Health & Wellbeing
Power Foods for the Brain
Jacquelyn Womble and Linda Carper
Jacquelyn Womble and Linda Carper

Nearly 20% of all deaths worldwide can be linked to unhealthy eating habits. At the same time, mental illnesses are the biggest cause of disability and illness in the world. Depression alone is one of the top five leading causes of disability across the planet.1 While depression and other mental illnesses are very serious and require professional help, research shows direct links between the food we eat and its effect on mental health.2

Food is power for your brain and body. Your brain works 24/7, even while you’re asleep. We all have our moments of forgetfulness, but if you’re feeling particularly spacey, it might be an indicator that something else is going on. It could be due to a lack of sleep or several other reasons, including genetics, level of physical activity, and environmental factors. However, without a doubt, diet can have a major impact on your brain and its performance.

It may not surprise you that diets high in refined sugars are harmful. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function—and even worsening of mood disorders, such as depression.3

Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourish the brain and protect it from oxidative stress, which can damage cells.2 Enjoy the food you consume and know nutrient-rich foods can do wonders for your brain, improving your decision-making and problem-solving skills, as well as sharpening your focus and boosting your memory. Some high-powered foods include sardines, walnuts, oranges, grapefruits, broccoli, blueberries, blackberries, spinach, kale, avocado, and dark chocolate. Yum!

Food provides powerful macro- and micro- nutrients and vitamins and minerals which help fuel the brain—a few are listed below.

  • Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein
  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamins B, C, D, and E
  • Minerals, such as zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron

Boost your brain power with these 10 nutrient-rich foods!

  1. Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats to protect brain cells. Avocado oil has been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. DYK that avocados have the highest protein and lowest sugar content of any fruit! Their creamy texture makes them a good addition to smoothies and a replacement for fats in baked goods.
  2. Berries—especially dark ones such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries—are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function, and help to reduce inflammation, a cornerstone of virtually all brain degenerative disorders.
  3. Citrus fruits contain flavanones and phenols that help neutralize free radicals and strengthen cellular defenses.
  4. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, have powerful antioxidants that boost cellular defenses, plus the vitamin K and choline will help keep your memory sharp.
  5. Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They can also help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the brain and heart. Eating ½ to one ounce a day can deliver a beneficial dose of antioxidants that may slow down the aging process of the brain.
  6. Eggs are rich in choline, which is needed to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions.
  7. Kale, a dark, leafy vegetable, is loaded with vitamins C, K, and A, as well as potassium and iron. When it comes to brain power, greens should be on your plate every meal!
  8. Oily fish, such as sardines and salmon, contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for brain health. Studies have shown that long-term consumption of adequate DHA is linked to improved memory, improved learning ability and reduced rates of cognitive decline.
  9. Spinach is packed with brain-protective antioxidants along with vitamin K, folate, and lutein.
  10. Walnuts contain more brain-healthy antioxidants, vitamin E, and folic acid than other nuts, and are the only nut that contains a significant amount of the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Like this blog? Read a blog about a related topic Food and Your Mood: Eat Your Way to a Happier Life.

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Authors:

Jacquelyn Womble
Jacquelyn Womble, MS, RDN, LD, EP-C, Sr Manager, Health & Well-being, Sodexo
Linda Carper
Linda Carper, Operations Manager, Sodexo Food & Nutrition Services at Memorial Hermann Healthcare System

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/fitness-4mind4body-diet-and-nutrition
  2. Defeudis, F. V. (2008). 2 Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function [Abstract]. Nutrients and Brain Function,9, 568-578. doi:10.1159/000414578
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

 

 

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