Written by Sade Meeks, MS,RD
After a day of attending meetings, working, cooking, and cleaning, it can feel as if you are always on the go, except for when you are sleeping! However, even when you are asleep, part of you is still working – that is your brain. Our brains use about 20% of the body’s energy at all times, contributing to our thoughts, behaviors, and moods (1). It is always on the go, so it is important that it is getting the best supply of energy and nutrients from our diet. Below are some key nutrients that support our hard-working brain.
- High quality carbohydrates – carbohydrate is the preferred fuel for your brain. Without enough carbohydrate to keep your body on the move, your brains moves into ‘survival’ mode and relies on other inferior brain energy fuel, but this comes at the cost of clear thinking and optimal brain function
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants are compounds in foods that protect against free radical damage. This is especially important to the brain cells, because they are particularly vulnerable to free radical damage (2).
- Prebiotic fibers: Prebiotic fibers are food for the beneficial bacteria in our gut and support the health of our gut microbiota. Gut health is essential to the brain, considering gut microbes, such as probiotics, produce many brain chemicals.
Individually these nutrients are great in supporting the health and function of our brain, but together they are even better. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that a healthy eating pattern may be more predictive of overall health than just one single food group or nutrient (3). Therefore, it is essential for us to get into a pattern of including a variety of nutrients from a variety of foods
What does a healthy eating pattern look like?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans explain that a healthy eating pattern should include the following:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
I encourage you to try to include these different food groups when planning your grocery shopping list. To help get you started I have compiled a list of some of my favorite Farmer’s Market picks. They not only support brain health, but they are also key to building a healthy eating pattern.
Farmers Market top 10
- Barley+ – Grain high in Resistant Starch ( and high quality carbohydrates which work a treat as morning brain food
- Chick peas – Legume rich in high quality carbohydrate, to fuel the brain
- Red Beans – Legume high in Antioxidants and Resistant Starch (Prebiotic Fibers)
- Berries – Fruit high in Antioxidants
- Asparagus – Green vegetable high in Prebiotic Fibers
- Tomatoes – Fruit high in Antioxidants
- Onion – Yellow/white/purple vegetable high in Prebiotic Fibers
- Squash – Yellow vegetable with Prebiotic Fibers
- Leafy Greens – Dark greens containing antioxidants
- Eggs – Protein food containing omega 3s
- Sadaghiani S (2014) The Brain Never Stops. Front. Young Minds. 2:6. doi: 10.3389/frym.2014.00006
- Gandhi, S., & Abramov, A. Y. (2012). Mechanism of Oxidative Stress in Neurodegeneration. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012, 428010. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/428010
- S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/