Last week, we discussed the second brain’s need for various plant-based ingredients, but how about your central brain? What’s the best diet for brain health?
Your brain makes up only 2 percent of your body weight. Yet, it accounts for 20 percent of the energy you use every day. In other words, one-fifth of the oxygen and calories you consume goes to power your brain.
But does your brain care from where the calories come? According to this study from researchers at UCLA’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, the Nutritional Neuroscience journal, the answer is a definitive “Yes!”
The Best Diet for Brain Health: Brainiest Ingredients
What are the brainiest ingredients of the best diet for brain health?
The UCLA researchers concluded that “Polyphenols especially pose a positive effect on the brain.”
Polyphenols are micronutrients that reach the brain directly through the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and indirectly “via other pathways.”
How do polyphenols affect your brain?
According to a 2018 research review headed by Dr. Vanessa Castelli from the University of L’Aquila, they:
- improve cognitive function through antioxidant activity.
- protect neurons against injury from oxidative stress
- balance synaptic transmission.
- inhibit neuroinflammation.
- prevent neurodegeneration and neurotoxicity.
They also influence our brain cells’ energy metabolism and regulate the signaling pathways of molecules that help synaptic plasticity (the brain’s ability to rewire itself).
These effects have a direct impact on:
- cognition: our ability to think clearly
- brain health
- neurological and psychiatric disorders
- mental health and mood
The researchers summed up by observing that one’s diet has an “undeniable” effect on brain function. They suggested “pursuing a diet high in polyphenols.”
Other research points to evidence showing that “chronic consumption of [a] polyphenols rich diet” delays cognitive decline and prolongs a healthy lifespan.
So, should we get our polyphenols from the health food store? Yes, as long as they’re in the produce aisle.
You won’t find them in meat, dairy, eggs, or any animal product. As strictly plant-based compounds, they’re most abundant in the seeds and skin of fruit and leaves of vegetables. Polyphenols include:
Caffeic acid: abundant in some of my favorite fruits, including kiwis, blueberries, cherries, apples, and plums.
Ellagic acid: we consume lots of this in our house because we love strawberries. It’s also in cranberries, blackberries, grapes, guava, and walnuts.
Tannic acid: is in most berries and tea.
Gallic acid: in berries, tea, rhubarb, mango, and soy.
Non-flavonoids include two of the most popular polyphenols:
– Reservatrol, from nuts and grape skins, is famously known to find its way into wine bottles.
– Curcumin gives turmeric and mustard their signature golden yellow hue.
Coumarin, a lesser-known non-flavonoid, comes from strawberries, cherries, cinnamon, apricots, and licorice.
And finally, the Flavonoids:
Catechins: found in green and white teas, grapes, cocoa lentils, and berries.
Flavanones: found in citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, and lemon.
Flavanols: berries, green vegetables, apples, and onions.
Anthocyanins: found in berries and red grapes. Like reservatrol, they also make their way into wine bottles.
What’s the Score with Phenolics?
In 2010, researchers tested 100 different ingredients for their polyphenol content. They didn’t consider an ingredient’s type or bioavailability. Nevertheless, their list was groundbreaking.
Cloves won, scoring 15,188 mg of polyphenols per 100 grams. Their polyphenol eugenol has been shown to have 29 times the blood-clotting power of aspirin!
That makes cloves one of the most brain-empowering ingredients money can buy! But, if they had the highest polyphenol score, what had the lowest?
Wine, with a skimpy 10 mg per 100 grams!
Wine belongs at the bottom of everyone’s list for polyphenol benefits, especially considering alcohol’s link to brain decline and cognitive, behavioral, and emotional impairments.
Other ingredients with more than 1,000 mg of polyphenols per 100 grams?
- dried peppermint
- star anise
- cocoa powder
- dried oregano
- celery seed
- black chokeberry
- dark chocolate
- flaxseed meal
- black elderberry
- dried sage
and dried rosemary.
A healthy brain needs polyphenols! So, add some dried spice to your dinner tonight and afterwards enjoy dark chocolate and fresh berries for dessert. Yum!
What’s the best diet for brain health?
You can’t get much better protection for your brain than polyphenol-rich foods. In other words, eat a whole-food, plant-based diet for both short-term and long-term brain benefits!