Memory, focus, concentration, mood, and cognition. These are all important aspects of brain health.
Do you ever think about which foods might be helpful to your brain? You probably should. And here’s why: nutrition is key for maintaining a healthy brain.
Proper nutrition can increase the expression of neuroprotective and neuromodulatory proteins.
It can also increase the number and strength of connections between neurons.
Some foods can event help to generate certain parts of the brain and increase circulation to this important organ.
A healthy diet can improve your performance across multiple different cognitive abilities and enhance overall cognitive function.
It can also help with verbal learning, as well as verbal and spatial recall.
Healthy foods can help to prevent the degeneration of neurons and the brain itself.
In fact, your micronutrient status can actually affect your cognitive function, whether you’re young or old. Some vitamin deficiencies can influence the function of your memory and may even lead to cognitive impairment and dementia. (1)
As you can see, your diet has a lot to do with your brain health. Let’s discuss exactly which nutrients and which foods you’ll want to incorporate into your diet to get these neuroprotective effects.
Best nutrients for brain health
Your brain has a few main functions. First of all, your brain receives information through the five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Your brain then assembles the gathered information into a way that makes sense to you. (2)
The brain can also store information in the form of memory. Your brain governs your thoughts, memories, mood, speech, movement, and function of your organs. (3)
Those are some important jobs! That’s why maintaining good brain health is so crucial. Here are some of the nutrients that will get the job done.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are healthy fats that are found mostly in fish. One study found that weekly consumption of fish is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, as well as all-cause dementia. (4)
B vitamins can be helpful for brain health, especially B6 and B12.
Vitamin B6 is involved in the regulation of mental function and mood. (5)
B6 helps with the re-methylation of homocysteine. If you don’t have enough B6, chances are you also have higher levels of homocysteine in the blood. (6)
This is not a good thing since homocysteine is a risk factor for cerebrovascular disease and it may have direct toxic effects on neurons in your central nervous system. (7)
High blood levels of homocysteine have been suggested as a potential cause of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other forms of dementia. (8)
And it’s not just your memory that will suffer if you don’t have enough vitamin B6. Other neuropsychiatric disorders have also been linked to B6 deficiency, including seizures, migraines, depression, and chronic pain. (9)
Ensuring that you have enough B6 in your diet has been shown to help reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. (10)
And how about B12? The link between B12 deficiency and neuropsychiatric disorders has been known for almost two centuries. Pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency) was first described all the way back in 1849. (11)
It has also been suggested in the scientific community that B12 deficiency might contribute to age-associated cognitive impairment. (12)
Researchers have noted that patients with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have a higher prevalence of B12 deficiency. (13)
It’s important for your brain’s sake that you ensure you are getting enough vitamin B12 in your diet!
Modern research has found that eating foods high in antioxidants significantly improves cognitive capabilities. Not only that, but it also inhibits or delays neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. (14)
Antioxidants have neuroprotective functions, meaning that they help to protect the brain. (15)
They do this by interacting with different signaling protein pathways and modulating their actions. (16)
They also increase blood flow and can actually help to regenerate neurons in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus. (17)
Antioxidants stop the progression of neurodegenerative diseases by inhibiting free radicals and beta-amyloid proteins. (18)
Together, all these protective mechanisms lead to maintenance in the number and quality of neurons, as well as their connectivity in the brain. (19)
Choline is an essential nutrient that is also a precursor to phospholipids and neurotransmitters. (19)
Dietary choline intake influences cognitive function due to an effect on phosphatidylcholine. Higher choline consumption is associated with higher memory performance and resistance to cognitive decline. (20)
Choose these foods to improve your brain health
A mindful approach to what you put inside your body is best. Making better food choices can have positive effects on your brain health. And besides, there are incredible flavors and options available within nature.
Flavonoid-rich foods are just one example of this. They are high in antioxidants. They are colorful, flavorful, and can be found in many different kinds of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, chocolate, and even drinks like wine and tea! Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Choose these foods to improve your brain health.
Yes, I’m giving you permission to eat chocolate! Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids and therefore has brain-protecting properties.
One study looked at 2031 participants, aged 70 to 74 years old. They consumed chocolate and underwent cognitive testing. Researchers found that the association between chocolate intake and cognition is dose-dependent, with a maximum effect at 10 grams per day. (21)
Regular black tea can be good for brain health, but why not have a tea that packs a real brain-protecting punch? BrainTea contains ingredients that boost brain health, such as Ginkgo Biloba, Gotu Kola, Lion’s Mane Mushroom and MCT oil.
Ginkgo Biloba is another plant that is often used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It has been proven to have effects that prevent cognitive decline. (26)
Gotu Kola is a plant used as a herbal brain tonic for mental disorders and for enhancing memory. It does this mostly by improving alertness and relieving anger. (25)
Lion’s Mane Mushroom has been found to be neuroprotective. It helps to improve cognitive function. This is due to its antioxidative properties. (24)
One study was done on MCT oil, where participants were given the oil for 24 weeks and then took cognitive assessments. (22)
They found that the MCT oil intake was able to increase serum ketone bodies and improve memory compared to placebo. Researchers concluded that ketone precursors such as MCT oil help to modulate cognitive function. (23)
Avocados are high in a phytonutrient called lutein. Higher lutein levels in the brain are related to better cognition. (27)
One randomized controlled trial looked at this over a six-month period. Participants consumed one avocado per day. (28)
After the six months, their lutein levels had increased by 25% from baseline. Participants experienced improvement in their memory and spatial working memory. They also had better-sustained attention. (29)
They even had improved working memory and efficiency in approaching a problem. Researchers concluded that avocado consumption is an effective strategy for cognitive health. (30)
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a rich, plant-based source of phytonutrients. Research has shown nut and seed consumption to be associated with the presence of better cognitive function in older adults. (31)
The high flavonoid content of berries demonstrates great potential as an antioxidant. Research supports their use in the prevention of cognitive deficit, too! (32)
One study found that berry consumption is associated with lower markers of oxidative stress. Researchers found that there was a relationship between cognitive protection and a decrease in oxidative stress markers. (33)
This is what led them to conclude that the prevention of cognitive damage occurred due to the antioxidant activity of the berries. (34)
We all know that coffee contains caffeine. And we are all pretty familiar with the fact that caffeine has short-term stimulating effects on the central nervous system.
But did you know that caffeine also has beneficial effects against cognitive decline? In fact, studies have shown that three to five cups of coffee per day during midlife is associated with a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by 65% later on in life. This is thought to be due to coffee’s role as an antioxidant. (35)
It goes without saying that your brain is one of the most important organs in your body. It’s important to take care of it!
Eating some bright, colorful, tasty foods can help – so why not do it? It’s not too hard to incorporate some coffee, berries, nuts, seeds, avocados, tea, and chocolate into your life. And the outcome is worth it.