The nutrients in your diet don't just help to promote and maintain your physical health and well-being; they also play a large role in supporting your brain health too. The term ‘brain health' encompasses a wide range of areas, including:
Mood and stress
Concentration, alertness and focus
There are a number of different factors that may affect your overall brain health, like your diet, ongoing medical conditions, injury and the natural ageing process. One of the easiest ways you may be able to help improve your brain health today is by taking an in-depth look at your diet and making appropriate changes to accommodate ‘brain foods' that could help to promote your brain health, mood and memory. Part of knowing which foods might benefit your brain comes down to developing an understanding of the specific chemicals and ingredients known to play roles in cognitive function. Here's our comprehensive look at the 10 best brain foods for your mood and memory.
Oily Fish for Omega 3
The benefits of oily fish are praised all across the world thanks to the nutrients they contain. The official recommendation is that everyone should try to get two portions of fish a week, with one of them being oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel. But what is it that makes this food source so important for brain health?
Oily fish contain omega 3 fatty acids. These acids aren't produced naturally in the body, so they have to be ingested through your diet in order to benefit your body. Omega 3 provides polyunsaturated fatty acids called Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) to your body, which may help to promote brain health, concentration, memory and uplift your mood.
DHA can be found in the nerve cells that line brain cells and help to transport synapses, messages and signals throughout the brain. By increasing your consumption of oily fish, the added fatty acids in your system may be able to help reinforce and maintain your brain health.
Now saying that you should eat two portions of oily fish a week is easy for us to say, but in reality you may find it quite difficult to meet those recommendations because of factors like accessibility, cost and your taste preferences. Although you should try and focus on your diet, omega 3 supplements may make for an excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been formulated to work in harmony with your diet and help fill any nutritional holes or deficiencies.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables for Iron
Iron is an essential mineral and just like omega 3 fatty acids, it is not produced or synthesised in the body naturally, meaning it needs to be included in your diet. One readily available source of iron is leafy vegetables like kale or spinach.
Iron is used by the body to help support the transportation of oxygen in your bloodstream. By improving the oxygen level and blood flow to your brain, you may be able to help maintain and promote cognitive function. Iron deficiencies are regularly linked with feelings of tiredness and fatigue; by combating this with a steady supply of iron you may help to boost energy levels and lift your mood.
Liver for Vitamin B5
There are eight different B vitamins, all of which have their own specific roles and responsibilities inside your body, but ultimately all of them help to convert carbohydrates into energy. Vitamin B, also known as Pantothenic Acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in every single living cell in your body. Many experts believe that vitamin B5 may be used in your body to help send signals between the neurones that are related to encoding and processing memories.
A great way of ensuring you get high-quality vitamin B5 into your diet is by eating more liver. Chicken, beef and pork liver all contain concentrated amounts of vitamin B5, but it should be avoided during pregnancy. Pregnant women should follow professional advice when looking for healthy sources of vitamin B5. For vegetarians or people with aversions to liver, you can also find vitamin B5 in shitake mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.
Dark Chocolate for Flavonols
Sometimes all it takes to help lift your spirits is a good bit of chocolate, but you have to make sure that you're eating the right kind in the correct quantities for it to remain healthy. Dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of over 70% contains a lot of healthy nutrients like flavonols, whilst also keeping unhealthy sugars and fats to reduced levels unlike milk and white chocolate.
The science behind the effect of food like chocolate on your mood is well documented and involves two key chemicals: serotonin and tryptophan
Serotonin is a hormone that helps to regulate your mood. When you eat food you enjoy, your body may release more serotonin, which intensifies your response to this delicious stimulus. This chemical fluctuation helps to improve your mood and works differently for each person and their individual preferences.
Tryptophan is an amino-acid that is used by your body in the production of serotonin. Tryptophan is not made in your body, so it has to be ingested through your diet.
When incorporating dark chocolate into your diet as a mood boosting food, moderation is the key. Although the flavonol content is healthy, the other ingredients and nutrients may be less so, so try and limit your intake to a few squares a day. Alternatively, if you struggle with dark chocolate, there are a lot of different supplements that provide similar flavonols to help promote and support your mood.
Bananas for Vitamin B6
Bananas are much-loved around the world, so much so that over 100 billion are eaten every year. Bananas are packed with a variety of beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and manganese, but the vitamin B6 content is what experts believe helps contribute to healthy psychological function and mood.
Vitamin B6 is used by your body to help with the production of ‘feel-good' hormones like serotonin. Neurotransmitters are needed to carry signals across nerve cells in your body and vitamin B6 is known to play a role in your body's production of neurotransmitters. Serotonin can regulate the intensity in which signals are relayed between nerve cells, which is what can influence your mood.
Bananas can be easily added into your diet through snacking, or can be used in a lot of different smoothie recipes, so try experimenting to find out what works best for you. Other sources of vitamin B6 include: turkey breast, tuna, sesame seeds and pistachios.
Avocado for Folate
Folate is another B vitamin (Vitamin B9) that is believed to be beneficial to your brain, mood and memory. Multiple studies in the past have suggested that a link may exist between low mood and folate deficiencies; however this remains undecided in the scientific community. Folate is commonly known to help aid the production of DNA and work closely with other B vitamins to make red blood cells. Avocados also contain good levels of tryptophan and vitamin B6, which can help to boost your mood and promote cognitive function.
Avocado is a very popular fruit, and its many applications make it a great new addition to your diet that won't require a lot of compromises. As well as folate, avocado contains a lot of healthy fatty acids, so why not try adding it to your morning toast or in your lunchtime sandwiches for a good brain health boost?
Blueberries for Vitamin C
Blueberries are renowned for their nutritional content, so much so that they are often categorised as a ‘super food'. Blueberries contain a lot of different vitamins and minerals that are known to be good for your health, but in particular its vitamin C content and the potential brain health benefits may be of interest to you.
Vitamin C is an incredibly popular nutrient and has a lot of different applications within the body. However, it can be found in the largest quantities in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland controls other glands in your body and is responsible for efficient hormone production and release. One of the potential influences of your mood may be a chemical or hormonal imbalance, so by fortifying your pituitary gland with high-quality vitamin C, you may be able to help improve your daily mood.
Nuts and Seeds for Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a very powerful antioxidant, which means that it can help to defend your body and its cells from oxidative damage. This defence also applies to your brain, meaning that by increasing your consumption of vitamin E, you may be able to help promote cognitive function, mood and memory.
If you don't already, healthy snacking is a great way of ensuring your body's blood sugar level is regulated and offers a great opportunity to add extra healthy nutrients to your diet. Nuts and seeds are some of the best sources of vitamin E and they are ideally suited to be snack foods, making this a very convenient way of supporting your brain health. Try eating a couple of small handfuls of walnuts or sunflower seeds throughout the day to make sure your body is topped up with nutrients in between larger meals. However, be wary of portion sizes as nuts can contain fats that may not be beneficial to your health in large quantities.
Green Teas for Caffeine Alternatives
The nutritional properties of green tea have rightfully earned it a place on our list. Green tea makes for a fantastic substitute for your everyday morning cup of tea or coffee thanks to its minimal caffeine content and vast range of different vitamins and minerals.
Many medical professionals might suggest that if you're trying to improve your mood, then large amounts of caffeine in your diet should be avoided. The benefit of green tea is that its caffeine content offers the same stimulatory benefit but without the crash you might experience later with your ordinary cup of coffee, potentially helping to regulate your mood and concentration throughout each day.
Green teas contain high concentrations of antioxidants which, like we mentioned earlier, can help to defend and encourage brain health areas like cognitive function, mood, memory and concentration. Green teas come in hundreds of different varieties and flavours, so if you're looking to help support your brain health, this is definitely an option that can apply to a lot of different tastes and preferences.
Alternatively, if you struggle with herbal and green teas but are looking to develop herb-based treatments into your diet, there are a variety of plant-based supplements like St. John's Wort MoodBoost and Ginkgo Biloba available.
Beans for Magnesium
Magnesium is another essential mineral on our list and is believed to have a lot of applications when it comes to brain health. Magnesium is more widely known to help support healthy bones, but it is also used by your brain in the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) which produces serotonin. The more serotonin in your system, the better your mood will be!
Beans are a readily available source of magnesium and the multiple different varieties available allow you to pick and choose different types that best fit your tastes and preferences. Other sources of magnesium include almonds, yoghurt and figs.
“There is No Love Sincerer Than the Love of Food”
Whether you're looking for something to help boost your mood, improve your memory or support your overall health, these brain foods make for a good place to start. Always remember to pair these dietary changes with regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle and plenty of water to help maintain all areas of your health. This added support will no doubt help you as you make any changes to accommodate more food for the brain into your diet.
Nicole has been working as a researcher and writer in the health industry for over five years. An avid runner and foodie, Nicole writes about the highs and lows of trying to follow a balanced lifestyle and has a keen interest in the complex relationship between nutrition and disease prevention.