5 Superfood Seeds for Better Brain Health
Your brain is an energy-hungry powerhouse. It’s in charge of controlling the way you feel and think, as well as your mood, memory, speech, and so much more. That’s why it’s so important to keep it fueled with nutrient-dense foods to maintain its peak performance.
The foods you eat play a vital role in maintaining your brain health, and these superfood seeds are packed full of the nutrients your brain needs for energy, concentration, mood, and memory, which all have an impact on your mental health.
Let’s find out how you can use these tiny-but-mighty seeds to boost your brain health.
Why Seeds Are the Best Brain Food
In today’s modern food world, it can be difficult to optimize your nutrient intake amidst a jungle of processed food and depleted food sources, but these seeds are so simple, inexpensive, and versatile that they make a great addition to even the most restrictive diet.
- Seeds contain vitamins and minerals, like magnesium, vitamin E, and zinc.
- Some seeds are also great sources of protein, and can help you meet your macronutrient goals while providing the amino acid building blocks your brain and muscles need to repair.
- Seeds are rich sources of healthy fats like omega 3, and contain more optimal ratios of omega 3 to omega 6, helping to modulate inflammation to protect the health of your brain cells from oxidative damage.
- You’ll also notice seeds are rich in fiber, so they’re an easy way to keep your appetite satisfied while also fueling healthy digestion and your gut microbiome.
Let’s learn more about which seeds you can add to your day to fuel a sharp mind now, and for years to come.
In just one tablespoon of flax, there are 2 grams of fiber, plus a type of omega 3 fats, called alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).
Flax seeds contain two types of dietary fiber–soluble and insoluble–which help support a diverse microbiome. Soluble fiber is fuel for beneficial bacteria in your large intestine. These bacteria produce important neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, dopamine, acetylcholine and melatonin that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognition (1).
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools, and supports more regular bowel movements. This helps move metabolic waste such as excess hormones and toxins that can cause oxidative stress in cells, such as the ones in your brain.
Inflammation and oxidative stress are associated with depression, and flax seeds have been shown to play a role in promoting healthy digestion, reducing systemic inflammation (2).
Further, another study found that a kind of polyphenol in flax seeds, called lignans, are associated with better cognitive function in postmenopausal women (3).
How to use flax seeds: Flaxseeds are best eating ground, and can easily be added to baked goods, oatmeal, sprinkled on salads, or desserts. You can also find flaxseed oil in capsules or dark colored bottles.
2. Chia seeds
Chia has a long history in the Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures for energy and to boost performance, and fortunately, this superfood seed brings the same benefits to the modern world.
A 2-tablespoon serving (about an ounce) has about 9 grams of fat and an incredible 10 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein–no wonder ancient warriors used to rely on it for a quick energy source (4)! Chia also contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), similar to flax, but about 4,500 milligrams per ounce, which is much more than you’ll find in flaxseed.
Chia seeds have a balance of soluble and insoluble fiber, which act as pre- and probiotics. This means they help feed the beneficial bacteria in our intestines–the same bacteria that help produce things like serotonin, and other important neurotransmitters that help regulate your gut-brain connection.
How to use chia: Chia seeds can be eaten whole or raw, and will take on a gel-like consistency when added to liquids.
Chia fresca, a natural brain-healthy energy drink you can whip up in minutes. You’ll need:
- 2 cups cold water
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1/2 small lime juiced
- 1/2 tsp honey or other liquid sweetener
- pinch pink Himalayan salt
In a large glass combine the water, chia, lime juice, honey, and salt. Stir well to avoid clumps, and set aside for 10-15 minutes. You will have to stir again as the chia seeds will settle with time – this is totally normal. When the seeds are well hydrated, give the glass a final stir. Drink immediately.
3. Hemp hearts
Hemp hearts are one of the higher sources of plant protein. They also contain brain-healthy antioxidants and omega fats, as well as vitamin E and minerals.
Protein is critical for brain development and neurotransmitter function. Neurotransmitters are the messengers that help our nerve and brain cells communicate, such as acetylcholine and serotonin. And they’re an absolute necessity for optimal brain function and mental health.
Protein status in all stages of life also affects how the brain responds to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with motivation and drive (5).
Hemp Seeds vs. Hemp Hearts
Hemp seeds have a hard outer shell and a soft inside, which is known as the hemp heart. Hemp seeds can be enjoyed raw, cooked, or roasted.
People typically consume the hemp heart, or the inner, hulled seed. The seeds can be pressed to create hemp seed oil or ground and added to water to make hemp milk.
Hemp hearts also contain the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s, which is 2:1. This means they can help modulate inflammation associated with oxidative stress and deteriorating mental health.
How to use hemp hearts: Hemp hearts can be used ground, raw, or cooked. Sprinkle on top of salads, yogurt, or add to a smoothie. They can easily be added to both sweet and savory dishes.
4. Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds contain a ton of beneficial vitamin E. Just a quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds provides more than 80% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant that primarily protects cells from damage associated with oxidative stress.
The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which increases with age, and is considered a major contributor to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia (6).
Sunflower seeds also contain choline, which goes on to become part of your brain’s master neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, as well as selenium which supports brain function and memory.
5. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc, copper and iron, all of which are important minerals for brain health.
Magnesium is essential for a healthy brain and nervous system. Low magnesium levels may increase health issues related to neurological problems such as Alzheimer’s, migraine, anxiety, and depression (7).
Subclinical magnesium deficiency is common–affecting nearly 50% of people–so pumpkin seeds are an easy and delicious way to boost your magnesium intake (8).
Zinc plays a critical role in regulating communication between brain cells, and zinc deficiency has been linked to neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, schizophrenia and depression (9).
How Food Can Improve Your Mental Well-Being
A significant factor for optimal mental wellbeing is a healthy brain, and proper nutrition plays a vital role in building and maintaining brain function.
Your brain needs an array of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to make the neurotransmitters necessary to communicate, and keep your mood, motivation, and energy stable. Adequate nutrition supports brain health, which in turn promotes mental health, mood, and cognition.
Brain Health with Integrative Medicine
Mental health disorders, as well as age-related cognitive decline are influenced by each individual’s genetic, nutritional, and biochemical status. A whole-body approach to mental health begins with personalized testing, correcting nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, underlying infections, and addressing genetic factors.
Increasing foods for brain health helps support the optimal nutritional status that is key for mental health.
This holistic approach uses multiple modalities as well as conventional approaches to restore mental wellbeing to patients by developing an individualized treatment plan.