We spend a lot of time thinking? About what? How often do you think about how to nourish our brain? The brain is the transmitter for our mind to live in the world. Without a healthy brain we limit our experiences. Our brain not only governs our capacity to think, learn, reason, and remember; it’s also the control center for virtually every other bodily process that we have. And, not surprisingly, it’s an organ that requires optimal nourishment.
Most of us probably spend more time thinking about whether our food contains enough fiber for our GI tracts than we do about whether we’re getting enough B vitamins for our brain cells. Here is a list of foods along with their constituents that support nourishment for optimal brain function.
1. Garbanzo beans
Beans in general are one of the best food sources for many reasons but garbanzo beans are one of my favorites because of the magnesium content (aside from kelp and green leafy vegetables). Magnesium citrate benefits brain cell receptors to speed the transmission of messages, while also relaxing blood vessels, which allows more blood flow to the brain.
Your brain is mostly fat. Fat insulates your brain by providing support to the cells that protect nerve conduction. Olive oil is a beneficial health-promoting fat for your brain. Other foods with good fats include organic butter from raw milk, clarified butter, olives, and coconut oil for example.
The two chief omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and an essential omega-6 is linoleic acid (LA). Omega fatty acids are essential building blocks for the cell membrane of brain cells. They are found in the foods that were listed above as well as others.
Nuts like almond and walnuts are great ingredients for maintaining blood vessels. The Omega 3 fatty acids present in walnuts also enhance the mind and the antioxidants present in walnuts and most nuts in general lower cholesterol. Nuts in general are good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols and antioxidants, and have been shown to reverse brain aging in older rats.
Garlic, known as Allium sativum, is a pungent herb has been used in cooking and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Due to its inflammation-reducing properties it may be beneficial for your brain. Garlic also contains a byproduct of an enzymatic reaction called allicin which has the ability to fight infections. An article published in “The American Society for Nutritional Sciences” in 2001 noted that aged garlic extract, known as AGE, may play a part in protecting against brain function loss, as indicated by its ability to increase memory, cognitive functions and longevity.
Blueberries as well as other berries, citrus fruits and even black and green tea and many colorful fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids – plant metabolites that perform several functions. They are essential pigments for producing the colors needed to attract pollinating insects. In higher order plants, flavonoids are also required for UV filtration, nitrogen fixation, cell cycle inhibition, and as chemical messengers.
Some studies have found that extracts from blueberries, strawberries, spinach, and blackberries may reverse the normal cognitive changes and memory problems that accompany the aging process. Flavonoids take part in multiple cellular processes, depending on the type of flavonoid. They are responsible for many aspects our brain function including, memory and cognitive function.
Flavonoids boost the brain’s ability to form new neurons , prevent brain cells from dying, and enhance what researchers call “synaptic plasticity”, or the ability of neurons to form and reform connections with each another.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, collards, swiss chard, spinach for example, are great sources of fiber, folate, and carotenoids. In addition they contain vitamins C, K and minerals iron and calcium, all known to support some aspect of brain function. Homocysteine, an non protein alpha amino acid, is shown to be responsible for dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and break down of arterial walls, when present in high amounts. But dark leafy vegetables break down homocysteine with the help of folate and vitamin B and B6.
Chocolate contains a “fatty acid” neurotransmitter known as anandamide – a neurotransmitter derivative of fatty acid, arachidonic acid. It occurs naturally in the brain where it plays a role in pain, depression, appetite, memory and fertility. It also has been shown to alter dopamine levels in the brain, causing a sense of peace and relaxation.
Cocoa is a powerful antioxidant that prevents the brain from oxidative stress that may contribute to Parkinson’s Disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure, Alzheimer’s Disease and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dark chocolate and cacao contain L-tryptophan, the neurotransmitter responsible for relaxing the brain. But dark chocolate and cacao also contain magnesium, a mineral widely recognized for its ability to calm the nervous system. Used medicinally, which is rare since we tend to make this a habit, it can be beneficial.
Sweet potatoes, yams.
A complex carbohydrate food that contains high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins, sweet potatoes are another nutritionally-dense food that can help calm your nerves, eliminate stress, and even lower your blood pressure. Similarly, yams contain an array of nutrient compounds that feed the glandular system and promote respiratory, urinary, and nervous system health. If you feel ungrounded or anxious this is an excellent food to include in your diet.
Freshly made whey, is one of my favorite beverages. Because it is naturally rich in L-tryptophan, not to mention a whole range of other healing amino acids and nutrients, whey is an excellent food for calming your nervous system naturally. Tryptophan has been shown to assist in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter hormone that regulates our entire body including our endocrine, digestive, nervous system, and circulatory system. And since low levels of serotonin are linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems, taking whey can help nourish your brain.
The brain needs its carbs despite what we hear with the ongoing carbohydrate debate. Nutrition gives the brain the tools and building blocks it needs to perform vital actions like thinking, making memories, and repairing cell damage. But the brain also needs the energy to do its work. While the brain only makes up about 2% of our body-weight, it uses up to 20% of our body’s energy resources.
Whole grains and brown rice contains vitamin B6 which can break down high levels of the non protein amino acid called homocysteine that has been linked to brain decline. Whole grains like brown rice, also contain magnesium that enhances cognitive function.
Aside from water, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Regardless of variety, black and green tea (as well as oolong, dark, and white teas) come from the same plant, an evergreen called Camellia sinensis. It is the processing method and degree of oxidization (exposure to oxygen) that creates the different tea types.
While black tea is oxidized, green tea is not oxidized at all after the leaves are harvested. Tea not only increases metabolism but also spikes your mind and cognitive abilities. Tea contains antioxidant, catechines that enhances blood flow. Green tea shows promise for protecting brain health. In a study presented at the 2015 International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, those who drank green tea one to six days a week had less mental decline than those who didn’t drink it. (Reference WebMD April 3, 2015) http://www.webmd.com/
Turmeric is a root that comes from the same family as ginger. It has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal qualities. As a spice it is used throughout Asia and is currently catching on throughout the US. Research has shown that turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin may help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as break up existing plaques. It has been suggested that its active compound curcumin, contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant curcumin.
Get Started Now: You Can Create a New Path to Support Your Brain
More and more evidence suggests making changes to our nutrition can reverse the damage that’s been done from past blunders. Research shows that our food choices meditation and movement e.g. exercise, can actually reverse the negative effects that a poor diet has on our brains. When we adopt new lifestyle habits to support our well-being, we feel good. And Feeling Good does indeed matter. Use common sense when it comes to brain food— and the choices you make today will affect your body and brain in years to come.
A Final Checklist
In general, eating a well-balanced diet, along with moderate amounts of exercise as you are able, is the best way to keep your brain healthy now and in the future. The vivid colors in natural foods come from the nutrients within them, so look for deeply colored fruits and vegetables. For example, sweet potatoes with deep orange flesh, blueberries, dark leafy greens, and many types of colorful fruits and vegetables offer a range of essential phytonutrients including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants qualities.
- Add healthy fats like omega-3 and -6s to protect your brain.
- Eat moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates like whole grain rice to keep your brain and metabolism fueled throughout the day.
- Eat lots of fruits and veggies with vivid colors for a full range of brain-healthy phytochemicals and antioxidants.
- Include a beverage of tea in moderation for added antioxidants if you enjoy tea.
- To keep B vitamin levels adequate, consume healthy derived plant proteins like tempeh, non-GMO tofu, beans, nuts, and quinoa.
NOTE: Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may be low in a nutrient. He or she can do a blood test to determine if any deficiencies exist and make suggestions about how to get your levels up if needed.