Dr. Amen’s 7 Brain Superfoods for 2020
Each year, nutritionists and wellness experts offer their suggestions for the best superfoods to fight cancer, protect heart health, and fight off cold and flu bugs. But what about superfoods that enhance brain health and mental wellbeing? Dr. Daniel Amen, a neuropsychiatrist and brain imaging expert, has selected the following 7 brain superfoods for 2020 for their ability to support neural networks, optimize day-to-day brain functioning, enhance moods, sharpen mental focus, and more.
For better brain health, add these superfoods to your shopping list in the New Year.
Cultivated from the seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. These plant-based proteins are high in prebiotic fiber, which supports gut health and helps keep you feeling full, and they’re an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that provide a host of brain benefits. In addition, they contain more protein than chia seeds or flaxseeds and they provide all the essential amino acids, which are key for the production of neurotransmitters. Hemp seeds are also high in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which research has found can reduce depression in women with PMS.
Smart Ways to Eat It: Sprinkle hemp seeds into smoothies or use hemp milk instead of other dairy-free milk alternatives.
A popular Indian spice, turmeric is found in curry and contains a chemical called curcumin that has been shown to decrease the plaques in the brain thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. For a 2009 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers mixed curcumin and vitamin D3 in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients in test tubes and found that it prevented the buildup of the abnormal plaques associated with the disease. More than 7,000 published articles have revealed the benefits of curcumin, including powerful anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antioxidants, blood sugar regulation, and anti-cancer activities.
Smart Ways to Eat It: Add flavor to your favorite proteins or vegetables with turmeric-infused curries.
Seaweed and Sea Vegetables
These superfoods of the sea are forms of algae that are a good source of selenium, tyrosine, and iodine to support healthy thyroid function. When your thyroid is underactive, it can produce symptoms, such as memory problems, inattention, depression, and psychosis. If it is overactive, it can lead to anxiety, sleeplessness, and more. Seaweed and other sea vegetables are also high in fiber, which supports gut health, and they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. Research shows that a brown seaweed called fucoxanthin has shown promise in improving insulin resistance and blood sugar control.
Smart Ways to Eat It: Try seaweed snacks instead of chips or use seaweed wraps instead of bread.
This plant-based protein powder derived from yellow peas packs a nutritious punch, and it provides all 9 of the essential amino acids your body cannot produce. This makes it an ideal vegan substitute for animal proteins that supports healthy neurotransmitter production. Pea protein also provides a good dose of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), especially arginine, which promotes blood flow, which is critical for optimal brain function. Low blood flow on brain SPECT imaging has been seen with depression, suicide, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), hoarding, murder, substance abuse, seizure activity, and more. Fueling your brain and body with pea protein can also help curb cravings, increase mental focus, and boost energy.
Smart Ways to Eat It: Use it in smoothies for a powerful start to your day.
You don’t have to go all the way to Brazil to get the nutritional benefits of these nuts. With one of the highest concentrations of selenium, they support thyroid function and the immune system. Research in The Journal of Nutrition shows that when selenium levels are too low (or too high), it increases the risk of depression in young adults. A polyphenol called ellagic acid found in Brazil nuts may also have neuroprotective properties and has antidepressant-like effects, according to a growing body of research.
Smart Ways to Eat It: Toss Brazil nuts in salads or eat a small handful for a nutritious snack.
Sardines are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids as well as choline, a compound that is neuroprotective and useful in support following head trauma. Animal research from 2008 found that a choline-supplemented diet improved spatial memory, reduced brain inflammation, and balanced some deficits related to TBI.
Smart Ways to Eat It: Place sardines in half an avocado for a buttery rich meal, or chop them up and “hide” them in a homemade sauce or marinara.
Gluten-Free Whole Oats
It’s common knowledge that whole oats are full of nutrients, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. But what elevates them to brain superfood status is the high concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, an amino acid that helps to stabilize electrical activity in the brain and calms over-firing in the brain. This results in a feeling of calmness and more self-control. Low levels of GABA have been found in many psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and some forms of depression. Some research on brainwaves has shown that GABA increases alpha waves (associated with relaxation) and reduces anxiety.
Smart Ways to Eat It: For a brain-healthy breakfast, add protein powder, cinnamon, and nuts to gluten-free whole oats.
At Amen Clinics, we take a whole-body approach to helping people overcome debilitating symptoms and achieve peak performance. We perform comprehensive evaluations that include brain SPECT imaging, as well as looking at the many lifestyle factors, such as diet, that can contribute to mental health symptoms or hold you back from reaching your potential. Our wrap-around services focus on the least toxic, most effective solutions, including brain health nutrition coaching.
If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and optimized their performance at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.