Nutrition And Brain Health

Nutrition Brain Health

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Did you even know that what we eat on a daily basis determines our cognitive well-being? The food we eat directly influences our brain health so that we can experience enhanced concentration, memory and other cognitive functions. The more nutritious our diet is, the sharper our brain will be.

How Nutrition Affects Brain Health?

Bain health is determined by a person’s ability to function normally in his/her day-to-day life. Such actions include solving problems, making the right decisions, communicating smoothly with others, and possessing an emotional balance. A 2017 study shows that the human brain is composed of millions of cells called neurons. The interaction between cells occurs via chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are produced from ‘exogenous substances’. This is where nutrition comes into play as it is crucial for effective function of the brain. Neurotransmitters are formed of amino acids, found in food leading to a strong correlation between nutrition and mood.

Another 2010 study 1 states that while food has been traditionally considered to provide energy and building material in the body, ‘an abundance of specific nutrients can affect cognitive processes and emotions. The research had provided compelling evidence highlighting how dietary factors influence and maintain our mental function. For instance, an omega-3 fatty acids-rich diet is earning recognition for maintaining cognitive processes in humans. Foods rich in saturated fat decrease molecular substrates, which help in cognitive processing, and further increases the likelihood of neurological dysfunction. It has also been observed that individuals with poor nutrition and diet are more likely to develop mental disorder. “nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression,” and other mental illnesses, found a 2008 study 2 .

Foods That Support Brain Health

foods that support brain health

Here are some of the most common food items that can help you to improve your brain health and cognitive abilities when added to your daily diet:

1. Oily Fish

Oily or fatty fish is a rich source of omega-3 that helps in boosting brain health. These fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that fosters the development of membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain cells. Thus, they can enhance the structure of brain cells called neurons. A 2017 study 3 states that people with high levels of omega-3s experience better blood flow in the brain. It has also recognized a connection between omega-3 levels and better cognition, or thinking abilities.

2. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains cocoa, also known as cacao, rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are essential for brain health as the brain is highly sensitive to oxidative stress. This phenomenon further contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. According to a 2013 study 4 , antioxidants promote the growth of neurons and blood in those parts of the brain associated with memory and learning. They may also stimulate blood flow in the brain.

A 2018 study, the researchers used imaging methods to look at the activity of the brain after the participants ate chocolate with at least 70% cacao. In this study, it was concluded that eating this type of dark chocolate may develop brain plasticity, which is vital for learning and may also provide other brain-related benefits.

3. Berries

Just like dark chocolate, berries also contain flavonoid antioxidants, thus making them good for the brain. A 2014 study 5 notes the benefits of the antioxidant compounds in berries which include:

  • Enhancing interaction between brain cells
  • Decreasing inflammation throughout the body
  • Increasing plasticity
  • Delaying age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline

Antioxidant-rich berries that can boost brain health include:

  • Strawberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Mulberries

4. Nuts And Seeds

Nuts and seeds are a source of healthful fats and proteins derived from natural botanical sources. Eating nuts and seeds may foster brain health as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. A 2014 study 6 had found that eating larger portions of nut intake is linked to better brain function in older age. Nuts and seeds are also rich sources 7 of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects the free radicals, preventing oxidative stress of the brain. A 2014 review 8 had found that vitamin E may also play a role in improving cognition while reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The nuts and seeds with the highest amounts of vitamin E include:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts

5. Coffee

A popular beverage worldwide, people drink coffee to stay awake and focused. The caffeine in coffee stops 9 a substance in the brain called adenosine, which makes a person feel sleepy. Apart from boosting alertness, a 2018 study 10 found that caffeine may also improve the brain’s capacity of processing information. The researchers have found that caffeine also increases brain entropy, which refers to complex and variable brain activity. When this entropy happens to be the brain’s ability to process more information also increases. One study 11 has linked lifelong coffee consumption with reduced risk of:

  • Cognitive decline
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

6. Avocados

Avocados are rich in healthful unsaturated fat that may support brain health.
Eating monounsaturated fats may lessen 12 blood pressure, and high blood pressure is linked with 13 cognitive decline. Thus, by controlling high blood pressure, the unsaturated fats in avocados may lower the risk of cognitive decline.

7. Peanuts

Peanuts are a legume with exceptional nutritional features. They contain plenty of unsaturated fats and protein to keep a person energetic throughout the day. Peanuts also provide essential vitamins and minerals to keep the brain healthy, including high levels of vitamin E and resveratrol. Evidence suggests that resveratrol can have protective effects, such as preventing cancers, inflammation, and neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

8. Broccoli

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are rich in fiber and nutrients. It is also a low-calorie source of dietary fiber that may be good for the brain. Broccoli is also a rich source of compounds called glucosinolates. When the body breaks these down, they produce isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates may reduce 14 oxidative stress and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

9. Soy Products

Soy products are rich in a special group of antioxidants called polyphenols. Research has linked 15 polyphenols with a reduced risk of dementia and enhanced cognitive abilities in regular aging processes. Soy products contain polyphenols called isoflavones, including daidzein and genistein. These chemicals play the role of antioxidants, thus delivering an array of health benefits throughout the body.

10. Turmeric

According to a study 16 , curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and is good for brain health. It means that it can directly enter the brain and benefit the cells there. Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory element, and has been linked to the following brain health benefits.

A. Memory

According to a study, curcumin may help intensify memory 17 in people with Alzheimer’s. It may also help clear the amyloid plaques that are a sign of this disease.

B. Alleviates Depression

As per one study 18, turmeric boosts serotonin and dopamine to improve mood. Another study 19 states that curcumin improved depression symptoms just as much as an antidepressant over six weeks

C. Renew Brain Cells

A study states that curcumin increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a type of growth hormone that helps brain cells grow. It may also delay age-related mental health conditions, however, further research is needed for the same.

11. Eggs

Eggs are enriched with several nutrients tied to brain health. This mainly includes vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and choline. According to a study 20, choline is an essential micronutrient that our body uses to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps control mood and memory.

12. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a storehouse of powerful antioxidants that protect the body and brain from free radical damage, states a 2013 study 21 . They’re also an excellent source of magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. Each of the following nutrients is important for brain health:

A. Zinc

It is vital for nerve signaling. Zinc deficiency has been linked to many neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and Parkinson’s disease 22 .

B. Magnesium

Essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels may lead to neurological diseases, including migraines, depression, and epilepsy 23 .

C. Copper

Controls nerve signals. Low copper levels increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s 24 .

D. Iron

Iron deficiency 25 is often determined by brain fog and impaired brain function.

13. Supplements

Apart from consuming food items to support brain health, one can also consider taking supplements to improve his/her brain function. Supplements such as vitamins B, C, or E, beta-carotene, or magnesium may help to enhance brain function if a person has a deficiency in any of them. Research 26 implies that taking ginseng may enhance brain function. However, further examinations are required before doctors can recommend ginseng to individuals.

Foods To Avoid For Better Brain Health

foods to avoid for better brain health

According to a study, here are the types of food that one must avoid.

1. Simple Sugars And Syrups

This includes dextrose, brown sugar, corn sweetener, glucose, fructose (as in high-fructose corn syrup), corn syrup, honey, maltose, lactose, invert sugar, malt syrup, evaporated cane sugar, raw sugar, molasses, and sucrose.

2. Saturated Fat

Found in poultry skin, meat, full-fat dairy foods, and palm and coconut oils that considerably raise lousy LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, small intestine, and colon cancer risk, as well as one’s belt size.

3. Trans Fat

Also known as hydrogenated oils, it is still added to many snack foods and commercial desserts. Trans fats have no nutritional value and dramatically increase LDL (lousy) cholesterol, the risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and death.

4. Enriched, Bleached, or Refined Flour

Such words indicate that the flour has been stripped of its nutrients. These empty carbs increase the chances of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, gum disease, intestinal, arterial, and bowel problems. One must choose 100% whole grains instead.

Brain Health And Alcohol

A lot of interest revolves around brain health and alcohol consumption 27. Mediterranean and MIND diets include a moderate amount of wine, and it has shown to generate many benefits. The benefit of red wine 28 is associated with the components such as polyphenols (micronutrients found in plant-based foods). However, if any alcohol has to be consumed, it should be done only in moderation. A standard drink for adults should contain 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. As we age, our body treats alcohol differently, and experts often recommend older people to drink in even smaller quantities.

According to a 2017 study 29 , epidemiological reports show that moderate drinkers tend to have relatively better health than non-drinkers. However, as the amount or frequency of alcohol consumption increases, the health benefits tend to decrease and the health risks increase. The study adds “Heavy consumption is associated with potentially severe impairments in memory and executive function, even when other obvious risk factors are absent.” Research 30 shows that alcoholism can adversely affect brain health and increase susceptibility to brain damage related to alcoholism in a variety of ways.

Read More About Alcoholism Here

Tips To Improve Brain Health

tips to improve brain health

Here are other steps that one must take, along with a healthy diet, to further support brain health. These are as follows.

  1. Stay physically active to complement your healthy diet.
  2. Avoid eating in excess as quantity and moderation of intake are essential.
  3. Once in a week, eat at least one meal with fish that is not fried.
  4. Mind the sodium content in the prepared foods you are eating.
  5. Add vinegar, lemon, aromatic herbs, and spices to add flavor to your food instead of increasing salt content.
  6. Seek dietary counseling if you are trying to overcome conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
  7. Eat raw, plain, unsalted nuts as they are beneficial for brain health.
  8. Eat a wide variety of different colored vegetables.
  9. Purchase raw foods and prepare meals at home to control the content of salt, sugar, and fat, which otherwise is not possible when you buy prepared meals from restaurants.
  10. Use mono and polyunsaturated fats in cooking. Usually, these are the cooking oils that are in a liquid state at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are often found in liquid oils such as olive oil, canola oil, corn, and safflower oils, as well as walnuts and certain fish.
  11. Read packaged food labels and ingredient lists to help you choose healthier options.

A Healthy Diet Equals A Healthy Brain

While a plateful of sumptuous food has always been believed to satisfy our appetite, nutritious food fosters positive brain health. It is essential to understand that while eating, as much as it is important to satisfy our hunger and taste buds, it is also vital to eat mindfully to help our brain work properly. The above-listed food items, if added to your diet and consumed following an optimal time gap, will definitely show the result with time. It is important to give ourselves time while staying committed to a healthy diet to enjoy positive brain health in the coming years ahead.

👇 References:
  1. Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578. []
  2. Rao, T. S., Asha, M. R., Ramesh, B. N., & Rao, K. S. (2008). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian journal of psychiatry, 50(2), 77–82. []
  3. Amen DG, Harris WS, Kidd PM, Meysami S, Raji CA. Quantitative Erythrocyte Omega-3 EPA Plus DHA Levels are Related to Higher Regional Cerebral Blood Flow on Brain SPECT. J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;58(4):1189-1199. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170281. PMID: 28527220. []
  4. Nehlig A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 75(3), 716–727. []
  5. Subash, S., Essa, M. M., Al-Adawi, S., Memon, M. A., Manivasagam, T., & Akbar, M. (2014). Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural regeneration research, 9(16), 1557–1566. []
  6. O’Brien, J., Okereke, O., Devore, E., Rosner, B., Breteler, M., & Grodstein, F. (2014). Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 18(5), 496–502. []
  7. Vitamin E. (2020). Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). []
  8. La Fata, G., Weber, P., & Mohajeri, M. H. (2014). Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during aging and in Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrients, 6(12), 5453–5472. []
  9. Huang ZL, Zhang Z, Qu WM. Roles of adenosine and its receptors in sleep-wake regulation. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2014;119:349-71. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-801022-8.00014-3. PMID: 25175972. []
  10. Chang, D., Song, D., Zhang, J., Shang, Y., Ge, Q., & Wang, Z. (2018). Caffeine Caused a Widespread Increase of Resting Brain Entropy. Scientific reports, 8(1), 2700. []
  11. Nehlig A. Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Pract Neurol. 2016 Apr;16(2):89-95. doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2015-001162. Epub 2015 Dec 16. PMID: 26677204. []
  12. Miura, K., Stamler, J., Brown, I. J., Ueshima, H., Nakagawa, H., Sakurai, M., Chan, Q., Appel, L. J., Okayama, A., Okuda, N., Curb, J. D., Rodriguez, B. L., Robertson, C., Zhao, L., Elliott, P., & INTERMAP Research Group (2013). Relationship of dietary monounsaturated fatty acids to blood pressure: the International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure. Journal of hypertension, 31(6), 1144–1150. []
  13. High blood pressure is linked to cognitive decline. (2016). National Institute on Aging. []
  14. Giacoppo S, Galuppo M, Montaut S, Iori R, Rollin P, Bramanti P, Mazzon E. An overview on neuroprotective effects of isothiocyanates for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Fitoterapia. 2015 Oct;106:12-21. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2015.08.001. Epub 2015 Aug 6. PMID: 26254971. []
  15. Meeusen R. (2014). Exercise, nutrition and the brain. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S47–S56. []
  16. Mishra, S., & Palanivelu, K. (2008). The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 11(1), 13–19. []
  17. Mishra, S., & Palanivelu, K. (2008). The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 11(1), 13–19. []
  18. Kulkarni, S.K., Bhutani, M.K. & Bishnoi, M. Antidepressant activity of curcumin: involvement of serotonin and dopamine system. Psychopharmacology 201, 435 (2008). []
  19. Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, Patel T, Tiwari D, Panchal B, Goel A, Tripathi CB. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):579-85. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5025. Epub 2013 Jul 6. PMID: 23832433. []
  20. Zeisel SH, da Costa KA. Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutr Rev. 2009 Nov;67(11):615-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00246.x. PMID: 19906248; PMCID: PMC2782876. []
  21. Nawirska-Olszańska A, Kita A, Biesiada A, Sokół-Łętowska A, Kucharska AZ. Characteristics of antioxidant activity and composition of pumpkin seed oils in 12 cultivars. Food Chem. 2013 Aug 15;139(1-4):155-61. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.02.009. Epub 2013 Feb 16. PMID: 23561092. []
  22. Prakash A, Bharti K, Majeed AB. Zinc: indications in brain disorders. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2015 Apr;29(2):131-49. doi: 10.1111/fcp.12110. Epub 2015 Mar 12. PMID: 25659970. []
  23. de Baaij JH, Hoenderop JG, Bindels RJ. Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2015 Jan;95(1):1-46. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00012.2014. PMID: 25540137. []
  24. Opazo CM, Greenough MA, Bush AI. Copper: from neurotransmission to neuroproteostasis. Front Aging Neurosci. 2014 Jul 3;6:143. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00143. PMID: 25071552; PMCID: PMC4080678. []
  25. Muñoz P, Humeres A. Iron deficiency on neuronal function. Biometals. 2012 Aug;25(4):825-35. doi: 10.1007/s10534-012-9550-x. Epub 2012 May 26. PMID: 22639188. []
  26. Oliynyk, S., & Oh, S. (2013). Actoprotective effect of ginseng: improving mental and physical performance. Journal of ginseng research, 37(2), 144–166. []
  27. Sullivan, E. V., Harris, R. A., & Pefferbaum, A. (2010). Alcohol’s effects on brain and behavior. PubMed Central (PMC). []
  28. Snopek, L., Mlcek, J., Sochorova, L., Baron, M., Hlavacova, I., Jurikova, T., Kizek, R., Sedlackova, E., & Sochor, J. (2018). Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(7), 1684. []
  29. Welch K. A. (2017). Alcohol consumption and brain health. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 357, j2645. []
  30. Oscar-Berman, M., & Marinkovic, K. (2003). Alcoholism and the brain: an overview. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 27(2), 125–133. []
AI Chatbot Avatar
⚠️ Liza is in training with WMHA and may not always provide the most accurate information.
Rising PTSD Cases In Teens: Signs You Should Look For 8 Ways To Deal With Passive-Aggressive Coworkers 7 Rare Psychiatric Disorders That You Probably Don’t Know 7 Signs of Drug Abuse In Teenagers Is Borderline Personality Disorder The Worst Mental Illness? 8 Films That Portray Schizophrenia’s Devastating Reality 7 Ways to Cope With Generalized Anxiety Disorder Why Don’t People Take Mental Health Seriously? 7 Telltale Signs of Schizophrenia: World Schizophrenia Day 7 Tips To Nurture Your Child’s Mental Health How to Deal with Bullies Like a Pro? 5 Powerful Strategies 7 Ways Laughter Can Recharge Your Mental Health