Posted by: gcarkner | August 23, 2012

Brain Foods by Andrea

Brain Foods for Grad Student Health

beyond coffee

The brain is important for cognitive function and mental health. When compared to the rest of the body, the brain consumes an immense amount of energy. It is the body’s first organ to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Dietary factors can affect multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, membrane fluidity and signal transduction pathways.1 The following nutrients are important for brain health.

Dr. Andrea Goldson, PhD graduate of UBC in Food Science 2012

The B vitamins

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Thiamine is essential for a healthy brain and nerve cells. It also helps the brain and nervous system to use glucose for energy.It is found in whole grains and pork.

Vitamin B5 (Panthothenic acid)

Panthothenic acid forms a coenzyme that assists in the transmission of nerve impulses. This vitamin is found in legumes, fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Pyridoxine assists in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, a chemical found in the brain. Foods rich in pyridoxine include fish, pork, liver, kidney as well as whole grain cereals and nuts.

Folic acid

Folic acid is essential for the metabolism of long chain fatty acids in the brain.  Folic acid can be found in bananas, orange juice, fortified cereals, strawberry and leafy vegetables.

Vitamin E (α-tocopherol)

Has been implicated in cognitive performance.  Decreasing levels of vitamin E was associated with poor memory performance in older individuals.  Vitamin E is abundant in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals.


Minerals are important in nerve function.  Important minerals include magnesium, potassium and calcium.  Magnesium is found in whole grains, legumes and nuts.

Potassium is found in apricots, avocadoes, strawberries, meat and fish.  Calcium is found in milk products for example, cheese and yoghurt.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega three fatty acids are important for cognitive processes in humans and for the up regulation of genes that are important in maintaining synaptic functions.  Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the most abundant omega 3 fatty acid in cell membranes of the brain. The main source of DHA is dietary as the body is not efficient at synthesizing DHA. 1


The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage because of its high metabolic load and its abundance of oxidizable material, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids that form the plasma membranes of neural cells. Curcumin, a strong antioxidant, seems to protect the brain from lipid peroxidation.1 Berries are also a good source of antioxidants.  Flavonols known for their antioxidant properties are found in fruits, cocoa, beans and Ginkgo biloba.  Flavonols enhance learning and memory. Alpha lipoic acid, which is found in meats such as kidney, heart and liver, and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and potatoes is a coenzyme that is important for maintaining energy homeostasis.


Brain Foods3

Salmon: An excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, both of which are essential for brain growth and function.

Eggs: Egg yolks are packed with choline, which helps with memory development.

Peanuts: A good source of vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that protects nerve membranes.

Whole grains: The brain needs a constant supply of glucose.  Fiber helps to regulate the release of glucose into the body.  Whole grains are also a good source of B vitamins, which nourish a healthy nervous system

Oats/oatmeal: Provides energy and is also a good source of vitamin E, B vitamins, potassium and zinc.

Berries: Berries are high in antioxidants, especially vitamin C.  Seeds of berries are also a good source of omega-3 fats.

Beans: Rich source of fiber, energy, vitamins and minerals.

Colorful veggies: Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach.  Vegetables with rich deep color are the best sources of antioxidants that keep brain cells strong and healthy.

Milk and yogurt: Rich source of protein and B vitamins which are essential for the growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters and enzymes.

Lean beef: Good source of iron and zinc which helps with memory.  Iron rich foods also improve mental alertness and energy levels.


Diet, exercise and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter brain health and mental function.  Particular nutrients influence cognition by acting on molecular systems or cellular processes that are vital for maintaining cognitive function.  Dietary manipulations are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities and protecting the brain from damage, promoting repair and counteracting the effects of aging.1


1.Gómez-Pinilla, Fernando, Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9 (7), p.568-578, Jul 2008 



See Documentary Food Matters



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