body," says Pajari. Dopamine is the “feel-good hormone", and serotonin is known for being the "satisfaction hormone", which balances different mood peaks. According to Pajari, there is also already some scientific evidence of the positive effects of wild bilberries on post-meal glucose and insulin responses, low-grade inflammation, blood lipid levels, and memory.

Freezing or heating doesn’t destroy the health benefits

Polyphenols are durable and won’t break down easily in cold or heat. Thus, frozen berries are as rich in polyphenols as fresh ones.

"Colour is a great rule of thumb. If the berries’ colour has faded while in the freezer, the number of biochemical compounds has decreased," mentions Pajari. According to her, you can even add in some sugar without a worry before freezing, since it can help preserve the important compounds.

"You definitely shouldn’t ignore berries and miss out on the health benefits just because you want to avoid sugar. Rather a sprinkle of sugar to ease the bitterness than to enjoy no berries at all! According to Pajari, the scientific tests have been conducted with a daily dose of a half or a full cup (1–2dl) of berries, so even a tiny amount of forest and garden berries goes a long way.

The brain is mainly fat tissue

Most of the brain matter, around 60%, is myelin fat. Its purpose is to cover and protect nerve cells and help them work efficiently. That is why great brainfood should contain an appropriate amount of fat. Neurologist Satu Mustanoja advises to prefer unsaturated, aka soft, fats. Those kinds of fats can be found in the avocado of Suvi Kattilakoski’s morning smoothie. Soft fats contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for the brain. The acids lubricate the cell membranes of nerve cells and enhance the activity of synapses. Fat quality affects cholesterol levels in the blood. Hard, saturated fat is very often the culprit in congested carotid and brain arteries and, as a result, the one to blame for brain infarcts.