Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes — Healthy Foods for a Healthy Brain
Welcome back to Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes! Nutrition plays a crucial role in brain health. If you think about it, our brains are always on and working hard- they take care of our thoughts, movements, breathing, heartbeat, senses, and so much more, even when we’re asleep. Therefore, our brains require a steady supply of fuel, or nutrients to function properly and for optimal cognitive performance.
Eating high-quality, nutritious foods that contain lots of vitamins and minerals nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress, or the “waste” that is produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage our cells. Processed and refined foods can promote inflammation, oxidative stress, and worsening of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Here are some nutrients that have been proven to benefit brain health:
Omega-3 fatty acids: These are essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce on its own. Our brains are 60% fat, which makes these fats important for brain function and can help improve cognitive performance, memory, and mood. Foods high in omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
B vitamins: Water-soluble B vitamins are also important for brain function and can help improve memory and cognitive performance, as well as help slow the progression of mental decline. The eight B vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. These vitamins can be found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, and in animal proteins such as beef, chicken, and fish.
Antioxidants: These nutrients are important for brain health because they help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can lead to cognitive decline and brain aging, as well as degenerative diseases like dementia. Foods that are high in antioxidants include berries, green leafy vegetables, and dark chocolate.
Protein: Eating enough quality sources of protein is important for brain function because it provides the building blocks for neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. High protein food sources include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes.
Hydration: Staying hydrated is important for brain health because our brains need water to function properly. Dehydration can lead to cognitive decline and brain fog. Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses (or 2-3 liters) of water per day.
There are several other lifestyle factors that can support brain health, such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying physically active. Regular exercise has been proven to improve to have positive effects on the brain, so aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day.
Overall, eating a nutritious diet that is rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants is important for brain health. Make sure to include a variety of foods in your diet to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients your body needs. If you have any questions or if there are any nutrition-related topics that you would like me to discuss here on Nutrition Notes, please reach out at LGardner@EPH.org.