Plants as Brain Food

We are now more aware than ever that reducing our meat and dairy consumption can have a positive impact on the environment. Many are cutting down meat, going vegetarian or fully plant based in a bid to live a more sustainable life. But is there more to our dietary changes than a healing effect on our planet?

With an increase in health issues, illness and chronic pain caused by lifestyle choices, people have become more aware of the effect our food choices have on the body. It can even have a direct effect on the brain as well!

What if I told you that there are plants you can eat that your brain will love and benefit from both on a cognitive level and for long term health?

We have survived exam weeks and are diving straight into a new semester with loads of new information to learn. Having a super-brain-pill would probably sound pretty good right now, am I right?! So, what if I told you that there are plants you can eat that your brain will love and benefit from both on a cognitive level and for long term health?

Adding them to your daily diet can improve your cognitive functioning and maybe help you a little bit on digesting all the new information and work tasks. The first months of the year tend to bring long to do lists, so I will boldly say everyone would benefit from consuming some brain foods, no matter your situation.

If your brain was looking at a menu, it would look for three things: vitamins, antioxidants and healthy fats. These are three key ingredients to consume in order to maintain your long-term brain health.

Although the brain uses carbohydrates for energy because of they are easy to access, it is actually built of about 60% fat. The brain therefore needs healthy fats, such as omega 3 and omega 6. We usually get more than enough of the latter but not enough omega 3. Scientists have hypothesised that this unbalanced ratio can cause chronic inflammation and eventually it could slow you down mentally and physically.

Chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, kidney beans and hemp seeds are high in omega 3

However, there is no need to panic, all you need to do to change this ratio is to eat more plants and a little less fast food, meat, poultry and dairy. Foods like chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, kidney beans and hemp seeds are high in omega 3. If you are eating a variety of nuts, seeds and beans normally, you will be getting enough of omega 6, so start focusing on making sure you consume those key omega 3 rich foods, and you’ll be off to a good start.

Most of us also know that antioxidants are good for us, but we might not know exactly why. Long story short, they are our defence against oxidative stress. Michael Greger explained what this is brilliantly in his book How Not to Die; he says that when energetic stray electrons come together with oxygen molecules, they become free radicals. When these free radicals encounter our DNA, they can damage our genes and things can get ugly. Thankfully, antioxidants protect us from memory loss and other brain diseases. The cute thing about this is that these bad ass fighters are to be found in berries and fruits.

The brain is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress because it consumes a lot of oxygen (among other reasons), and the best thing we can do to avoid inflammation of the brain and oxidative stress is to eat loads of delicious, bright coloured berries and fruits like mango and oranges every day.

Add some fibre to the mixture and you have a super-brain potion on your hands; all you needed to add are some nuts, seeds, berries and oats! All affordable, used in many possible recipes and, (almost) most importantly, taste delicious.

Who would have thought taking care of the brain would be this easy? Grab your peanut butter-jelly on whole grain bread and dive into all the new information and knowledge you’ll learn this new semester. You are now headed for a healthy, smart and very happy brain!

Vibeke Litland


  • Friedman, J. (2010) Oxidative Stress and Free Radical Damage in Neurology. New York, New York, Humana Press.  DOI: 10.1007/978-1-60327-514-9_2
  • Greger, M., & Gene S., (2015) How not to die. London, UK. Flatiron Books.

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