Our brain is always ‘on’. It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, and your senses- it works hard 24/7, even while you are asleep. This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That fuel comes from the foods you eat and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. What you eat directly affects the structure and functions of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
Many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response starts in our gut and is associated with a lack of nutrients from our food.
Vitamins and minerals essential for proper brain functioning are:
- Magnesium: Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for optimal health. A daily dose of magnesium citrate supplement leads to a significant improvement in depression and anxiety, regardless of age, gender, and severity of depression.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: It is critical for the development and function of the central nervous system and a lack of omega-3 in the diet is associated with low mood, cognitive decline, and poor comprehension.
- Vitamin B: People with low levels of vitamin B12 have more brain inflammation and higher rates of depression and dementia. Falling short on folate has long been linked to low moods.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a key factor in preventing mental decline. Eating sufficient amounts of vitamin C rich foods can protect against age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off the free radicals that can damage brain cells and it also supports brain health as you age. Rich sources of vitamin C are all the citrus fruits like oranges, lemon, grapefruit, etc.; bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries.
- Iron: Too little iron in the blood (iron- deficiency anemia) has been linked to depression. Include foods rich in iron such as lean beef, oysters, chicken, turkey, beans and lentils, tofu, baked potatoes, cashews, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereal, etc.
- Zinc: This nutrient helps control the body’s response to stress. Low levels can cause depression. Foods rich in zinc are meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds, milk and milk products, eggs, whole grains, dark chocolates, etc.
- Phytonutrients: Plant nutrients called phytonutrients act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents in the body. Polyphenols increase spatial memory performance, activate neuroprotective pathways and helps improve memory and cognitive health. Foods rich in polyphenols are berries, citrus fruits, red grapes, red wine, dark chocolate and tea.
- Probiotics: Trillions of good bacteria live in the gut. They fend off bad germs and keep the immune system in check, which means they help in lowering the inflammation in the body, which affects mood and cognition. Probiotics help maintain a healthy gut environment. Daily consumption of probiotics is associated with a significant reduction in depression and anxiety.
A healthy lifestyle plays a key role in supporting optimal brain development. Your lifestyle choices matter when it comes to your health, so exercise regularly, get enough sleep, manage stress, and eat a variety of nutrients in your diet to help support a healthy brain.