What nutrients help improve brain health?

Food is medicine and can help you be trim, vibrant, happy and focused -- or it can make you plump, sluggish and sad. Navigate your way to the best brain foods with my 7 Rules for Brain Healthy Eating. These apply to everybody!
  1. Think high-quality calories in vs. high-quality energy out. Don’t let anyone tell you that calories don’t count. They do. But it is not as simple as calories in versus calories out. Focus on eating high-quality calories.
  2. Drink plenty of water and not too many of your calories. Your brain is 80 percent water. Anything that dehydrates it, such as too much caffeine or alcohol, decreases your thinking and impairs your judgment. Drink plenty of water every day.
  3. Eat high-quality lean protein earlier in the day. It helps balance your blood sugar, boosts concentration and provides the necessary building blocks for brain health. Did you know that spinach is nearly 50 percent protein? I use it instead of lettuce on my sandwiches for a huge nutrition boost.
  4. Eat low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrates. Eat carbohydrates that do not spike your blood sugar and are also high in fiber, such as those found in vegetables and fruits -- think blueberries, apples and whole grains. Carbohydrates are NOT the enemy. They are essential to your life. Bad carbohydrates are the enemy. These are carbohydrates that have been robbed of any nutritional value, such as simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. I like the old saying, “The whiter the bread, the faster you’re dead.”
  5. Focus your diet on healthy fats. Eliminate bad fats, such as ALL trans-fats and most animal fat. Focus your diet on healthy fats, especially those that contain omega-3 fatty acids in foods like salmon, avocados, walnuts and green leafy vegetables.
  6. Eat from the rainbow. Eat natural foods of many different colors, such as blueberries, pomegranates, yellow squash and red bell peppers. These boost the antioxidant levels in your body and help keep your brain young. Of course, this does not mean candy or jelly beans!
  7. Cook with brain-healthy herbs and spices to boost your brain. Turmeric (found in curry) contains a chemical that has been shown to decrease the plaques in the brain. Sage has very good scientific evidence that it helps boost memory. Cinnamon has been shown to support focus and attention. It has also been found to support healthy blood sugar levels, which improves brain function and decision-making.
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
How much smarts you get from your food is as much about what you choose not to eat as what you choose to eat. Nutrients our brain loves include:
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (an essential omega 3 fatty acid) and its precursor alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), choline, and phytonutrients (plant compounds) with antioxidant properties. DHA and ALA sources include: cold water fish, walnuts, soy beans, flax seed oil, and chia and hemp seeds
  • Choline is found in: Peanuts, cauliflower, eggs (especially the yolk), pinto/navy/kidney beans, cod, shrimp, Brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • Antioxidants include: Berries, green tea, spinach, apples, kale, tomatoes, sweet potato, Swiss chard, parsley and many more
Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
Socked away from the rest of the body in its high and mighty position, the brain is in charge of everything we do. It deserves all the special attention we can give it. Just as exercise can improve brain function and growth, nutrition is key for both brains and bliss! The following nutrients help improve brain health:
  • Water: The brain is about 80 percent water, so keep it tanked up with water. Dehydration increases the brain's stress levels and affects thinking.
  • Fish oil: Our brains are also made of fat -- fatty acids, that is. DHA, one form of Omega 3 fatty acids, makes up much of the brains' gray manner and neurons. Dietary Omega 3 from fish or plants is vital for optimal thinking.
  • Antioxidants: Dietary antioxidants -- such as green tea, dark chocolate, resveratrol, fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables -- counter the development of toxic ions in the brain called free-radicals, which contribute to cognitive deterioration with age. The best antioxidant fruits and veggies include blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, brussels sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries, and kiwis. Vitamins A and C are also powerful antioxidants.
  • Vitamin B: Many B vitamins are vital to normal brain and nerve function. Most of the B vitamins, as well as folic acid, have specific advantages for your brain and nervous system:
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Essential for healthy brain and nerve cells.
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): Forms a coenzyme that helps in transmission of nerve impulses.
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Helps convert tryptophan into serotonin, a brain chemical.
  • Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin): Helps maintain healthy nervous tissue. It is found in eggs, meat, fish, and poultry, as well as milk and dairy products.
  • Folic acid: Essential for metabolism of long-chain fatty acids in the brain. It is found in bananas, orange juice, fortified cereals, lemons, strawberries, cantaloupe, leafy vegetables, dried beans, and peas. It is especially important for pregnant women because low levels increase the risk of neural tube defects in newborns.
Dr. Vonda Wright's Guide to Thrive: 4 Steps to Body, Brains, and Bliss

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Dairy foods are packed with protein and B vitamins, both are essential for growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. Milk and yogurt also provide a bigger punch with both protein and carbohydrates, which are the preferred source of energy for the brain.

Recent research suggests that children and teens need 10 times more than the recommended dose of vitamin D, a vitamin that benefits the neuromuscular system and the overall life cycle of human cells.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.