Top Nutrients To Support Cognitive Health

Include natural brain boosters in your diet to support brain health and help protect against cognitive decline.

Top Nutrients To Support Cognitive Health  photo

Nutrients for beating brain fog

Eating a diet rich in whole foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds is the first step towards nourishing the brain for good cognitive health. There are, however, some particular nutrients that appear to be exceptionally useful for boosting brain function:

Betaine is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that shows promise for improving memory function. Reducing overall inflammation in the body can benefit the health of the circulatory system that feeds the brain, as well as directly dampening inflammation in brain tissue. Betaine can be synthesized in the body but better levels are achieved through dietary intake too. Choose spinach, wheatgerm, beetroot and shellfish as good sources of betaine to support your brain.

Carotenoids are the yellow, orange and red compounds found in vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, red peppers and pumpkin. They are powerful antioxidants that help protect cells from damage caused by everyday metabolism as well as ageing. The most common carotenoids include:

  • Lutein – brain levels of lutein have been found to be lower in people with cognitive impairment and dietary lutein has been associated with better cognitive health. Lutein is mostly found in green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach but avocado and egg yolks provide a source of lutein that is more readily absorbed in the body.
  • Zeaxanthin, found in mango, orange peppers and honeydew melon is a compound closely related to lutein. Studies have shown it can improve performance in cognitive tests.
  • Lycopene is thought to be one of the most efficient antioxidant carotenoids. Found above all in tomatoes, lycopene is more available to the body when food is chopped or heated, making tomato purées, passata and tomato-based dishes a good source of this important nutrient.

Note that the carotenoids are more readily absorbed in the body when eaten with a source of fat – cook with olive oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee and drizzle olive or avocado oil on salads.

Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol: compounds found in plant foods that have an antioxidant effect in the human body. Flavonoids have been seen to support brain signaling and creation of nerve cells, as well as regulating brain and nervous system inflammation. It is not surprising, therefore, that studies have found that a higher intake of flavonoids is associated with lower rates of cognitive decline. Key flavonoids include the following:

  • Catechins are increasingly being studied for their use in reducing cognitive decline. Green tea is a major source of catechins and can be obtained as a decaffeinated supplement for those who dislike the taste. Alternatively, a range of richly-flavoured foods provide a good source of catechins, including red wine, tea, cocoa, fava beans, apples, pears, cherries and blackberries.
  • Anthocyanins provide the red, blue and purple colours seen in the plant world. Foods rich in anthocyanins appear to have a neuro-protective effect, reducing inflammation and limiting damage from toxins and ageing. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet that have rich dark colours. Examples include red cabbage, aubergine, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, blackcurrants and haskap berries.
  • Quercetin appears to have a protective effect against degenerative diseases of the brain and the circulatory system that feeds the brain. Luckily, quercetin is available in lots of fruits and vegetables, so including abundant fresh produce in your diet should serve your brain well. Top foods for quercetin include citrus fruits, onion, apples, parsley, sage and berries.

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Dajas, F., et al., 2015. Quercetin in brain diseases: Potential and limits. Neurochemistry International, 89, pp.140–148.

Eggersdorfer, M. and Wyss, A., 2018. Carotenoids in human nutrition and health. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 652, pp.18–26.

Godos, J., et al., 2020. Association Between Dietary Flavonoids Intake and Cognitive Function in an Italian Cohort. Biomolecules, 10(9), pp.1–12.

Gómez-Gómez, M.E. and Zapico, S.C., 2019. Frailty, cognitive decline, neurodegenerative diseases and nutrition interventions. International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Salehi, B., et al., 2020. The Therapeutic Potential of Anthocyanins: Current Approaches Based on Their Molecular Mechanism of Action. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 11, p.1300.

Yahfoufi, N., et al., 2018. The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols. Nutrients, 10(11).

Zhao, G., et al., 2018. Betaine in inflammation: Mechanistic aspects and applications. Frontiers in Immunology, 9(MAY), p.1070.