(Feeding your brain the right nutrients is key to a happy and healthy life. Learning which foods can help keep you stay focused and support your mind is the focus for the eighth part in our series on the nine benefits at the core of FoodTrients® and all of our recipes. What you eat matters, which is why we’ll explore one of these incredible anti-aging benefits each month and show you how they help fight the diseases of aging.)
If you’re focused on protecting your brain and cognition as you age, it’s good to start thinking about it early. The brain, like all of the organs, is dependent on nutrients found in the foods you eat every day. Which ones do you need to support your brain health? Let’s review the role of FoodTrients in supporting the mind.
There are several approaches to nourishing and supporting your brain, including increasing brain-healthy nutrients in the diet. The Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND diet) is an evidence-based dietary pattern that emphasizes specific foods that have been shown to support the brain. It also limits foods that are high in saturated and trans fats as these can increase the rate of cognitive decline and risk of other vascular diseases. The MIND diet was designed to incorporate evidence-based dietary nutrients that prevent cognitive decline. By making small changes to your diet, you can keep your mind working at its best.
The health of the central nervous system is dependent on the building blocks of protein; specifically amino acids like arginine, histidine, tryptophan, and tyrosine. Eating foods rich in these amino acids provides the brain with the necessary nutrients to create important neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Without these essential chemicals, neurons (the cells that are active in the brain) would not be able to communicate throughout the body or work properly. In order to support a healthy mind and long-term cognition, focus on meeting your protein needs through a variety of foods each day. Eating proteins like fish and plant-based options can be especially helpful.
The MIND diet builds on diets that are rich in healthy fats that have proven benefits for cognitive function like the classic Mediterranean Diet known for its heart healthy properties. Fats are essential to brain function, but not all fats are created equally. While healthy fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated, omega-3 fats) promote brain and cardiovascular health, other fats (saturated, trans fats) have shown to have the opposite effect, especially at levels higher than recommended.
While there is no recommended intake for trans-fats (they shouldn’t be consumed at all!), there are guidelines for saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake to 5-6 percent total calories per day from saturated fat. On a 2000 calorie diet, that’s <13g per day so consider limiting high sat-fat foods like full fat dairy, red meat, and coconut or palm oils.
Carbohydrates are an essential part of brain function because they’re what it runs on (and it’s a big calorie burner!), but if carbohydrates aren’t consumed correctly, chronic high blood sugar can cause damage to the vascular system. A large part of keeping your mind healthy is maintaining healthy blood sugars, which starts with focusing on complex carbohydrate (aka high fiber) foods while limiting added sugar in the diet.
Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down into glucose during digestion so eating foods like whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies are the best choices. Dietary fiber also has an important role in managing cholesterol levels and the great news is that it’s found in all of these healthy carb sources. Don’t fear healthy carb-containing foods like beans, whole grains, and fruit; they’re essential for a healthy mind!
Using a combination of available research, we have compiled brain superfoods that are rich in healthy fats, fiber, amino acids, and other nutrients into this guide to healthy mind foods:
Omega Fatty Acids
|Green Leafy Vegetables||Asparagus
|Nuts and Seeds||Almonds
Omega fatty acids
Omega fatty acids
|Unsaturated Fat Oils||Avocado
|Omega fatty acids
|Vegetables (not green-leafy)||Avocado
Omega fatty acids
|Whole Grains||Brown rice
Based on the available literature, a combination of these foods is the best way to set up your mind for success!
Learn more about FoodTrients’ nine benefits with these additional articles from our nutritionist Ginger Hultin:
1. Briguglio M, Dell’Osso B, Panzica G, Malgaroli A, Banfi G, Zanaboni Dina C, Galentino R, Porta M. Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge. Nutrients. 2018 May 10;10(5):591. d
2. Cherian L, Wang Y, Fakuda K, Leurgans S, Aggarwal N, Morris M. Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet Slows Cognitive Decline After Stroke. J Prev Alzheimers Dis. 2019;6(4):267-273.
3. Lopez MJ, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids. [Updated 2023 Mar 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557845/