The body and mind are closely related, and it is not enough to pay attention to a diet that ensures good physical health; it is equally important to include food items which have specific benefits for the brain. These are sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which prevent degeneration of the brain and loss of memory. Antioxidants are potent chemicals derived from plants that neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals that damage cells.
Vitamins for the brain
Vitamins of the B group, especially niacin and folic acid are essential to keep the brain healthy. Vitamin B rich foods are yeast, nuts, seeds, legumes, wheat germ, dairy products, lean meat, sea food, eggs, whole grains, and leafy greens. Thiamine is important for healthy nerves, and is found in wheat germ, bran, nuts and fortified cereals. Riboflavin, found in milk, almonds and fortified cereals, boosts the memory. Carotene is linked to clear thinking. It is found in deep green vegetables, and dark orange fruits and vegetables. Vitamins E and C are powerful antioxidants which prevent degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. The juices of vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, beet and ginger are rich sources of vitamins that boost the brain.
Minerals for the brain
Apart from vitamins B1 and B12, memory depends on a sufficient intake of lecithin (found in eggs and Soya) and magnesium. Sources of magnesium are wheat germ, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, and almonds and walnuts. Walnuts and almonds are rich in phosphorus too. Phosphorus is also present in figs, dates, grapes, apples and oranges, and strengthens the brain. Iron, essential for a healthy brain, is found in green vegetables, Soya beans, shellfish and red meat.
Fruits and nuts are rich in the trace mineral boron, which affects the electrical activity of the brain and prevents degeneration of the nerve cells. Boron rich fruits include apple, pear, peaches and grapes. Two apples contain a milligram of boron. Seedpods and green leafy vegetables like broccoli also contain boron. 100 gm of peanuts contain 2 mg of boron.
Herbs for the brain
Herbs, especially in the form of teas, are effective in strengthening the functions of the brain.
- Lemon balm elevates the mood and sharpens the mind and comprehension.
- Shakespeare referred to rosemary “for remembrance”, and students in ancient Greece used sprigs of rosemary to increase memory. The Greeks and Romans inhaled its odor to energize the brain and enhance memory.
- Sage is believed to sharpen concentration by acting on the cortex of the brain.
Other Food Items for a healthy brain
Some foods are especially recommended for active functioning of the brain.
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish and flaxseeds are food for the brain.
- Sprouts like alfalfa contain antioxidants, phytohormones, biohormones and enzymes which keep the brain active and healthy.
- Some spices like cumin seeds and pepper boost memory power and act as a nerve tonic. Curcumin in turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- Berries like blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and blackberry are rich sources of antioxidants.
- Apart from berries, black beans, spinach, broccoli, onions and dark chocolate keep the brain cells healthy.
The right diet minimizes oxidation and inflammation of the brain, and improves the ability of the brain cells to communicate with each other. Fruits and vegetables like plum, avocado, oranges, red grape, cherry, red apples and vegetables like brussel sprouts, broccoli, beet, red bell pepper, onions, carrots and asparagus prevent aging of the brain. Herbs, spices and berries also contribute to a healthy and active brain.Studies have shown that those on a Mediterranean diet which is rich in these items suffer less from dementia and silent strokes. Therefore, it is essential to include “brain foods” while planning the diet.
Tip: Walnuts are more effective if taken with raisins and figs.