Foods for a Healthy Brain

The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains. Consuming a wide range of nutrients from our diet may provide our brain with a good supply of co-factors and antioxidants, which may allow for efficient brain cell communication, maintenance of healthy cells and a reduction of inflammation. Collectively, these elements may impact the structure and function of our brains, which may consequently influence our cognitive and mental health.7,8

One of our Nutritional Experts, Kim Plaza, has suggested her top picks for healthy brain foods and why below.



ORANGES

Oranges being rich in vitamin C may be a benefit for cognitive health. Animal studies have shown that this vitamin plays a vital role in neurodevelopment, brain cell communication, as well as generating neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline;1 which is involved in cognitive function and reactions to stress.

TOMATOES

Tomatoes contain a compound called lycopene and this antioxidant has been shown in animal studies to protect the brain by reducing inflammatory damage and improving brain cell survival and maintenance.2 One systematic review found that those individuals with preserved cognition, had consumed more lycopene, however more research is needed to confirm this finding.2


GREEN TEA

Green tea may be useful for working memory, attention, multi-tasking, processing information as well as mood; this may be through the activation of certain areas of the brain.3 Interestingly one study noted that the combination of L-theanine and caffeine (found in green tea) showed greater beneficial effects compared to administration of these components taken separately.3

SHELLFISH

Shellfish such as oysters, mussels and scallops contain high levels of zinc.4 The brain contains the highest levels of zinc in the body and is an important mineral for protein structure, brain cell growth and communication, as well as the maintenance of the blood-brain barrier.5,6 One study mentions seafood as some of the highest scoring foods for antidepressant nutrients; of which zinc is included.7


Gut health is also an important factor here and keeping our gut topped up with beneficial bacteria may support brain health. This is because beneficial bacteria have been shown to produce some neurotransmitters, reduce intestinal inflammation and support gut barrier function, therefore potentially reducing inflammation in other systems of the body. 



References

1. Travica N, Ried K, Sali A, Scholey A, Hudson I, Pipingas A. Vitamin c status and cognitive function: A systematic review. Nutrients 2017; 9: 1–21.

2. Crowe-White KM, Phillips TA, Ellis AC. Lycopene and cognitive function. J Nutr Sci 2019; 8: 1–8.

3. Mancini E, Beglinger C, Drewe J, Zanchi D, Lang UE, Borgwardt S. Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review. Phytomedicine 2017; 34: 26–37.

4. Zinc - Health Professional Fact Sheet. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/ (accessed Nov 23, 2020).

5. Gower-Winter SD, Levenson CW. Zinc in the central nervous system: From molecules to behavior. BioFactors 2012; 38: 186–93.

6. Qi Z, Liu KJ. The interaction of zinc and the blood-brain barrier under physiological and ischemic conditions. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2019; 364: 114–9.

7. LaChance LR, Ramsey D. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World J Psychiatry 2018; 8: 97–104.

8. Radd-Vagenas S, Duffy SL, Naismith SL, Brew BJ, Flood VM, Fiatarone Singh MA. Effect of the Mediterranean diet on cognition and brain morphology and function: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2018; 107: 389–404.