Best Nutrients for Good Cognitive Function

You are not really using your brain to its full capacity — and most of the time it's because you are eating a diet and living a lifestyle that makes thinking clearly difficult. Cognition, memory, and “good ol' fashioned brain power” in general are all affected by the foods you eat.

Vitamin B, Again?

B complex vitamins are important to clear thinking, good memory, and cognitive function, especially vitamins B12 and B6 and folic acid (B9). Choline is a B complex vitamin found in eggs that has also been shown to improve alertness and mental sharpness. Alphabetically speaking you will also find anything from anthropology to zoology a little easier to understand by increasing vitamins A, E, and C, whose powerful antioxidant abilities protect brain cells.

Finished carving that jack-o'-lantern on Halloween? If you want to scare off cognitive difficulties, don't throw away the seeds! Pumpkin is a super food, but the heart of its power is in those little seeds. Pumpkin seeds have many of the best known brain-building nutrients, including: vitamin A and E, zinc, and the vital omega-3 fatty acids. You can also get pumpkin seeds bagged in any season.

In addition to vitamins, there are a variety of minerals that help concentration and memory. The mental minerals and noggin nutrients include: calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and beta-carotene.

Here, Fishie

Fish has long been referred to as “brain food,” and with good reason. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids. The cellular walls of neurons, or brain cells, that pass signals to one another and are responsible for thought and intelligence are mostly made up of fats. Studies have found that when the fatty membranes are made up mostly of omega-3 amino acids, they transmit signals better. The membranes are continually refreshed by fatty acids, so the more omega-3s the brain gets to make new membranes, the better the transmission and clearer the signals. Think of it this way: The difference in cell walls between a person who has enough omega-3s or other fatty acids and a person whose cell walls are not rich in those omega-3s is like the difference between a dial-up and a high-speed broadband Internet connection. Both will process information, but evidence points out which one will get it faster and more efficiently.

Sugar

The brain's main power supply is sugar. But don't go reaching for that candy bar just before an exam or that big presentation at work. The brain needs sugars and carbs, but not the processed kind. Those empty calories will leave you crashing and scratching your head, saying “huh?” The brain needs the complex carbohydrates and low-glycemic sugars found in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and dairy products.

Fiber and Protein

On the subject of sugar metabolism and brain function, it is also important to consider fiber. Fiber metabolizes slowly, and it actually helps to lower the glycemic index of other foods and therefore it helps to keep a constant, steady supply of glucose in the blood to help brain function without spikes and crashes.

Seeds such as flaxseed, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds are great sources of cognitive compounds. These seeds are high in antioxidants as well as protein, vitamin E, and magnesium — all great neuro-nutrients.

Protein is important for good brain function and memory. Proteins are the sources of amino acids. Again, cognition, concentration, and memory all depend on communication between brain cells, which is done by neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are made up of essential amino acids, namely the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine.

Superfoods

Many of the antioxidants found in the so-called “superfoods” have been linked to improvements in brain functions and memory.

Deep-colored berries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, have been linked to protecting brain cells and preventing cognitive difficulties. Recent studies have found that these berries may also improve the function of neurons that are already showing signs of not functioning properly and that have poor intercellular communication.

These include lycopene in tomatoes, ellagic acid in blueberries and blackberries, and the catechins and polyphenols in green tea. A compound called phenylalanine found in many nuts has been noted to add to brain functions. Almonds are high in both phenylalanine and vitamin E, making them a great brain-boosting snack.

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