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Seven Top Foods For Brain Health

Seven Top Foods For Brain Health

Chronic mental illness and diseases like Alzheimer's and Dementia, as well as general cognitive decline, anxiety and depression are sadly on the increase. Many of these conditions have a hereditary component and a lifestyle component. 

But there is a growing body of evidence that nutrition can offer support and may even help prevent mental illness. 

Certainly, even when conditions have genetic and hereditary components, (as do many diseases), these genetic predispositions are far less likely to show up, if we take proper nutritional care of our bodies - and brains!

Today's article provides you with a list of some of the top brain-health foods you can eat.  These are important because your gut actually (and surprisingly to many people) manufactures an estimated 90% of the key "happy" brain neutrotransmitter seratonin - that's right, it's made in the digestive tract!

The foods mentioned below can help provide your brain with the right nutrients it needs to thrive and provide you with improved cognitive function and mental health; protect from harmful inflammation, and nurture your gut to assist in developing and maintaining a healthy brain!

1.  "Fatty" fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines, are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids(1), which comprises about 30% of your brain!(2)  Omega 3's may slow age-related mental decline (helping to prevent, or slow the onset of Alzheimer's(3)) and not getting enough Omgea-3's can be linked to learning impairments and depression.(4)

Wild-caught salmon is especially valuable, as it also contains Vitamin B12, selenium, antioxidants, and potassium(5).  However, when consuming fish, do your best to avoid sources that have higher levels of mercury which is a heavy-metal toxin.

2.  Blueberries.  These nutritional-stars contain powerful antioxidants called flavonoids which have been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and age-related brain degeneration(6).  Other evidence suggests that eating blueberries can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease(7) and other research has shown that even though they taste nice and sweet, they actually have a positive effect on blood sugar control.

3.  Turmeric.  The active ingredient is curcumin, which is a potent antioxidant and has been shown to pass the "blood-brain barrier", and may help benefit memory, ease depression, and help new brain cells grow(8)(9)(10).

Turmeric can best be used as a spice in your cooking, and is typically absorbed better when heated and consumed with black pepper and a little healthy fat, such as olive or coconut oil.  It should be noted most of the studies relating to this powerful nutrient involve supplementation in doses ranging from 500 - 2,000mg per day which is much more than you could typically consume as a spice (turmeric only contains around 3-6% curcumin)(11)

I recommend a specific supplement called "Curcumin Bio" which provides curcumin in a bio-available form.  (Please get in touch for more information)

4.  Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables.  These are amongst the most nutrient-rich foods on earth, abundant in bio-available minerals and vitamins, as well as fibre and other phytonutrients.  Notable are cabbage, kale, and broccoli, which help to protect intestinal health by reducing inflammation in the bowel lining.  A healthy gut supports a healthy brain. Cruciferous vegetables, examples of which are broccoli, Bok Choy, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, are also thought to be helpful in reducing your risk of developing cancers, as they are rich in several "carotenoids" and "glucosinolates", the latter which break down into various bio-active compounds which have been found to inhibit cancers in some studies.  

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.


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