Tag Archives: nutrients for brain health


National Brain Health Week: Smart Foods and Supplements

This week is Global Brain Awareness Week, a campaign which promotes awareness of brain health and research.

While many of us know about the link between fish oil and brain health, there are a number of other nutrients which have been shown to support the brain, improving memory and focus, and protecting against age-related cognitive decline.

Read on for some valuable ‘brain boosting’ foods to add to your weekly shopping list, and some useful ideas to incorporate them simply and easily into your everyday meals and snacks.

1. Breakfast Brain Booster: Supergreens

A recent study on brain health and nutrition conducted at Rushmore University Medical Center found a ‘protective benefit from just one serving per day of green leafy vegetables’ (1). Leafy greens such as kale, romaine lettuce and spinach are a rich source of vitamin K, believed to slow brain ageing and improve memory and cognitive abilities.

Add a handful of kale into your fruit smoothie each morning, or stir spinach into your scrambled eggs. Supergreens powders – leafy greens in concentrated form – are also easy to add to smoothies or stir into porridge.

2. Smart Snacking: Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate boosts mood, focus and alertness, making it a guilt-free snack. Just a couple of squares of dark chocolate supplies enough potent flavonols to boost the brain’s supply of oxygen, enhancing brain function for around two hours (2).

Try a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate, a cup of cocoa or a handful of raw cacao nibs mid-morning, to keep you alert until lunchtime.

3. Lunchtime: Brain Boosting Beetroot

Dietary nitrates, such as those naturally present in beetroot, boost blood flow to the brain. An optimum supply of blood and oxygen to the brain is essential for mental alertness and cognitive function. A recent study confirmed these benefits, showing that older adults displayed brain patterns and activity similar to much younger adults after a daily shot of Beet-It beetroot juice and a brisk walk (3).

Try a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad for lunch, or add nitrate-rich rocket and raw grated carrot to sandwiches and wraps. A shot of beetroot juice is another great way to boost your dietary nitrates after lunch. Follow with a brisk walk to boost the flow of oxygen to the brain and keep your brain sharp throughout the afternoon.

4. Dinner: Black and Blue Brain Boosters

Anthocyanins – touted as being the most valuable plant pigment for brain health – help to repair and protect brain cells. These powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients are found in very dark coloured plant foods such as black beans, black rice, aubergines, blueberries and blackberries.

Studies have found that these blue-black foods rich in anthocyanins improve brain signalling, which has a positive effect on learning and short-term memory (4).

Try a bean chilli for dinner, using brain-boosting kidney beans and black beans. Use anthocyanin-rich black rice instead of white or brown rice. Tart and juicy blackberries work well with evening meals too, mixed with fresh side salads or paired with rich meats such as duck or venison.

1. Morris MC et al (2017) Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline. Neurology. December 20.
2. University of Nottingham. “Boosting Brain Power — With Chocolate.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070221101326.htm (accessed March 4, 2018).
3. Meredith Petrie W. et al (2017) Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 72, Issue 9, 1 September 2017, Pages 1284–1289
4. Krikorian R et al (2010) Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7): 3996–4000.


Nutrient levels linked to brain health

I recently wrote about the reported benefits of the nutrient choline for improved memory and brain health. A new study, soon to be published in the journal Neurology, has now investigated the link between brain health and other nutrients in the diet, including Vitamins B, C, D and E, omega 3 and trans fats.

The study measured indicators of Alzheimer’s such as cognitive difficulties, brain shrinkage and memory problems. It found that nutrition could play nearly as strong a role as other factors such as age and high blood pressure.

A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life
A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life

The researchers tested a group of 104 elderly people with average age of 87. They then tested the blood of each participant for levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, saturated fats, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fats. Each participant also undertook mental function tests including tests of memory, language skills and spatial skills. Finally each participant underwent an MRI scan to look at the size of certain brain structures related to Alzheimer’s.

The team found that those who had higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids scored higher on the mental-function tests than those with lower levels of these nutrients. In contrast, those with higher levels of trans fats in their blood scored lower on these tests; they had more trouble with memory and language skills and were slower in completing the tests.

Brain scans were then carried out on 42 of the participants, and found that those with nutrient-rich diets had larger brains as well as higher test scores. Again, the scans of those with high levels of trans fats in their blood also showed more brain shrinkage.

A huge benefit of this study is that it used measurements of nutrients in people’s blood, rather than relying on individual’s food diaries and recall. As all nutritionists know, even with the best of intentions, food diaries and questionnaires can be inaccurate and misleading.

The researchers, however, didn’t distinguish between nutrient levels raised due to foods rather than supplements. It’s therefore difficult to say whether taking supplements can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s as effectively as a nutrient-rich diet.

Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and oily fish provide good levels of vitamins and omega-3 fats. Trans fats are unhealthy ‘damaged’ fats found in margarine, some packaged food, fast food and baked goods.

“These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” said study author Gene Bowman, a professor of public health at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

The study team concluded that the findings suggest that nutrients work “in synergy” with one another to be protective of brain health.  Bowman concluded that “the combination of the B vitamins, the antioxidants C and E, plus vitamin D was the most favorable combination of nutrients in the blood for healthy brain aging in our population.”

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

G.L. Bowman, L.C. Silbert, D. Howieson, H.H. Dodge, M.G. Traber, B. Frei, J.A. Kaye, J. Shannon, J.F. Quinn. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology E-published ahead of print December 28, 2011.