Healthy brain functioning is extremely complex but boils down to five areas:
- Enough of oxygen
- Enough of glucose
- Good night sleep
- Psychological and emotional health
- Brain healthy food
Here, we are going to consider the fifth area – Brain Healthy Food.
5. Brain healthy foods
There are three primary macro-nutrients for your brain health:
Glucose for brain energy
The best sources of healthy sugars for your brain are:
- raisins and dried fruit
- whole wheat bread
Amino acids for neurotransmitters synthesis
The best sources of proteins for your brain are:
- white-meat poultry
- milk, cheese, and yogurt
Amino acids for hormones of happiness synthesis
Amino acid tryptophan is a biochemical precursor for serotonin, which is a well-known hormone of happiness. Serotonin produces your happiness, and tryptophan produces serotonin. The recommended daily intake for tryptophan is 4mg per kilogram of body weight: a person weighing 70kg (about 154 pounds) should consume approximately 280mg of tryptophan per day.
The best sources of tryptophan for your brain are:
- pumpkin seeds – 576mg of tryptophan per 100g (206% DV), or 161mg of tryptophan per ounce (28g) (58% DV)
- cheese – on average, 560mg of tryptophan per 100g (about 200% DV), or 150mg of tryptophan per ounce (28g) (about 50% DV)
- meat (lamb, beef, pork) – 415mg of tryptophan per 100g (148% DV)
Amino acid tyrosine is required for dopamine production. Although dopamine is found in many types of food, it is incapable of crossing the blood–brain barrier that surrounds and protects the brain. Therefore, it must be synthesized inside the brain from tyrosine. The recommended daily intake for phenylalanine and tyrosine is 25mg per kilogram of body weight, or 11mg per pound.
- cheese (parmesan) – it contains 1995mg of tyrosine per 100g (228% DV)
- meat – lamb and beef contain 1386mg of tyrosine per 100g (158% DV), and lean pork chops – 1228mg and 140%, respectively
- salmon – A 100g serving of salmon contains 1157mg of tyrosine (132% DV)
Omega-3 fatty acids for memory and performance
Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. Consuming enough of Omega-3 essential fatty acid is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Brain functions rely on dietary intake of Omega-3 to support a broad range of cell membrane properties. A major structural component of the human brain, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is the most abundant omega−3 fatty acid in the brain. Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder have all been found to improve with Omega-3s.
The best sources of Omega 3 for your brain are:
- cod liver oil
- cold press flaxseed oil
Magnesium – the brain “master mineral”
The body uses magnesium in over 300 different biochemical reactions. It is the brain “master mineral” because it’s of utmost importance for the healthy brain. Magnesium calms down the nerves and keeps them relaxed. Yet, according to the USDA, an estimated 57% of Americans are deficient in this important mineral.
The best sources of magnesium for your brain are:
- beans and nuts.
- whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat bread
- green leafy vegetables
Group-B vitamins to reduce stress
Group-B vitamins have been called the “happy vitamins” or “anti-stress vitamins” because they can improve your mood and increase your tolerance to stress.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Vitamin B1 is very beneficial for your overall health. It is involved in many biochemical reactions in the body. Thiamine is needed for the metabolism of sugars and amino acids. B1 is important in keeping the nervous system healthy and plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy mental attitude. It can help stabilize mood and improve memory and concentration. Thiamine’s phosphate derivatives are involved in many cellular processes. As people are unable to make it, thiamine is an essential nutrient. All organisms use vitamin B1, but it is made only in bacteria, fungi, and plants. Humans must obtain it from their diet. Vitamin B1 is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.
The best sources of vitamin B1 for your brain are:
- sunflower seeds – 2mg per 1cup (164% DV)
- macadamia nuts – 6mg per 1cup (132% DV)
- black beans – 6mg per 1cup cooked (48% DV)
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) is required by the body for cellular respiration – a set of metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and then release waste products. Respiration is one of the key ways a cell releases chemical energy to fuel cellular activity. Riboflavin is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. Estimated Average Requirements (EARs) for riboflavin for adults are 0.9 mg/day.
The best sources of vitamin B2 for your brain are:
- beef liver – 2.9mg/100g (over 100% DV)
- lamb – 3.9mg/100g (over 100% DV)
- milk – 0.45mg per 1 cup (26% DV)
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Vitamin B3 supports the functions of the nervous and digestive system. The body can produce niacin from the amino acid L-tryptophan. A deficiency in B3 can cause depression, irritability, stress and mood disturbances. Niacin functions to help the body release energy from carbohydrates. This can control blood sugar and maintain nervous system functioning.
The best sources of vitamin B3 for your brain are:
- turkey – 1 breast: 101mg (over 100% DV)
- chicken breast – 8.9mg/100g (44% DV)
- peanuts – 21.9mg per 1 cup (over 100% DV)
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
Vitamin B6 is crucial for dopamine and serotonin production. B6 can help the body manufacture neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which aids in the body’s ability to cope with depression, stress and anxiety. B6 may also help boost the immune system during times of anxiety.
The best sources of vitamin B6 for your brain are:
- sunflower seeds – 1.35mg/100g (67% DV)
- pistachios – 1.12mg/100g (56% DV)
- fish – 1.04mg/100g (52% DV)
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folic acid is an essential vitamin needed for energy. The body is unable to produce folic acid on its own. If there is a deficiency in folic acid, people may experience depression and fatigue which may produce higher levels of stress. B9 strengthens memory and concentration while preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
The best sources of vitamin B9 for your brain are:
- chickpeas – 1/2 cup: 557 mcg (over 100% DV)
- liver – 221mcg/100g (55% DV)
- pinto beans – 1/2 cup: 146 mcg (37% DV)
Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of our brain and nervous system, the red blood cells formation, DNA synthesis, fatty acid and amino acid metabolism. No fungi, plants or animals are capable of producing vitamin B12. Only bacteria and archaea have the enzymes needed for its synthesis. Animals obtain vitamin B12 directly or indirectly from bacteria, and we can get it from the foods of animal origins.
Daily value of vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg (micrograms) for average adults rising to 2.8mcg for lactating mothers. It is required in smaller amounts than any other known vitamin.
The best sources of vitamin B12 for your brain are: eggs, milk, cheese, milk products, meat, fish, shellfish and poultry.
Zinc and selenium for “happy hormones” production
Zinc and selenium increase “happy hormones” production. Those minerals have been scientifically proven to prevent depression and anxiety. Zinc plays a crucial role in the synthesis of serotonin, one of four hormones of happiness. Researchers from the University of Barcelona found that people had higher levels of serotonin metabolites after nut consumption. Low levels of zinc are common among those suffering from stress. The Daily Value (DV) for zinc is 15mg. Foods providing 20% of the DV are considered to be high sources of this mineral. Doses larger than 25mg may cause anemia and copper deficiency.
The best sources of zinc for your brain are:
- pumpkin seeds
- dark chocolate
- Brazil nuts have phenomenal content of selenium – a serving of 30g (about 1 once) provides 770%DV. They are the best known source of that micro nutrient.
- Yellowfin tuna – 92mcg/100g (over 100% DV)
- Halibut, cooked – 47mcg/100g (67% DV)
Vitamins A, C and E, and selenium for brain protection
These free-radical fighters prevent brain cell from oxidative damage. Brain cells are particularly vulnerable to free radicals. Antioxidant nutrients protect against brain aging and delay the progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
- Values and percentages are approximate based on the USDA Nutrient Database https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
- Percent Daily Value (%DV) is a guide to the nutrients in one serving of food. For example, 40% for protein means that one serving provides 40% of the protein you need each day. It helps you make informed food choices. DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults.
To be continued:
Your brain health boils down to only 5 areas (Part III)