Although depression and mental illnesses are often thought to be rooted in emotional issues and genetics , studies show that nutrition also plays a key role in the healthy functioning of the brain. Not only can being deficient in certain nutrients lead to poor mental functioning, but even simply eating an imbalanced diet can make existing mental health symptoms worse.
In this article, we’re looking at the various vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids that support healthy and natural brain functioning.
Vitamins for Brain Health
The body needs vitamins for many different reasons, and B vitamins are some of the most important ones for the brain. That’s because B vitamins assist metabolic and cellular processes, as well as the production of brain chemicals. Here the vitamins most important for brain health and how to get them through food.
- Thiamine (vitamin B1) – found in beef, oats, oranges, pork, eggs, and seafood
- B-complex vitamins – found in legumes, dried beans, fresh orange juice, liver
- Vitamin C – found in broccoli, spinach, strawberries, and grapefruit
- Vitamin D – fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, fortified dairy products
Minerals for Brain Health
There are also many minerals that support brain health and that are found in foods that you probably already eat every day. Here are some brain-boosting minerals and good food sources to get the benefits of each one.
- Magnesium – found in spinach, quinoa, almonds, edamame
- Zinc – found in oysters, poultry, red meat, chickpeas, cashews
- Calcium – found in kale, navy beans, oranges, okra
- Potassium – found in bananas, cantaloupe, raisins, broccoli
- Iron – found in lentils, tofu, spinach, cashews, red meat
- Selenium – found in seafood, peas, eggs, Brazil nuts
Amino Acids for Brain Health
Amino acids make up proteins and are considered to be the building blocks of human life. There are about a dozen amino acids that the body makes itself, and several more that must be supplemented in the diet through food. The most important amino acids for brain health, protection, and functioning are tryptophan and tyrosine.
Tryptophan makes up the neurotransmitter of serotonin, and tyrosine makes up the neurotransmitter of dopamine. The synthesis of these neurotransmitters is needed to sustain a healthy mood and levels of aggression. The amino acid of histidine has been studied with regard to its role in cognitive performance and mental fatigue, while the amino acid of arginine has been studied for its potential for learning and memory processing. Other amino acids that may support brain health include theanine, glutamine, and phenylalanine.
Essential Fatty Acids for Brain Health
One of the best things you can do for your brain is to eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The brain naturally contains high amounts of fat, and a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids supports brain health. Eating fish, nuts, and seeds on a regular basis is excellent for maintaining a healthy brain in the short-term and the long-term. Meanwhile, fish oil that contains the omega-3 fatty acids of EPA and DHA is a great option for people who don’t eat fish frequently.
Herb and Spices for Brian Health
If you love to cook and experiment with new flavors, then you’ll be happy to learn that many natural herbs and spices support brain health as well. Here are some brain-healthy herbs and spices that you may already have in your cupboard and the potential benefits that researchers have studied them for in recent years.
- Black Pepper – Cognitive brain functioning, anti-depressant, improves cognitive ability
- Cinnamon – Improves cognition, learning potential, and recognition memory; beneficial effects on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Chamomile – Improves sleep quality and reduces anxiety and depression
- Cloves – High in manganese, which is an essential mineral for brain function; decreases the oxidative stress in the brain
- Fenugreek – Brain development, memory, nerve cell signaling, and mood disorders because packed with choline
- Garlic – Brain protectant due to neuroprotective effects and protects against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease
- Ginger – Contains zerumbone that helps prevent brain tumors, inhibit inflammatory responses, improve reaction time and working memory
- Rosemary – Improves memory
- Lavender – Induces calm
- Lemon Balm – Modulator of mood and cognitive function and anti-stress and cognitive effects; offers a calm focus, fights stress, can help with information processing
- Licorice – Protects the brain and improves sleep, improve unborn child’s IQ and behavior
- Peppermint – Cognitive performance and mood; brain alertness and reaction time
- Sage – Improves memory and cognitive performance
- Vanilla – Offers anti-depressant activity; stimuli can affect the frequency characteristics of the electrical activity of the brain.