Good brain health is dependent on a variety of factors, including a proper balance of neurotransmitters and good nutrition. Nutrient deficiencies can contribute towards poor memory, mental function and general brain health, and there are many nutrients and herbs that can improve your brain health and memory. Here we discuss the best foods and supplements for improving brain health.
Which foods promote brain health?
Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain Choline which is a vitamin similar to B Vitamins. 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, memory and movement is severely impacted.
Choline may be consumed in lower proportions on a vegan diet, although it is found in some vegetables. Those on a plant-based diet should make a conscious effort to consume choline-rich foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, lentils, and soya milk. Choline supplementation may also be beneficial to anyone wanting to support brain health.
Nuts are nutrition power houses. They contain an abundance of fats and proteins needed for the production of neurotransmitters which are needed 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?
Berries & Cherries
Berries and cherries are rich in antioxidants which help to protect brain cells from free radical damage.
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 brain function and moods.
Try our fabulous Raspberry Smoothie Bowl (Ve) recipe.
Cocoa 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.
Take a look at our Vegan Chocolate Cake recipe.
You may also be interested in our blog: Foods and vitamins to improve your brain.
Which supplements promote brain health?
Omega 3 fats are essential for the function of the brain in several ways. Omega 3 from plant sources usually comes in the form of ALA. ALA is found in flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
ALA gets converted in the 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 are useful in a third way as they contribute towards the production of anti-inflammatory hormones. Excess inflammation in the body can contribute towards depression and other mental health symptoms. (You may be interested in our blog: 5 foods to improve your mood.) Unfortunately, the body is not very efficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA - it is estimated that around only 10% of ALA is converted into these active forms.
Algae oil is rich in DHA and EPA and is therefore a popular choice among vegetarians and vegans, as opposed to omega 3 commonly 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.
Ginkgo Biloba is a herb which promotes blood flow to the brain by causing the blood vessels to open, and by helping the 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). It helps with cell communication, particularly brain cell communication, which is especially important for cognition and working memory.
B Vitamins play a vital role in creating neurotransmitters which control brain function and emotions. B vitamins are also needed for the outer coating of nerves and brain cells called the myelin. The myelin helps to control the speed of nerve and brain cell communications which helps to regulate brain activity.
Bacopa has potent antioxidant properties which helps to protect brain cells from free radical damage. Bacopa may increase the length of dendrites. Dendrites are a part of the nerve and brain cells which are linked to learning and memory. Bacopa may also improve the speed of processing visual information and rate of learning.
What else can I do to promote brain health?
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 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.
Discover our range of Vegan Vitamins & Supplements
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