How to nourish your brain to enhance your health span

In today’s health environment, the symptoms we express concern about are often those associated with pain or discomfort, or those which occur ‘suddenly’ and have tangible effects on our daily lives. But sadly, and in many ways inexplicably, we often overlook the health of the one organ which perhaps rules them all: our brain.


Until recently there has been a tendency to overlook the signs of waning brain health until the point at which cognitive function starts to noticeably decline. However, it is perfectly possible to protect, nourish and nurture your brain through diet and lifestyle. And the earlier you start the better because by instilling and sustaining brain-benefitting diet and lifestyle habits early in your lifespan, you give yourself the best chance of safeguarding against cognitive decline and increasing your healthspan by protecting your greatest asset; your brain.

So how can you achieve this? Whilst everyone’s brain-benefitting nutritional therapy programme will be slightly different depending on personal health nuances, below are a few diet and lifestyle priorities you can instantly adopt to nurture and nourish your brain health.

Note: the dietary recommendations below are food-based because deciding on dietary supplements needs professional analysis since these would be highly personalised to your unique health status.


Complex carbohydrates

This refers to wholegrain fibrous and starch foods. Complex carbohydrates support brain health by offering a steady release of glucose sugar (the carbohydrate sugar ‘glucose’ is a primary source of fuel for the brain), which helps the brain function to its best ability. The fibre in complex carbohydrate foods also provides food and fuel for your beneficial gut bacteria, and one of the roles of gut bacteria is to ferment insoluble dietary fibre into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which travel around the body providing fuel for the brain, reducing inflammation, and acting as signalling molecules which can modify gene expression within the brain.

Furthermore, the prebiotic insoluble fibre foods and their resulting SCFAs are beneficial for healing and reducing inflammation in the gut, which in turn supports gut-brain cross-talk… of which there is a considerable amount. The complex carbohydrate foods which support brain health include avocado, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grain bread/rice/pasta and vegetables.

Note: professional analysis will be needed if certain digestive conditions are also experienced which manifest in difficulty digesting dietary fibre.

Simple carbohydrates

This food group offers an interesting and important nuance. Research suggests greater than 25g of sugar per day is considered ‘toxic’ to brain function and exponentially increases the risk of developing brain diseases, (such as depression, dementia and even strokes). So the key with carbohydrates is to limit the simple, ‘refined’ and ‘ultra-processed’ versions. This includes minimising intake of biscuits, cakes, pastries, sweets, sugar-sweetened/energy beverages (which research suggests are linked to 34% increased risk of developing dementia), and all ultra-processed foods which tend to be saturated with sugars or artificial sweeteners.

Antioxidant phytonutrients; vitamins A, C, E and more

These are often highly anti-inflammatory and help quench free radicals which may be exacerbating inflammation. If excessive, inflammation is detrimental to brain health since it may alter the physical structure of the brain which potentially impedes energy production within neurons, (nerve cells that send messages between the brain and the rest of the body). This may hinder cognitive endurance, feelings of mental wellness and resilience, and potentially longevity of brain function. The food-rich sources of antioxidants include colourful fruits (especially red berries and pomegranates), vegetables and dark chocolate (75%+ cacao).


'Complete proteins’ are the most beneficial proteins for supporting brain health since these contain all nine essential amino acids, (‘building blocks’ of proteins).  There are 20 amino acids in total; 11 are non-essential which the body can produce itself, whilst the other nine are gained only through consuming complete protein foods, (or by strategically combining a variety of incomplete protein foods to ensure all the essential amino acids are present).  

Complete proteins support brain health by providing the brain with the ‘building blocks’ it needs to support and strengthen neuron connections and improve cognitive clarity and performance which help protect the brain against potential development of mental health conditions. Complete sources of protein are found in algae/seaweed-derived food, dairy foods, fish, meat, eggs, edamame beans, tofu/tempeh, and quinoa.

B-complex vitamins

There are eight B-complex vitamins each hosting a slightly different brain health benefit.  Whilst a complete complement of B-complex vitamins is important for whole-body health, vitamins B6, B9 (folate) and B12 are the most notable for brain health. This is because the combination of these vitamins may reduce the likelihood of brain atrophy (shrinkage), support the brain’s neurotransmitter function (chemical messengers helping signals whiz through our brain), and help break down homocysteine; an amino acid which, if built up in too high levels, may trigger the development of plaque in the brain which research has linked to neurodegenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s dementia.  Food-rich sources of B-Complex vitamins include avocado, banana, dairy products, eggs, fish and shellfish, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils. peas), meat and poultry, potatoes, nuts and seeds.

Omega essential fatty acids

The brain is approximately 60% fat which needs nourishing with essential beneficial fats.  While an appropriate balance of omega 3, 6 and 9 fats is essential for upholding whole-body health, the omega-3 fats are particularly relevant for brain health since they are anti-inflammatory and support memory and cognitive wellbeing.

Omega-3 fats also support the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which influences ‘neuroplasticity’ i.e. learning, memory and development of brain cells. Omega-rich foods include algae/seaweed-derived foods, avocado, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring), extra virgin olive oil, oats, nuts (especially walnuts), and seeds (chia and flax).


Nicknamed ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium is beneficial for brain health as it offers protective benefits to brain cells which are at risk of excessive ‘excitation’ (activity/stimulation) which may trigger cell demise and cognitive decline. Magnesium also helps uphold the integrity of the semipermeable cellular border forming the blood-brain barrier, which protects against blood-borne toxins leaking into the brain.  Magnesium-rich foods include dark chocolate (75%+ cacao), dark green leafy vegetables, avocado, legumes, tofu/tempeh, nuts, seeds, and wholegrain carbohydrates.

Vitamin D

A deficiency in vitamin D may detrimentally impact cognitive function by exacerbating brain-based conditions such as psychosis, dementia and autism symptoms. Vitamin D may also be neuroprotective by helping clear the brain of plaque development which, if excessive, may contribute to cognitive decline. Food-rich sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, oily fish, mushrooms, nuts and ‘fortified’ dairy foods such as milk and yoghurt, (although look out for added sugars, emulsifiers and preservatives in these foods as these added ingredients will turn the food into a brain-unbeneficial food).



This is a time when the body and brain undergo unimpeded detoxification. The ‘glymphatic system’ in and around the brain helps filter out and excrete neurotoxin waste products which, if allowed to build up excessively, may increase the risk of developing brain function diseases such as dementia. It is also recommended not to eat a meal within two hours of going to sleep since this may interfere with efficient and optimal detoxification of the gut and the brain.


Increases blood flow of oxygen, nutrients and blood-borne glucose (for energy) to the brain. Cardiovascular exercise contributes to increasing the levels of the protein BDNF which promotes ‘neuroplasticity’; the growth and maintenance of brain neurones (particularly in the hippocampus which controls learning and memory and is one of the initial vulnerable areas in Alzheimer’s dementia). Resistance exercise encourages myokines (muscle-based proteins released under muscular tension) to cross the blood-brain barrier which helps enhance the brain’s executive function as well as sending messages to other myokines to release BDNF.


This is relevant in both the gut and the brain since research increasingly suggests that if there is inflammation in the gut, the brain will react in accordance. Beneficial dietary inclusions to reduce the impact of inflammation in the brain include curcumin/turmeric (seek professional guidance to check any medications you are taking do not interact with this substance), green tea, cruciferous vegetables, red and purple berries, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, walnuts and pomegranate.  

Furthermore, the prebiotic insoluble fibre foods and the resulting SCFAs they help to ferment in the gut are beneficial for gut healing and reducing inflammation in the gut, which in turn supports gut-brain cross-talk.

Social interaction

Establishing and maintaining a supportive community around you is an important factor in upholding brain function, health and happiness.

Education and learning

Learning new skills (mental or physical) at whatever age is an important factor in upholding brain function, health and happiness… and may come with the dual benefit of increasing your social interactions, or at the very least might make you the most interesting person in the room!


These molecules ‘mimic’ the structure of oestrogen hormones so fit into the body’s oestrogen receptors, thus blocking the site and preventing real oestrogen molecules from slotting in. Since they are not oestrogen they alter ‘feedback loops’ and send incorrect hormonal messages to the brain, which may result in a cascade of suboptimal brain health symptoms and places an additional detoxification burden on the glymphatic system.  

Xenoestrogens tend to emanate from cigarette/vape smoke, petrochemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, incense, chemical cosmetic products, receipts, cookware, furniture, plastics, paint, and biotoxins in mould, therefore minimising excessive and unnecessary use/contact may help protect your brain health.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Horsham RH13 & Henley-On-Thames RG9
Written by Kate Taylor, Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioner mBANT rCNHC
Horsham RH13 & Henley-On-Thames RG9

Kate S, Taylor.
Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioner & Registered Nutritionist.

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