Best Brain Foods After a Concussion

Dietary choices play a role in one’s susceptibility to cognitive decline and dementia later in life. During the natural course of aging, cognitive reserve (the brain’s ability to recover from a neurological insult, like a concussion or drug overdose) is gradually depleted.

Loss of cognitive reserve capacity is particularly insidious because it can only be detected when it is too late for preventive measures to have a meaningful effect. The good news is that cognitive reserve can be maintained through positive lifestyle choices, including regular exercise, a rich and engaging social life and a diet comprised of brain healthy foods. One's "dose" of education (i.e., educational attainment), is also likely a protective factor. But the causal directionality of this observation is still unclear.  (One possibility  is that people with more resilient brains from the outset are more likely to attain terminal degrees, such as a PhD.)

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So what are the best foods for overall brain health? Many tout nuts, blueberries and salmon as among the best brain superfoods.

We liked the evidence-based approach used in an article published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010)* which compiled the polyphenol and flavonoid content of the hundred richest dietary sources of antioxidants using the Phenol-Explorer database. The Phenol-Explorer database has aggregated results on the polyphenol, flavonoid and antioxidant content of hundreds of foods based on a staggering number of peer-reviewed publications and experiments.

There is much controversy in the scientific community about whether antioxidants are a red herring or legitimately prevent disease. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But we believe that the evidence for the benefits of antioxidants is most robust in the context of cognitive wellbeing. The central nervous system is among the most metabolically active organ systems and is exquisitely sensitive to the oxidative environment in mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cellular energy powerhouses that supply ATP to neurons, the functional unit of the brain.

Because the brain is so energetically demanding, it produces the most unstable free radicals like superoxide. The brain therefore requires an adequate antioxidant defense, which if compromised, confers vulnerability to cognitive impairment.

If we omit seasoning like cloves, we obtain the following ranking of the most brain healthy foods:

  1. cocoa powder (7,846 mg/100g antioxidants)
  2. black chokeberry (4,940 mg/100g  antioxidants)
  3. flaxseed meal (2,748 mg/100g antioxidants)
  4. black elderberry (4,113 mg/100g antioxidants)
  5. lowbush blueberry (1,803 mg/100g antioxidants)
  6. blackcurrant (2,043 mg/100g antioxidants)
  7. green olive (740 mg/100g antioxidants)
  8. sweet cherry (563 mg/100g antioxidants)
  9. artichoke hearts (1,010 mg/100g antioxidants)
  10. blackberry (1,010 mg/100g antioxidants)

These experimental results seem to vindicate the ubiquitous claim that blueberries, cocoa powder and artichoke hearts are among the best brain superfoods.

phenol explorer

The raw data pulled from the Phenol Explorer database is shown below (reproduced from European Journal of Clinical Nutrition* (2010) **64, S112–S120; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2010.221). These data represent a ranking of the 100 most antioxidant rich foods based on a staggering number of independent experiments. Many common spices and ingredients in curry (e.g., tumeric) comprise the top of the list, which may explain why India has one of the lowest rates of neurodegenerative disease.

Food Polyphenols (mg/100g) Polyphenols AE (mg/100g) Antioxidants (mg/100g)
Cloves 15188 15188 16047
Peppermint (dried) 11960 7920 980
Star anise 5460 5460 1810
Cocoa powder 3448 3294 1104
Mexican oregano (dried) 2319 2137
Celery seed 2094 1007
Black chokeberry 1756 1432 1752
Dark chocolate 1664 1618 1860
Flaxseed meal 1528c 1220c
Black elderberry 1359 804 1950
Chestnut 1215 1215 2757
Common sage (dried) 1207 893 2920
Rosemary (dried) 1018 522 2519
Spearmint (dried) 956 491 6575
Common thyme (dried) 878 464 1815
Lowbush blueberry 836 496 471
Blackcurrant 758 464 821
Capers 654 389 3600
Black olive 569 320 117
Highbush blueberry 560 295 205
Hazelnut 495 493 687
Pecan nut 493 493 1816
Soy flour 466 267
Plum 377 285 411
Green olive 346 233 161
Sweet basil (dried) 322 166 4317
Curry (powder) 285 285 1075
Sweet cherry 274 145 144
Globe artichoke heads 260 154 1142
Blackberry 260 180 570
Roasted soybean 246 153
Milk chocolate 236 236 854
Strawberry 235 205 268
Red chicory 235 131 129
Red raspberry 215 107 980
Coffee (filter) 214 110 267
Ginger (dried) 202 202 473
Whole grain hard wheat flour 201c 201c 186
Prune 194 100 1195
Almond 187 185 191
Black grape 169 124 205
Red onion 168 99 91
Green chicory 166 117
Common thyme (fresh) 163 118 1173
Refined maize flour 153c 153c 102
Soy (tempeh) 148 101
Whole grain rye flour 143c 143c 72
Apple 136 136 205
Spinach 119 68 248
Shallot 113 67 115
Lemon verbena (dried) 106 106
Black tea 102 90 104
Red wine 101 91 215
Green tea 89 82 62
Soy yogurt 84 51
Yellow onion 74 49 75
Soy meat 73 47
Whole grain wheat flour 71c 71c 90
Pure apple juice 68 61 34
Pure pomegranate juice 66 37 204
Extra-virgin olive oil 62 33 55
Black bean 59 36 1390
Peach 59 54 107
Pure blood orange juice 56 28 72
Cumin 55 55 2038
Pure grapefruit juice 53 23 54
White bean 51 31 138
Chinese cinnamon 48 48
Pure blond orange juice 46 20
Broccoli 45 21 198
Redcurrant 43 23 448
Soy tofu 42 25
Pure lemon juice 42 20
Whole grain oat flour 37c 37c 82
Apricot 34 15 133
Caraway 33 33 2913
Refined rye flour 31c 31c 45
Asparagus 29 11 75
Walnut 28 28 1576
Potato 28 15 54
Ceylan cinnamon 27 27 9070
Parsley (dried) 25 25 1584
Nectarine 25 20 55
Curly endive 24 15
Marjoram (dried) 23 22 3846
Red lettuce 23 14 114
Chocolate beverage with milk 21 21
Quince 19 12
Endive (Escarole) 18 11
Soy milk 18 11
Pure pummelo juice 18 7.9
Rapeseed oil 17 17 18
Pear 17 11 108
Soybean sprout 15 10
Green grape 15 7.6 122
Carrot 14 6.6 58
Vinegar 13 11
Soy cheese 12 7.6
White wine 10 8.6 32
Rosé wine 10 7.8 82
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Xavier Kent

I'm interested in nutrition, nootropics, and javascript. I'm a firm believer in getting really good at one thing.

Maryland

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