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Vegetables for brain health: Gift yourself a better brain this holiday

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Grand feasts are a big part of the holiday season. Some of the best foods for brain health can be found in your holiday cookbook. Adding the best vegetables for your brain in your holiday meals will ensure that you reap big health benefits while you celebrate. Here are the foods that improve brain function and why your brain loves them:

Brussel sprouts help prevent Alzheimer’s

A side of Brussel sprouts along with your roast dinner will go a long way in protecting your brain. Brussel sprouts contain a special nutrient that has been proven to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. This nutrient is called sulforaphane. A hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of harmful compounds in the brain. Brussel sprouts can prevent this accumulation by cleaning up these compounds [1], to keep your brain free of Alzheimer’s clutter. The brain health benefits of Brussel sprouts also extend to protecting your brain against inflammation, which can damage your brain cells. The same nutrient neutralises inflammatory compounds and promotes normal functioning of brain cells [2].

Cranberries improve memory

The lush red berry in your sauce and stuffing can provide brain benefits all year around. Cranberries have shown to improve memory among older adults. Those who consumed 1 cup of cranberries per day for 12 weeks, had higher scores on memory tests [3]. Cranberries increase blood flow to the brain. Better blood flow increases availability of oxygen and glucose to the brain, which contributes to better memory. It also increases the production of new brain cells. More brain cells mean better memory. Like Brussel sprouts, cranberries also protect against inflammation. Their nutrients defend your brain against damage and promote production of the brain's own defence compounds [4].

Chestnuts help produce brain chemicals

There are eight B-vitamins that perform important brain functions, including speeding up important chemical reactions. Chestnuts can provide 6 of those. For example, Vitamin B6 is a part of 140 chemical reactions, including production of brain chemicals that regulate your mood and sleep [5]. 100g of roasted chestnuts provides over 40% of your vitamin B6 needs [6]. Chestnuts (100g) also provide over 10% of Vitamin B5 [7], which is involved in building the structure of your brain cells. Folate is another B vitamin that is needed to protect the brain’s covering and produce brain chemicals [5]. 100g of chestnuts provides 35% of your folate needs [8].

Parsnips strengthens brain connections

Opting for roasted parsnips can help improve brain health. Parsnips are high in folate and potassium. 100g cooked parsnips can provide almost 30% of your folate and over 10% of your potassium needs. Potassium helps in strengthening connections between brain cells, facilitating the speed of messages shared between them. It also contributes to memory and protects the brain against inflammation [9]. 

Turnips keeps your brain young

Turnips are healthy root vegetables, but their greens are the real star. Including turnip greens in your salad will boost your brain health. Turnip greens contain over 60 useful plant nutrients and 300% of your vitamin K needs (per 100g) [10][11]. Vitamin K is needed to form the protective layer of brain cells and is involved in memory and processing speed [12]. Those who consumed 9 cups of leafy greens per week had a brain which was 11 years younger in terms of cognition [13]. 

You can build a better brain during the holidays and beyond by including healthily cooked brain-loving foods like Brussel sprouts, cranberries, chestnuts, parsnips, and turnips in your feasts.

References

  1. Sun, Y. et al. (2017). Sulforaphane Protects against Brain Diseases: Roles of Cytoprotective Enzymes. Austin journal of cerebrovascular disease & stroke4(1), 1054.
  2. Kim J. (2021). Pre-Clinical Neuroprotective Evidences and Plausible Mechanisms of Sulforaphane in Alzheimer's Disease. International journal of molecular sciences22(6), 2929.
  3. Flanagan, E. et al. (2022). Chronic Consumption of Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) for 12 Weeks Improves Episodic Memory and Regional Brain Perfusion in Healthy Older Adults: A Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Groups Feasibility Study. Frontiers in nutrition9, 849902. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.849902
  4. Caldas, A.P.S. et al. (2018). Cranberry antioxidant power on oxidative stress, inflammation and mitochondrial damage. International Journal of Food Properties, 21(1), pp.582–592.
  5. Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients8(2), 68.
  6. Self.com. (2018). Nuts, chestnuts, european, roasted. Nutrition Facts & Calories. [online]
  7. National Institute of Health (2021). Office of Dietary Supplements - Pantothenic Acid. [online]
  8. SACN (2017). Update on folic acid
  9. Cisternas, P. et al. (2015). The increased potassium intake improves cognitive performance and attenuates histopathological markers in a model of Alzheimer's disease. Biochimica et biophysica acta1852(12), 2630–2644.
  10. Dejanovic, G. M., Asllanaj, E., Gamba, M., Raguindin, P. F., Itodo, O. A., Minder, B., Bussler, W., Metzger, B., Muka, T., Glisic, M., & Kern, H. (2021). Phytochemical characterization of turnip greens (Brassica rapa ssp. rapa): A systematic review. PloS one16(2), e0247032.
  11. National Institute of Health (2021). Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin K. [online]
  12. Alisi, L. et al. (2019). The Relationships Between Vitamin K and Cognition: A Review of Current Evidence. Frontiers in neurology10, 239.
  13. Morris, M. C. et al (2018). Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline: Prospective study. Neurology90(3), e214–e222.
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