The Connection between Nutrition and Brain Function

Nutrition and Brain Function

Do remember back in the day how your mother told you to eat your fruits and vegetables when you were young?

It turns out her intuition was right on the money if you want to improve brain health. There is a definite connection between proper nutrition and healthy brain functioning. But what is that relationship, and how can you benefit?

Let’s take a closer look.

Your brain loves nutrition. And it needs a lot of different types of nutrients to function properly and grow strong. While we do not think of our minds as expending a lot of energy, the opposite is actually true.

Out of all the different uses your body has for energy – walking, exercising, moving – your brain takes up approximately 20% of all your energy stores.

What creates energy?

The metabolic process in your body, the actual physical piece of food you eat does nothing for your health. But the fats, calories, carbohydrates and nutrients it contains are essential to living.

When your body goes to work breaking down that food into its basic components, the many nutrients that your energy-hungry brain requires for healthy processing are pulled out of the food you eat.

Anything your body does not need is passed on as waste. So it makes sense that when you have a nutrition deficiency, you impair your cognitive abilities, as well as your physical conditioning.

The actual physiological process that takes place when you feed your brain by eating is well beyond the scope of this article. But the takeaway is this – scientists and nutritionists agree that there are certain key chemical compounds and nutrients that are absolutely essential to human brain function.

And when they are present in your diet, mental impairments like cognitive decline are not only halted, in many cases they are reversed, and your brain becomes stronger than before.

So the nagging question on your mind right now is probably, “what minerals, vitamins and nutrients do I need to start eating today to guarantee healthy brain function, and minimize my risk of suffering a mental decline as I age?”

5 Important Vitamins & Minerals for Healthy Brain Function

Mental fitness over 60 will probably require a little more work than for someone in their 30s or 40s. But one thing never changes … the list of minerals, vitamins and nutrients that are required for healthy brain functioning and growth.

Let’s take a look at the 5 most important nutrients for a strong and healthy mind, and what foods contain them.

Vitamin E

Aimee Shunney is coordinator of the Education and Wellness Program at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. She points out that special components in vitamin D act as protective antioxidants. They fight off brain disorders, which makes them so important to fight the natural deficiency of brain functioning as we age.

Green leafy vegetables and almonds are rich in vitamin E. Whole grain products, hazelnuts and sunflower oil are also high in this wonderful brain-healthy nutrient. If you choose to take a vitamin E supplement, make sure you choose those that contain mixed tocopherols for the biggest brain boost.

Vitamin B Complex

When you take a vitamin B complex supplement, you benefit from all 8 of the ‘B’ vitamins. Unfortunately, because they are water soluble, your body cannot store them. They go into your bloodstream quickly, and must be replenished each and every day.

Remember how we mentioned elevated levels of homocysteine could increase your risk of Alzheimer’s? High levels of this amino acid have also been linked to cardiovascular disease. For mental health, B6, B12 and folate are the most important. They are found in beans, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean poultry, eggs and dairy products.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Yes, fat can be good for you. The right type of fat that is. And when you eat fish like salmon (caught in the wild if at all possible, as opposed to farm raised), walnuts and flaxseed, you receive high levels of omega-3 fats. That is great, because the human body cannot produce this essential fat that optimizes brain growth and health.

You must get it from food. If you choose an Omega 3 fish oil supplement, make sure that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is present. DHA has been shown to increase the activity in the prefrontal cortex of your brain, and this is related to your working memory.


Neuroscientist Frank Miskevich of Texas A & M University directs much of his research on how calcium is involved with your brain chemistry. It turns out that calcium interacts with proteins that are located in your neurons. Calcium strengthens the connections between neurons, and even “influences the development of neural stem cells, with the potential to grow into any kind of brain cell.” Dairy foods and calcium supplements are your target here.

Copper, Zinc and Iron

Iron is composed of literally hundreds of enzymes and proteins. It is absolutely required for the proper development of particular types of brain cells. Zinc is essential to proper brain cell metabolism, and fights off the deficiencies that lead to impaired learning and memory loss.

And copper was found to be a mineral that works with your central nervous system and influences how well you are able to process thoughts.

“Whole grains, dark leafy greens, spinach, beans, kale, nuts and avocados all help deliver one or more of these important brain boosting components.”



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