Recommended nutrients for brain health
Our day to day brain health is dependent on a variety of factors, including a proper balance of neurotransmitters fuelled by amino acids, and lifestyle factors including exercise, sleep, and our dietary choices. Nutrient deficiencies contribute towards poor memory, poor mental function and a general decline in our brain health. Our nutritionists share the best foods, nutrients and supplements for improving your brain health.
Best foods for brain health
Your diet is always the best starting point for improving your memory, focus, and concentration, and clearing brain fog and fatigue. Here are four of the best foods to reach for to fuel your brain health.
1. Nuts & seeds
Nuts are nutrition power houses! Nuts contain an abundance of healthy omega 3 fats and proteins needed for the production of neurotransmitters which are essential for the structure and function of the brain.
The best nut for brain health is walnuts. Walnuts are the only nuts that contain a significant level of omega 3 fats. Try to ensure walnuts are added to your nut mix to balance out fat ratios. Have you ever noticed how walnuts look like a brain?
60% of our brain is made up of fat, and around half of that is omega 3 fatty acids - learn more in 'What is Omega 3 good for'. As well as nuts, long-chain omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish including salmon, mackerel and sardines. If your diet doesn't include these on a regular basis, taking a high quality Omega 3 supplement is recommended to avoid any deficiency in this vital nutrient for you mental health.
2. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain 'choline'. The body uses choline to make a substance called 'acetylcholine'. Acetylcholine is a critical neurotransmitter which is heavily involved in the function of the brain and body. Without enough acetylcholine, our memory and body's movement are severely impacted.
Choline is found in eggs, meat and dairy, and while it is found in some vegetables, it's harder to gain sufficient levels of choline on a low-meat or plant-based diet. You may enjoy 'Mistakes to avoid on a plant-based diet'.
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If you have a low meat diet, make a conscious effort to consume lots of choline-rich foods including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, lentils, and soya milk. Choline supplementation, or supplements with 'Phosphatidylserine', which is a superior form of Choline, provides daily support for your brain health. You can learn more in 'The benefits of choline and where to find it'.
3. Berries & cherries
Berries and cherries are rich in antioxidants which help to protect our brain cells from free radical damage. 'Free radicals' are molecules in our body that build up in cells and cause damage to our DNA, lipids and proteins and lead to multiple health conditions, from poor gut health and diabetes and heart disease to cancer. You may enjoy learning about the 'Symptoms of high and low blood sugar'.
The brain is rich in fats which can easily become damaged in the presence of excess free radicals. This damage contributes towards low-grade inflammation, which in turn affects our brain function and moods. Have you read the best foods to improve your mood?.
Try our fabulous Raspberry Smoothie Bowl (Ve) recipe.
4. Dark Chocolate
Cocoa in dark chocolate contains 'flavanones' which promote the health of blood vessels and blood flow to the brain. Flavanones are plant substances which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
These properties help to protect the blood vessels from oxidative damage, promoting good blood flow. Dark chocolate may also be beneficial in the short term as the caffeine content helps to boost brain power and function. You might enjoy our Vegan Chocolate Cake recipe!
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Which supplements promote brain health?
In addition to these foods and a healthy, varied diet, you can supplement your diet with certain nutrients to fuel your memory and brain power. Here are 5 supplements to look out for.
ALA gets converted in our body into EPA and DHA. DHA is one of the main structural fats in the brain. When DHA is in chronically low supply, the brain shrinks in size and its function becomes impaired. EPA is needed for the brain cell surfaces and helps with communication between brain cells.
Omega 3 fats also contribute towards the production of anti-inflammatory hormones. Excess inflammation in the body can contribute towards depression and other mental health symptoms.
Unfortunately, the body is not very efficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA - it's estimated that around only 10% of ALA is converted into these active forms, which is why an Omega 3 supplement is commonly recommended for anyone looking to improve their brain's performance.
Vegan Omega 3 algae oil is rich in DHA and EPA and is the ethical and sustainable choice instead of Omega 3 sourced from fish. A common question is how much omega 3 is needed for brain health? The minimum recommended level of EPA and DHA is 250mg per day, and DR.VEGAN's Vegan Omega 3 provides 1000mg of Omega 3 oil with 300mg of DHA and 150mg of EPA.
Ginkgo Biloba is an acclaimed herb for promoting blood flow to the brain by enabling the blood vessels to open, and by helping your blood to become less sticky.
Increased blood flow increases nutrient delivery and uptake by the brain cells, allowing them to function to their full potential. Ginkgo biloba also has a high level of antioxidant activity which helps to protect brain cells from free radical damage.
Phosphatidylserine is a 'phospholipid' (part of the cell membrane) and is similar to choline. It helps our body's cell communication, particularly brain cell communication, which is important for our cognition and our working memory.
B Vitamins play an essential role in creating neurotransmitters which control our brain function and emotions. B vitamins are also needed for the outer coating of nerves and brain cells called the 'myelin'. The myelin in our cells helps to control the speed of nerve and brain cell communications which in turn helps to regulate our brain activity.
Bacopa has potent antioxidant properties which helps to protect brain cells from free radical damage. Studies show Bacopa may increase the length of 'dendrites' which are a part of the nerve and brain cells linked to learning and memory, and may also improve the speed of processing visual information and our rate of learning.
What else can I do to promote brain health?
Aside from diet and supplements, there are other important ways to improve your brain function and performance.
Exercise and brain health
Exercise is great for brain health for a few reasons. First, it induces feel good endorphins which create a sense of well-being. Second, exercise triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, both of which help to regulate our mood. Third, exercise is often recommended by doctors to help improve symptoms of depression. Three good reasons to exercise!
Meditation has long been used as a technique to re-wire the brain for more positive emotions, and it improves the way in which the body deals with stress and emotions.
Use your brain
Using your brain is important! Learning a new skill or engaging your brain in new or complex tasks frequently helps to build connections, improving overall brain health.
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