At the root of everything we do, every day, is our brain. A vital, delicate organ that governs all of our thoughts, moods, feelings and actions, the brain is fuelled by glucose and filled with fat, and deserves all the nutrients and love we can give to it. I talked last week about training your brain, and being able to do that means it is supplied with the energy and nutrients it needs to be able to perform. It only makes sense then, that eating for your brain is an important component of maintaining optimal health and wellbeing.
The brain thrives on certain foods and compounds: folate and B vitamins, zinc, healthy fats and essential fatty acids, and adequate phospholipids. Along with these, it needs a steady supply of glucose the brain’s best source of fuel. While you may only ever think of fuelling your body, start thinking about fuelling your brain! Things like difficulty concentrating, lethargy, that mid-afternoon slump and lack of motivation and mental perseverance can all be because you have a tired and under-fuelled brain. Let’s talk brain foods!
- Walnuts – These nuts (which even kind of look like a brain!) are high in protein, healthy fats and vitamin E. This vitamin is good for our skin and also has been shown to aid in memory function and to ward off the development of Alzheimer’s.
- Blueberries – These little gems are loaded with antioxidants, the compounds that fight free radicals. Just like free radicals can accumulate in our body, they can also accumulate in our brain, leading to toxic overload. Increasing your intake of antioxidants is a great way to fight this! Not to mention, their perfect blue colour makes them a great addition to smoothies and juices, and of course, everyone loves a good blueberry muffin. You can also put them into your morning oats, or eat them fresh by the handful!
- Pumpkin Seeds – These small green seeds are zinc powerhouses! They are one of the best plant sources of zinc, as well as boosting lots of other health properties such as being anti-parasitic, and a source of iron. Zinc is an essential nutrient for the brain, so eat up!
- Leafy Greens – When it comes to leading a plant-based diet, leafy greens are a must for obtaining all your nutrients. Not only are they a source of protein, iron and magnesium, but leafy greens are high in folic acid, one of the B vitamins that is essential for good brain health. In pregnant women, this nutrient is essential because it plays a role in brain development of the baby, and it continues to be important for brain health all through life. Throw greens into your smoothie, make a salad, or enjoy a healthy green juice and aim for 2-3 servings a day.
- Avocado – This fruit is a winner because of it’s abundance of healthy fats. Avocado contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The brain is physically made up of a lot of fat, acting as an insulator for our neurons and nerve communication, helping to transmit and produce hormones and acting as a physical insulator within our skull. We need to consume adequate healthy fat in our diet to maintain the necessary levels of fat in the brain. Coconut oil is also another great source of saturated fat.
- Seaweed – One of the important nutrients for brain health is B12. This vitamin is found in highest concentrations in meat, eggs and dairy, making it difficult to obtain on a vegan diet. Seaweed however, does contain some B12. It is also high in iodine (for a healthy thyroid) and magnesium, and is being touted as a superfood for its great health benefits and antioxidants. Try adding seaweed to your diet once or twice a week to boost your B12 intake.
- Chickpeas – Chickpeas, along with banana and sweet potatoes (skin on), are great sources of B6. This is the vitamin that is essential in breaking down glycogen for use in the brain. Glycogen, stemming from glucose, is the brain’s best source of fuel, and is why having low blood sugar can often make you have brain fog, difficulty concentrating and feel tired and sluggish.
- Ground flaxseed – While avocado contains healthy fats, none of these are the essential fatty acids (EFAs). The EFAs, consisting of Omega 3 and Omega 6, are considered essential because our body cannot make them itself and relies on consumption of them via our diet. Ground flaxseed, as well as hemp hearts and hemp oil are two great sources of these for those following a plant-based diet.
Enjoyed this post? Check out the other posts as part of the On Wellness series, helping you to become your best, healthiest self:
- On Wellness: Food and Inflammation
- On Wellness: Eating a Better Breakfast
- On Wellness: The Internal Detox System
- On Wellness: The Elements of Healthy Living