Your brain thrives on a healthy diet.
Source: geralt / Pixabay, used with permission
As early as the 1980s and 1990s, phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals or plant chemicals) became the “next big thing” in nutrition and good health. It is found only in plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices and even coffee, tea and wine – phytonutrients are not technical nutrients. This is because unlike macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), phytonutrients are not necessary for cell development and survival. But phytonutrients have been shown to maintain good health and fight disease by serving as antioxidants that protect cells from inflammation and other stressors that damage the body over time.
Ever since their superpowers were first brought to light, scientists have isolated and identified thousands of phytonutrients in plant foods. Some, such as carotenoids, anthocyanins and chlorophylls, are also natural pigments that give a rich color to some fruits and vegetables and other plant foods. Many of them have been further studied and it has been found that several types of phytonutrients have potential antidiabetic, anticancer, anticardiac diseases, obesity and other medical preventive and therapeutic effects.
In recent years, food scientists have been looking at the effects of phytonutrients on health and brain disease. There is already a solid, established link between good nutrition and brain function. We know that vitamins A and C, the minerals iron, iodine and zinc, omega-3 fats and some amino acids found in protein are especially important for healthy cognitive development and ongoing brain maintenance. The researchers also found that phytonutrients play an important role in maintaining brain health throughout life and help manage brain diseases and disorders from depression to dementia. In human studies, several phytonutrient families appear to have significant potential for brain health and well-being:
anthocyaninsfound in purple-blue fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and other berries, grapes, purple cabbage, black carrots and blue potatoes, are thought to have therapeutic value when it comes to sleep disorders.
caffeinenaturally found in varying amounts in different types of coffee, and L-theanine, found in green and black tea, is known to improve knowledge and can improve memory, attention and learning ability.
flavonoidsfound in tea, wine, onions, apples and other fruits, berries and vegetables are associated with improved knowledge as a result of their antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. These protective phytonutrients may also help prevent or slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Another class of flavonoids found in soy foods and known as isoflavones have also been found to reduce episodes of insomnia and improve sleep performance in menopausal women.
Phenolic compoundsWidespread in nuts, fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, coffee, vanilla beans and spices, are associated with the prevention of both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
These are just some of the important phytonutrients potentially related to brain health. The best way to make sure you get as many phytonutrients (and essential nutrients) in your diet as possible without having to memorize their individual scientific names and sources is to follow a diet that is super rich. a variety of fresh vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts and other plant-based foods. The three diets that promote these plant foods – the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (dietary approach to stop hypertension) and the MIND diet – are also at the top of the list of healthiest diets in general, as recommended by government and scientific experts.