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What To Eat for a Healthy Brain

Kale
Kale | Image by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Experts recently weighed in on how a person might eat their way to a healthier brain.

Researchers have increasingly linked the modern ultra-processed diet to poor brain health and obesity, adding more scientific credence to the adage: we are what we eat. Yet earlier this year, a ranking placed Texas No. 43 among all other states in brain health.

As covered in The Dallas Express, the residents of the Lone Star State scored poorly in rates of regular exercise and healthy eating, which directly impact the brain in various ways. For instance, carrying excess weight can reduce blood flow to the brain, generate higher levels of inflammation, and lead to insulin resistance — all of which hinder cognitive functions and increase the risk of dementia and more.

Two Harvard alums, Uma Naidoo, a nutritionist and MD, and Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist and Ph.D., agreed that leafy greens are a crucial part of a brain-boosting diet. Speaking with CNBC, both experts touted the benefits of adding a hefty dose of leafy greens, such as kale, swiss chard, lettuce, and spinach, to our plates.

The top reason leafy greens are key to keeping the brain healthy is that they are packed with nutrients. Chief among these is vitamin B, which comes in various forms. For instance, vitamin B9, also known as folate, supports “brain and neurological health, optimal neurotransmitter function, and balanced psychological health,” as Naidoo explained.

Deficiency in vitamin B, especially in vitamin B12, has been linked to depression. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that vitamin B6 prevents cognitive decline, as the nutrient has been proven to lower the levels of a protein called homocysteine, which has been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and more.

Leafy greens are also rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, powerful antioxidants that have been shown to enhance cognitive function in clinical trials. While beta-carotene is a dietary precursor of vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids and thus play protective roles in the brain and the rest of the body, especially the eyes.

Yet another advantage of leafy greens is that they are packed with dietary fiber, an important element of brain and digestive health.

Overall, there is sufficient evidence that leafy greens are a critical part of maintaining brain health as we age. A 2018 study published in Neurology found that participants who frequently ate leafy greens were up to 11 years younger cognitively than those who ate little or none at all.

If leafy greens aren’t your thing — even when pulverized in a more palatable shake — don’t worry. There are other foods known to boost brain power, including:

  • Flavonoid-packed berries (strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries)
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, or trout)
  • Nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts

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