6 Best nutrients for keeping the mind sharp.
By Joanne Washburn
(Article republished from Food News). Scientists say that our brains can burn as much as 350 to 450 calories from thinking alone, and it can burn more depending on the mental effort that certain tasks require. So just imagine the immense role of proper diet in maintaining optimal brain health.
But it’s not just calorie intake that people need to look out for. The brain requires more of certain nutrients, too, to maintain optimal cognitive function.
Best nutrients for brain health
Some nutritionists say that our brains require ten important nutrients, while others consider only three as the most crucial for brain health. But despite the difference in number, they all point to the same food components.
In general, nutritionists agree on which nutrients are essential for keeping the brain healthy. Here are six of them, according to experts at Advanced Neurotherapy in Boston, Massachusetts:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Neurons tend to shrink in later life, resulting in forgetfulness. This is a normal part of aging. But according to recent studies, increasing your intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a kind of omega-3 fatty acid, can help support neuronal function.
DHA can also reduce inflammation in the brain, which is believed to accelerate cognitive decline, and enhance concentration. For this reason, nutritionists often recommend eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially to people who are at risk of dementia. Maintaining adequate amounts of DHA in our bodies can also help reduce the risk of mental disorders like depression.
In addition, omega-3s are crucial for learning in children. In 2016, scientists found that third-graders taking omega-3 supplements could read faster after just three months of supplementation than their peers who did not take the supplements. The effects of omega-3 supplementation were also apparent in children with mild attention problems.
To increase omega-3 intake, eat lots of fish and seafood. People allergic to these foods can instead get their omega-3s from almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds and chia seeds. Using healthier oils like sesame oil and extra-virgin olive oil for cooking can also help you increase your omega-3 intake.
B complex vitamins
Our intake of B complex vitamins – all eight of them – has a huge impact on our mood and mental performance. But on top of improving our mood, these vitamins can also increase our tolerance to stress, thus making us more resilient.
Here is a rundown of the eight B vitamins and what they can do for our brain health:
- Thiamine (B1) – Thiamine helps brain cells use glucose as fuel. Inadequate amounts of thiamine can spell serious trouble because it renders brain cells unable to function. Thiamine can be found in beef, trout, tuna, eggs and legumes.
- Riboflavin (B2) – Riboflavin helps combat oxidative stress due to free radicals. It can also stamp out inflammation in the brain and “fix” mitochondrial dysfunction. Eat broccoli, spinach, asparagus and animal organ meats to get enough of this B vitamin.
- Niacin (B3) – Like thiamine, our brains need niacin to function. This B vitamin can also fight brain fog and slash the risk of brain cancer. Some studies also suggest that niacin can revitalize the brain’s immune cells. You can get it from fish and legumes.
- Pantothenic acid (B5) – Recent studies have found that pantothenic acid is crucial for concentration and efficient neural communication. Good sources of pantothenic acid include animal proteins, eggs, legumes, lentils, mushrooms, broccoli and organ meats.
- Pyridoxine (B6) – This B vitamin is crucial for keeping the brain’s immune system up and running. It can be found in chicken, fish, potatoes, chickpeas and bananas.
- Biotin (B7) – The brain is perhaps the most dependent organ on biotin, the B vitamin responsible for regulating gene expression. Get it from eggs, fish, seeds and nuts.
- Folate (B9) – Folate is often studied because of its role in maternal health, but it is also essential for making DNA and neurotransmitters. Good sources of folate include beans, nuts, peas, seafood and fruits.
- Cobalamin (B12) – Cobalamin is essential for maintaining neural health and the proper functioning of neurons. Some of the richest sources of cobalamin include shellfish, cheese and eggs.
Recent studies show that vitamin K has anti-aging benefits. In particular, this vitamin can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
In 2008, scientists found that Alzheimer’s patients had considerably less vitamin K than healthy adults. Although this doesn’t point to a cause-and-effect relationship, it does suggest that vitamin K intake may be a factor that affects a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Most multivitamins do not contain vitamin K, so it’s better to get this essential micronutrient from fermented foods and leafy vegetables like collard greens, kale, spinach and turnip greens. Healthy, plant-based oils like sesame oil and olive oil also contain significant amounts of vitamin K, so use these healthy oils for cooking.
Other nutritious sources of vitamin K include basil, fish, eggs, broccoli, prunes, cheese and Brussels sprouts.
If omega-3s are popular for enhancing brain function, vitamin E is hailed for protecting the brain itself. This potent antioxidant has been found to protect brain cells from inflammation and free-radical damage that could trigger faster brain aging and mental decline.
An article published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke reported that tocotrienol, a form of vitamin E found in palm oil, can protect the brain from lesions linked to increased stroke risk and Parkinson’s disease.
To protect your brain from inflammation and premature aging, incorporate good sources of vitamin E into your daily diet. Some of the best sources of vitamin E include olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, broccoli and beet greens.
Lycopene is the plant pigment responsible for the bright red color of tomatoes, bell peppers and other red fruits. It doubles as a brain nutrient that protects it from inflammation and eliminates harmful free radicals.
Existing studies on lycopene indicate that it helps regulate the genes that influence inflammation. Other studies suggest that because it can prevent blood from clotting, lycopene can also reduce the risk of ischemic stroke. This kind of stroke occurs due to blood clots that impede blood circulation in the brain.
Zinc is often studied because of its immune-boosting effects, but scientists have found that it also has beneficial effects on the brain.
In particular, this essential trace mineral helps regulate mood and reduce the risk of depression. In addition, zinc protects neurons from damage.
Nutritious sources of zinc include dark chocolate, seafood, chickpeas, lentils, mushrooms and almonds. You can also take zinc supplements to meet your daily zinc requirement, but be sure to consult a healthcare professional beforehand for proper dosage. Too much zinc can affect your immune health and trigger gastrointestinal problems.
Some nutrients are better than others at keeping the brain in tiptop shape. Get the right ones from clean, nourishing foods to keep your mind sharp even in your golden years.