I’m going to cover here which foods can help your brain to stay active, awake and healthy.
Which foods can help your brain
The food we eat has a HUGE impact upon brain function. Changing our diet has been cited as a plausible cause for improvements in just about every condition imaginable – but as far as our brains are concerned, we’re looking to prevent as much as possible things like depression, anxiety, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, general memory loss and cancer.
Foods with vitamin E
Vitamin E is said to help our arteries dilate when more blood is needed. It is also an excellent anti-oxidant, which is particularly important for the brain because it helps protect our cell membranes from oxidative damage caused by free radicals (highly unstable atoms formed by natural bodily processes as well as the environment. Too many free radicals can cause damage – for example, speeding up the ageing process).
In a nutshell, vitamin E helps protect against the degeneration of our nerve cells, therefore helping to prevent or slow down a decline in cognitive function as we age. Gimme, right?
More extensive information on vitamin E can be found here.
Vitamin E is found in lots of foods!
Dark leafy greens
- swiss chard
- collard greens
- turnip greens
- sunflower seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- squash seeds
- sesame seeds
- olive oil
- wheatgerm oil
- sunflower oil
- grapeseed oil
- avocado (technically a fruit)
- mamey sapote (Mexican fruit, gorgeously sweet!)
Foods with potassium
Potassium helps deliver oxygen to the brain, which keeps our brains alert. Foods with potassium are good to eat before exams, for instance.
You’ll find significant levels of potassium in:
- sweet potatoes (if eating raw, make sure they’re orange inside)
- coconut water
- beet greens
- lentils and other beans (you can sprout lentils too)
- carrots (and their juice)
- oranges (and their juice)
- winter squash
Foods with healthy sources of Omega-3s
Omega-3s are a source of 2 essential fatty acids that are very important for the brain: DHA and EPA.
DHA is a structural fat that makes up 97% of our brain and eyes. We need to eat good sources of DHA to keep the brain lubricated and to provide further protection for our neurons. DHA basically ‘keeps the juices flowing’, to help transmission of signals to our nerve cells.
There are two ways to get DHA: to consume it directly, or to eat a lot of Omega-3s which the body uses to convert into DHA (and EPA).
Common sources of DHA (and EPA) are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel – but if you don’t eat fish, you’ll want to be sure you’re eating some kind of sea vegetables, such as nori (one of the best for the brain), dulse, wakame or spirulina (spirulina is a complete protein source and also helps build stem cells).
EPA helps us fight cellular inflammation. We don’t have as high levels in the brain of EPA as we do DHA, but EPA is just as important.
Maintaining high levels of EPA in the blood is said to be the only way to control cellular inflammation in the brain. And studies on depression, ADHD, brain trauma and other conditions have shown that EPA is particularly important.
There’s an excellent study with more detailed information on how both EPA and DHA affect cognition, behavior and mood here.
And yes it’s easy to read, I’m not a scientist and I understood it, so have a look!
We get our EPAs from foods that are high in Omega-3s – the body then makes the EPAs (and DHAs) that we need.
In addition to the fish and seaweed foods mentioned above, here are some plant-based sources of Omega-3s.
Other plant foods high in Omega-3s
- flax seeds
- chia seeds (also a complete protein)
- hemp seeds
- mustard oil
- mungo beans (black lentils, also called urad dal, NOT to be confused with green mung beans. Soak overnight and sprout, they’re delicious!)
- green beans
- winter squash
- leafy greens (see above)
- foods from the brassica family (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
- wild rice (this can actually be sprouted)
- honeydew melon
Important note: If you don’t eat fish, you MUST make sure you’re eating some sea vegetables. The above plant-based sources of Omega-3s don’t convert as efficiently into EPA and DHA as foods from the sea.
These superfoods are all known for their positive effects on the brain:
- bee pollen
- raw cacao
- camu camu
- goji berries (another complete protein)
- maca (also a hormone balancer)
- mucuna pruriens (my favorite!)
- reishi mushroom (make a tea with it, it’s delicious!)
Whew! I hope you see now how foods can help your brain. Now all you’ve got to do is get eating!
And if you’re looking for ideas that use a LOT of these foods, you’ll find a wide selection of my favorite quick and easy recipes here.
Here’s to rocking your world – and your brain!