The brain is one of the most important organs in the human body. Aside from the smooth, automatic functions and intricate design, our brains are also responsible for memory, regulating emotions, sequencing, motor function, and much more. However, we often take these functions for granted and forget that what we do on a daily basis can impact our brain health — both positively and negatively.
Nutrition plays a large role in long-term brain health. In fact, research shows that nutrients in food can have a significantly positive impact on cognitive performance as we age.
Cognitive impairment is increasingly attributed to oxidative stress, a condition that involves excessive harmful molecules called free radicals or oxidants. Since these free radicals can lead to inflammation in the brain, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are critical to brain health.
Check out my TV segment “Dietitian Details Proper Portions to Boost Brain Health” with ABC-7 Los Angeles.
As I discussed in the interview above, to boost your brain health, it’s important to consume foods that contain these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as fatty fish, blueberries, and choline-rich foods such as eggs, edamame, and yogurt.
Why are these foods special? Let’s break it down and discuss the nutritional qualities (and science) of each one.
Fatty fish. Thanks to the healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids present in fatty fish, it’s an important food for brain health. There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA (found in fish and shellfish) and ALA (found in plants like walnuts, flaxseeds, and spinach).
While all types of omega-3s are important to consume for good health, it’s the first type, EPA and DHA, which are vital nutrients for brain development and function, and may help to slow down the process of brain aging as we get older. Research shows that DHA, alone or in combination with EPA, in the amount of at least 1 gram per day contributes to improved memory function in older adults.
Here’s a helpful seafood guide from SeafoodWatch.org on the levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA + DHA) in common fish and shellfish.
Blueberries. Blueberries have been shown to be potentially beneficial for the brain, particularly when it comes to memory loss in aging. According to experimental studies, berries are high in flavonoids, especially anthocyanidins, which help improve cognition function.
A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that daily consumption of the equivalent of one cup of fresh blueberries a day (given as 24 grams of freeze dried powder) showed positive changes in cognitive function in older adults over a placebo.
Another study, which followed more than 16,000 women age 70 and older, found that women with a higher intake of berries appeared to have delayed cognitive decline by 2.5 years.
In addition to aiding in memory loss, blueberries are also rich in a variety of important nutrients, including vitamin C, fiber, and a unique type of phytonutrient, which is responsible for giving blueberries their distinct color.
Choline-rich foods. You may be surprised to find that one of your favorite breakfast staples is packed full of brain-healthy nutrients. Thanks to the choline present in eggs (more specifically, egg yolks), it plays a key role in working memory.
Choline is a B vitamin-like nutrient that is an essential nutrient, which means that it must be obtained from food as the human body can’t produce enough of it. It’s also one of the building blocks for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in “working memory”, or the ability to store short-term information, such as “where did I put my keys?”
While choline is available in a wide array of foods, the challenge is that generally the amount in each food is not very high; therefore, most adults do not get the recommended daily value of 550 milligrams of choline.
To help you gauge your intake, below are some commonly consumed foods and the amount of choline they provide. For a quick and easy choline-rich breakfast, try my Sunny Side Up Avocado Toasts recipe!
FOOD — AMOUNT OF CHOLINE
1 large egg — 147 mg
1/2 cup roasted soybeans — 107 mg
3 oz. roasted chicken breast — 72 mg
3 oz. broiled lean ground beef — 72 mg
3 oz. cooked Atlantic cod — 71 mg
1/2 cup cooked shiitake mushrooms — 58 mg
1 oz. toasted wheat germ — 51 mg
1/2 cup canned kidney beans — 45 mg
1 cup low-fat milk — 43 mg
1 cup cooked quinoa — 43 mg
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts — 24 mg
1/2 cup boiled green peas — 24 mg
What do you think? Do you consume any particular food or supplement to support your brain health? Did you learn anything new from this article? Let me know what you think — I’d love to hear from you!
Current and past clients include The Blueberry Council, VitaCholine, and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. All opinions are my own. I was not compensated to write this blog post.