Low energy and mood, brain fog and a struggle to focus can often be helped with the foods you eat. Nutrition also plays a role in long term brain health and supporting brain-aging. 

When planning your meals, include foods that are good for your mind, not just physical health. In this article, I’m sharing brain health-supporting vitamins & minerals and foods that I go-to as well as some quick recipes that simplify including them in your day.   

Vitamins & Minerals

Zinc: activates hormonal, neurotransmitter and signaling pathways in the gut which modulate brain functions like appetite, sleep, neurogenesis, cognitive function and mood. Find it in cacao, tofu, shellfish, hemp seeds, legumes, oats. 

B12: necessary for brain function, nerve health and the production of DNA (the genetic material in all of your cells). Vitamin B12 also supports memory health and helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a blood condition that can cause brain fog and fatigue. Find it in fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines), liver, nutritional yeast, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, beef, tuna, eggs and, fortified foods like cereals & juice. 

Vitamin B6: important for normal brain development and keeping the nervous system healthy. Find it in bananas, chickpeas, salmon, eggs, sweet potato, liver, avocado, green peas. 

Vitamin D3 (the “sunshine vitamin”): deficiency has been linked to a higher risk of dementia and depression. You can get Vitamin D from exposure to sunshine and fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines) is the best food source. 

Folate (B9 vitamin): essential in brain development and function, as well new cell growth. Low levels are linked to several health conditions including cognitive decline and depression (read more here). Find it in dark leafy greens, peanuts, sunflower seeds, liver, root veggies, legumes, salmon, avocado, beets, asparagus and more. 

Foods & Boosters for a Healthy Brain

These are the foods that I include in my diet on the regular. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: a big essential for healthy brain function and reducing inflammation. Sources: fatty fish (eg. salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines) & seeds (hemp, chia, flax).

* Blueberries

* Turmeric

* Broccoli

* Pumpkin seeds

* Chia Seeds

* Cacao 

* Walnuts

* Green Tea 

* Dark Leafy Greens    

Maca: an adaptogen (helps the body respond/manage to the physical impacts of stress), maca root is a natural energy-booster that supports mood and hormone balancing. 

Lion’s Mane: this mushroom extract is an adaptogen that helps protect brain health & function, mood and reduce inflammation.  

Brain boosters that are on my every-day supplement list: Lion’s Mane extract, Omega Fish Oil and D3 (I drop my daily dose of D3 by 30% in the Summer because my sun exposure is up). 

Talk to your health care provider before adding supplements to your daily routine.

Quick Prep Brain-Health Boosting Recipes 

Brain-Booster Smoothie

½ banana (small size)

½ avocado

1 cup blueberries

1 TBSP chia seeds

1.5 cups organic spinach or leafy kale

1 TBSP pumpkin seed protein powder

½ tsp lion’s mane extract powder

1/2 TSP of turmeric fresh (or ¼ tsp ground)

dash of black pepper (to support turmeric absorption)

1 cup almond, cashew or coconut milk

½ cup ice

Blend it up and enjoy!

LUNCH

Big Quinoa Bowl

You can prepare this dish ahead and then warm it up or enjoy cold.

1 cup quinoa, cooked (follow package instructions – prep ahead)

4 cups of veggie mix of: mushroom, kale, red pepper, cauliflower, broccoli, onion + garlic (1 clove diced)

Heat 2 tsp olive oil on medium heat, sauté veggies lightly (not cooked through). Cover to keep warm.

Serve the quinoa in a bowl then layer veggies & protein over top & toss with 2 TBSP of the Turmeric Ginger dressing.

Topping (2 tbsp): sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds or hummus.

Protein suggestions: 3 oz of cooked wild salmon, shrimp, chicken breast or tofu (or 1⁄3 cup legumes is also great – chickpeas, lentils, black beans).

Ginger-Turmeric Dressing (vinaigrette-style)

1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon turmeric, fresh (grated) 1 tablespoon ginger, fresh (grated)
1 garlic clove (minced)
1 teaspoon turmeric, ground cracked black pepper (2 dashes)

Place all ingredients in a glass jar and shake until emulsified (well combined) or give it a 10 second blend in your blender on a low speed. Store up to 5 days in the fridge.

DINNER 

Seared Wild Salmon with Fresh Salsa

Serves two

* 8 oz wild salmon
* 2 tsp avocado or coconut oil (best for medium high to high heat cooking).
* 3 cups of vegetables: choose 3 from broccoli florets, bell peppers, asparagus, kale, green beans, snap peas (tear, slice or julienne veg for sautéing) 

* 1 small garlic clove, crushed

Fresh Salsa

1⁄4 cup red pepper, diced
1⁄4 cup cucumber, diced
1⁄4 cup white onion, diced
1⁄4 cup avocado, diced (about 1/3 of a large avocado) 2 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
Mix all of the salsa ingredients together. Cover & refrigerate.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet on medium high, (coat base evenly). Sear salmon for two minutes on each side, then (with skin on bottom) cover pan with lid, reduce heat to medium low and cook until done to your preference (cook to at least medium done if not full through. Should flake easily with a fork). Remove from heat and leave covered.

Heat 1 tsp oil and garlic in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Sautee veggies until softened, but still slightly firm.

Plate the veggies and salmon. Top salmon with the salsa or serve on the side.

Simple Snacks (add one or two to your day):

* Hummus (made with olive oil, not canola oil) & Veggies (eg. peppers, cucumbers, celery, broccoli florets)

* Energy Mix: 2 tbsp walnut pieces, 1 TBSP dark cacao nibs, 2 TBSP dried blueberries or cherries.

*Snack size yogurt parfaits: layer from bottom ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 TBSP hemp seeds, top with fresh fruit like berries, banana slices, mango.

* Chia Pudding: make a batch of chia pudding and have brain-boosting toppings like walnut pieces, banana slices, hemp seeds & blueberries on hand. 

This recipe makes 4 snack portions.

  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk (or any dairy-free milk)
  • 1 TSP cacao
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1 Tbsp real maple syrup 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the ingredients well, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes. Stir again, cover, then leave in the fridge for 4+ hours.  

Beverages

* Green Tea (tried hot & iced, 1 tsp of honey to sweeten if you prefer)

* Turmeric Ginger Tea

* Water: hydrating will help keep your mind alert and energy up (aim for 10 cups over the course of the day).

The best way to approach incorporating brain-boosting foods into your diet is to 1) have them on hand, 2) review your menu / meal prep plans and be sure to have some of the foods above included every day (on a rotation) and 3) pick a few ‘every days’ of your own. 

Deanna Embury, Founder of Blended For You, is a regular contributor to The Health Insider. She is passionate about nutrition, wellness and helping people reach their personal health goals. Blended For You provides ready-to-blend (or eat) gluten-free, plant-based, all-natural and complete nutrition smoothies, soups & chia bowls. Get 25% off your first order with code HEALTHINSIDER25 or click this link, shop & the discount auto-applies.

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