Healthy aging can mean many things to different people. In addition to caring for our skin, eyes, and weight, we also need to consider how to care for our brains as we age too. Our neurological function affects so much of our health (and lives), and it’s also affected by many things too. From our lifestyle choices to our food choices, from our current state of health and even our hormones, our neurological health depends on us to support it as best as possible.
Plant-Based Nutrition = A Healthy Brain: Here’s Why
Certain foods contain an array of various nutrients that support neuron function in the brain and fuel hormones that benefit the brain, such as cognitive function and memory. This means that certain foods can actually help you focus better, improve the way you perform at work, and even your emotional response to certain life circumstances. This is huge! You can see why and how caring for your brain can literally change your life.
Below are some plant-based foods that are especially wonderful at supporting a healthy brain. Of course, they’re not the only sources, but are some of the healthiest, most effective in a short amount of time, and also very easy to find no matter where you live or what your budget is.
Eat your way to a healthy brain; it’s easier than you think!
1. Winter Squash
A surprising food you might not consider for healthy brain function, winter squash varieties are absolutely packed with health benefits. Specifically Omega 3 fats, B vitamins (especially Vitamin B6), beta-carotene (Vitamin A), Vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium. Winter squash can help keep your brain functioning well and also lower stress-related anxiety at the same time. Enjoy butternut, acorn, kabocha, delicata, buttercup, kuri, pumpkin, or any of your other favorite winter squash varieties.
Cacao is an amazing superfood that everyone can afford. Much healthier than processed chocolate, raw cacao powder is a stress-relieving food and a wonderful focus food that even beats out coffee in its benefits. Cacao is full of magnesium to support your nervous system health, contains an abundance of iron to support blood flow to the brain, has B vitamins, protein, zinc and copper to fight stress and inflammation, and it improves your focus, memory, and mood. Cacao’s healthy fats also improve arterial blood flow throughout the body. See all of our favorite cacao recipes for plenty of delicious ways to use this incredible food.
Whatever seed you choose, know you’re making a healthy choice for your brain. They’re all packed with benefits, including iron, magnesium, Vitamin E, protein, zinc, selenium, B vitamins, healthy fats, and even plant-based proteins. Most of them also contain a large amount of the amino acid tryptophan, which can help fight stress and ward off anxiety. Pumpkin, flax, hemp, and chia seeds also contain Omega 3 fats which fight against inflammation in the brain and improve the aging of the brain and your overall mood.
Spinach is a good source of folate, protein, magnesium, Vitamin C and B vitamins. All of these reduce stress and/or help fight inflammation. Folate is also essential to healthy brain development. Enjoy spinach in salads, soups, smoothies, and more!
Herbs are also full of antioxidants that fight off free radicals and inflammation. Animal-based foods promote inflammation in the body, which can end up making you tired, stressed, physically weak, and overall exhausted due to the amount of stress they put on the body to digest and process. This greatly affects your mood, while natural foods like herbs, help do the opposite. Incredibly seamless to digest, higher in nutrients than many veggies, and so easy to add anywhere, herbs are full of nutrition your brain will benefit from. Most all are a good source of either Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber.
These little bitty nuts even look like brains, which is nature’s way of telling us they’re great for our neurological function. Walnuts are the only nut to contain Omega 3’s in measurable amounts and they’re also a good source of B vitamins. Healthy fats like those found in walnuts help lubricate the body, support healthy blood flow to the brain, and they also fuel hormones that produce a good mood, such as serotonin. Walnuts also help reduce insulin spikes in the body that can lead to inflammation and neurological stress. Try making raw walnut butter, use them in trail mix, in raw bars and bites, or add them to entrees of your choosing.
Many dried fruits tend to be avoided for their high sugar content, but dried figs are an exceptionally healthy food for your brain and body. Fresh figs are also great too, of course! Absolutely full of B vitamins and magnesium, not to mention low on the glycemic index and rich in potassium to fight high blood pressure, figs can reduce stress and support overall hormonal function. They specifically help in preventing inflammation since they’re one of the few fruits with an alkalizing effect in the body. Black mission figs have the highest amount of antioxidants so try those instead of white Turkish figs for the most benefits. Enjoy these sliced in oatmeal, use them in smoothies, soak and use in place of dates in raw energy bars and vegan desserts, or just snack on them as a fiber-rich healthy treat!
Broccoli isn’t just a low-calorie green veggie; it’s a (green!) monster of nutrition. Full of Vitamin B6, protein, Vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium, raw or cooked broccoli is a great stress-relieving food. This food has also been linked to fighting cancer, along with other cruciferous veggies, which shows how incredible is at supporting cellular function.
Many people avoid grains now more than ever, but oats are a wonderful food for the brain (and body) that everyone should consider. There are multiple types of gluten free and organic (and even raw) oats that everyone can try if you’re fearful of gluten. Compared to most grains, oats have more benefits than some of the others like rice and wheat. Low in glycemic-spiking carbs, and high in fiber, protein, iron and B vitamins, oats help reduce stress, can help you rest when needed, and they also improve your mood and your metabolism. Since they’re a beneficial source of complex carbs, they can also help you focus, give you energy, and will reduce blood sugar spikes due to high amounts of soluble fiber and magnesium.
10. Sweet Potatoes
One of many people’s favorite healthy eats, this root vegetable is a true brain and beauty food to be enjoyed. Sweet potatoes are packed with Vitamin C, magnesium, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin C. They’re also low on the glycemic index, despite being high in carbohydrates. They provide anti-aging benefits due to their high amounts of Vitamin A (beta-carotene) and help fight inflammation and stress due to their high levels of Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. Try to replace your normal refined carbs with sweet potatoes and you’ll notice so many mental and physical benefits. Roast them and use them in soups, as a base for burgers, salads, as a side dish, mashed in place of regular mashed potatoes, or enjoy them in the form of healthy fries!
When it comes to caring for our brain and body, always turn to nature’s best healthy foods first to help get you there. See more plant-based foods to boost your brain power, such as berries, avocados, beans, legumes, amaranth, nuts, all fruits and vegetables, dates, coconut, quinoa, and wild rice. Be sure to implement natural herbs, spices, teas, and even more plant-based foods that your body and brain will love.
What’s your favorite on this list?
Lead Image Source: Chocolate Almond Protein Smoothie
Makes me smile to see old adages and conventional wisdom ("Eat your veggies!") being supported by science. :) Mel at mothersheeporganics.com