5. Avocado. The cafe fave of "Smashed avo on toast" may be helpful for your brain health too! (Especially if you choose a grainy seeded sourdough). Avo's contain folate, which is necessary for making neurotransmitters, assisting cellular detoxification, and helping with proper nervous system development (12). They also contain lutein, another dietary carotenoid, which is associated with improved levels of cognition(13), and also they are rich in monounsaturated fats, which research has shown to increase healthy blood flow throughout the body and to the brain(14).
6. Nuts and seeds. Generally, nuts are excellent brain-nutrients, containing brain-healthy fat and protein. Nuts have been shown to assist in protecting again against age-related cognitive decline(15). Notable in the Nut family for brain health would be walnuts (high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids), and brazil nuts (beneficial because of selenium, magnesium, Vitamin E, and other brain-friendly micro-nutrients). Be sure to avoid cheap nut-mixes which contain a majority of the non-nut "peanut" (they are actually a legume), and may be cooked in cheap and nasty oils! In the seeds department, it’s hard to go past Sunflower seeds, otherwise known as pepitas. These contain great antioxidants that help protect the brain from free-radical damage(16) and are a fantastic source of magnesium, iron, zinc and copper, each of which is important for brain health.
7. Other food sources beneficial to your mental health may include:
- fermented foods, such as kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut which are rich in probiotic bacteria - which may assist with clearer thinking and improved mood(18)
- prebiotic foods, such as chicory root, garlic and onions, although the latter two may be better avoided if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome - in which case you should consider Low FODMAP meals.
- dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or greater, which again present the benefits of the antioxidant plant compounds "flavonoids" to your brain! Unfortunately, supermarket milk chocolate bars don't have quite the same effect - sorry!
Green tea can improve alertness, performance, memory and focus(19) and as well contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter GABA, which can help reduce anxiety and increase relaxation.(20)
The above of course, is not an exhaustive list, but should help you on your way to powering up your brain and mental health!
Source contributions and references:
6. Subash, S., Essa, M. M., Al-Adawi, S., Memon, M. A., Manivasagam, T., & Akbar, M. Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural regeneration research. 2014; 9(16), 1557–1566
7. Muraki Isao, Imamura Fumiaki, Manson JoAnn E, Hu Frank B, Willett Walter C, van Dam Rob M et al. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies BMJ 2013; 347 :f5001
12. McGarel, C., Pentieva, K., Strain, J., & McNulty, H. (2015). Emerging roles for folate and related B-vitamins in brain health across the lifecycle. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74(1), 46-55.
13. Johnson, Elizabeth, et al. Avocado consumption increases neural lutein and improves cognitive function. The FASEB Journal (2015): 32-8.
14. Mark L. Dreher & Adrienne J. Davenport. Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2013; 53:7, 738-750,
15. Shibu M. Poulose, Marshall G. Miller, Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age, The Journal of Nutrition. 2014; 144:4 561S–566S,
18. Selhub, E. M., Logan, A. C., & Bested, A. C. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of physiological anthropology. 2014; 33(1), 2.
Author: Lisa Cutforth B. Sc. Nutrition with Psychology.