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Eating well

September 22, 2015

Brain foods: 5 essential nutrients for a healthy brain

A healthy diet can help prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes. But can eating foods such as blueberries help keep your brain healthy, too?

Canada’s Food Guide is designed to help us make good food choices every day. Along with following its general guidelines, you can choose certain foods containing the nutrients your brain needs.

Here are five essential nutrients for brain function:

Antioxidants

Antioxidants have been shown to boost brain health and longevity. Blue and purple fruits and vegetables (for example, blueberries, plums and purple cabbage) are a great source of antioxidants. For an additional boost, consider swapping your morning coffee for a green tea, which is packed with antioxidants.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids — ALA, EPA and DHA — have been linked to reduced brain inflammation and the regeneration of nerve cells. Studies have shown that people who eat fish at least once a week have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Omega-3s can be found in some nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseed. DHA is especially prevalent in fatty fish such as salmon, trout and arctic char — all of which are also low in mercury.

B vitamins

B vitamins, especially folic acid and vitamin B6, are essential for the health of the pathways the brain uses to send messages back and forth to the nerves. B-complex vitamins are found in dark green foods such as spinach, asparagus and broccoli. Eggs and whole-wheat bread are also good sources of B-complex vitamins.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has been linked to a reduction in cognitive decline due to aging. It protects the brain from damage from oxidation and inflammation. Reaching for those dark green veggies will give you a healthy dose of this vitamin, too. Olives, sunflower seeds and almonds are also excellent options.

Iron

Iron is the nutrient that helps carry oxygen throughout the body. It’s important for brain health because the brain needs oxygen to function properly. You can find iron in broccoli, spinach, tofu and lentils, as well as in red meats. For an additional boost, pair your iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods (good choices: citrus fruits, red bell peppers, strawberries) as vitamin C helps the body absorb iron.

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