Trying to get your brain health under control is a no-brainer (literally). Since having a healthy brain is essential to our ability to communicate effectively, make decisions, and generally live independent and productive lives, it’s no wonder why so many people are focused on keeping this key organ in good shape.
A wide variety of factors can affect our brain health, and not all factors are within our control (we’re looking at you, age, and genetics). But factors such as our dietary choices can profoundly affect how our food fares as we go through the aging process.
Among the many diets out there, the MIND diet seems to be the best when choosing a dietary pattern to support your brain health. As a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, this way of eating is rich in antioxidants, healthy fats and a wide variety of micronutrients that can keep our noodles sharp. Plus, this diet limits fried food, red meat, cheese and sweets.
Of course, eating blueberries, olive oil, and other foods included in the MIND diet is a fantastic idea if you’re trying to support brain health. But along with focusing on antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods, you might want to include eating foods rich in choline on your “to do” list to do everything you can to keep your melon functioning properly because you may not be getting enough of this essential nutrient..
Choline – the brain-boosting nutrient that many of us aren’t eating
Would you believe that a nutrient linked to cognitive health, DNA synthesis, a healthy pregnancy, and the body’s ability to remove cholesterol from the liver is consumed in sufficient amounts by only approximately 10% of the American population?
Choline is an essential nutrient, which means your body cannot produce enough of it; therefore, you must obtain this nutrient from diet or supplements. This B-like vitamin certainly hasn’t gotten its moment in the spotlight that it deserves, especially when it comes to how this nutrient can affect our brain health.
Choline is essential for the body’s process of producing acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that affects memory, mood and intellect. Adequate concentrations of choline in the brain are believed to protect against age-related cognitive decline and certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, possibly because maintaining enough in the body can preserve neurons, brain volume, and neuronal transmission.
In fact, the results of a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that, among a group of over 3,000 subjects, those who consumed the most choline appeared to have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to this study, those who consumed the least amount of choline each day were significantly associated with an increased risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
A different study evaluating over 2,000 people showed that low choline concentrations were associated with poor cognitive performance.
How much choline do we need?
Our choline needs can vary based on age, gender, and whether we are pregnant or lactating. From newborn babies to people in their golden years, choline is a nutrient that continues to be important to consume throughout the life cycle.
Here are the Adequate Intake (AI) levels for choline based on age, gender, and different stages of the life cycle, according to the National Institutes of Health measured in milligrams (mg).
- From birth to 6 months 125 mg/day
- 7–12 months 150 mg/day
- 1-3 years 200 mg/day
- 4–8 years 250 mg/day
- 9–13 years 375 mg/day
- 14–18 years 550 mg/day (M) 400 mg/day (F)
- 19+ years 550 mg/day (M) 425 mg/day (F)
- Pregnancy 450 mg/day
- Lactation 550 mg/day
Some of the best sources of choline include egg yolks, liver, beef, chicken, fish and soy. Other foods, such as cauliflower, peanuts, quinoa, and potatoes also have this nutrient, just not as much as the sources listed previously.
You can stick to these natural sources of choline to help you meet your needs. But if you want a little extra hand when combing the grocery aisles looking for a choline-packed snack or ingredient, read on to find out which items belong in your cart.
Eggs are one of the best sources of choline, with about 150 milligrams of this key nutrient per egg. Eggland’s Best eggs not only contain choline, but they also have twice the omega-3s of regular eggs. And since omega-3 fatty acid intake is linked to improved brain health, including these eggs in your diet gives you a 1-2 punch in the brain health support department. These eggs also contain 6 times more vitamin D and 10 times more vitamin E compared to regular eggs. Since both of these nutrients are also linked to brain health, choosing the best Eggland eggs is a no-brainer!
With 55 milligrams of choline per serving, this bar from Brainiac is the perfect portable choline snack that’s easy to use throughout the day. But choline isn’t the only brain-healthy nutrient in these bars. Each serving also contains 150 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids and 2 milligrams of lutein—two other nutrients that can help keep our brain health where we want it to be.
One cup of Horizon Growing Years provides 50 milligrams of choline that supports cognitive health along with DHA and prebiotics to help keep minds young and old healthy. Plus, this milk is USDA certified organic and certified carbon neutral.
While sunflower seeds may not contain a large amount of choline, there is some in there! With a 1/4-cup serving of shelled sunflower seeds providing 19 milligrams of choline, including these small sources of energy in recipes and snacks can help you meet your needs.
Blake’s Seed-Based Hot and Spicy Sunflower Seeds are sunflower seeds with a kick. And along with choline, these seeds provide healthy fats, which may also help support brain health.
If you’re a fan of enjoying breakfast on the go, you may already be familiar with Clove Breakfast Essentials. With 60 milligrams of choline per serving along with other nutrients important for brain health, such as iron, this all-you-can-eat breakfast solution can help busy people get some key nutrients in early in the day.
Soy is one of the best plant-based sources of choline, with 107 milligrams of this nutrient per 1/2 cup. Seapoint Farms Dry Roasted Edamame is a convenient snack that’s made from real soybeans, allowing you to nourish your body and brain in seconds.
Three ounces of cod contains 71 milligrams of choline along with other key nutrients for brain health, including DHA omega-3 fatty acids. If you’re not a cod cook, relying on this pre-marinated dish can help you enjoy this nutrient-dense fish right away. Simply bake these frozen marinated fish pieces until cooked through, and enjoy with a side of cauliflower and red potatoes for even more choline on your plate.