In the world of nutrition, phytonutrients are garnering increasing attention for its potential to influence various aspects of human health. And especially when we talk about phytonutrients for brain health. So what are they? Phytonutrients are nutrients found in plants. That’s it!
They are the bioactive compounds that contribute to the vibrant colors, flavors, and odors found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other plant-based foods. But their benefits re far more than just aesthetics. These compounds have been shown to have a profound impact on health, particularly in terms of their neurological effects.
If you’re interested in the nitty gritty, I’ll delve into the benefits of seven prominent categories of phytonutrients. We will focus on carotenoids, indoles, glucosinolates, organosulfur compounds, polyphenols, and saponins. We’ll also explore the rich food sources where these compounds can be found.
And if you just want to know how you can easily apply this information, download the essential guides top Feed a Brain here.
Categories of Phytonutrients
There are several differential categories here, so let’s take a look at a few:
Carotenoids are pigments responsible for the vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues in many fruits and vegetables. Among their various benefits, certain carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lutein, have garnered attention for their potential neuroprotective effects. Beta-carotene, found in carrots and sweet potatoes, is converted into vitamin A. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in maintaining various aspects of overall health. It plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy vision and cognitive function, but it’s important to keep in mind that beta-carotene is not vitamin A, but a precursor to vitamin A. Our body’s ability to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A can vary, especially if we are dealing with a brain injury or other health condition.
Indoles have demonstrated potential in supporting neurological health by modulating neurotransmitter activity and reducing inflammation. These compounds are phytonutrients found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Sulforaphane, an indole present in broccoli, has been studied for its potential to enhance the brain’s defense mechanisms against oxidative stress, thereby promoting cognitive function.
Glucosinolates have shown promise in protecting neurons from damage and promoting neural regeneration, potentially contributing to enhanced cognitive function. These compounds are also sulfur-containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables. When we chop or chew these vegetables, glucosinolates are converted into biologically active compounds like isothiocyanates. Sulforaphane, mentioned earlier, is one such isothiocyanate.
Garlic and onions are well-known sources of organosulfur compounds, which are responsible for their distinct aroma and flavor. Allicin, a prominent organosulfur compound found in garlic, has been associated with various neurological benefits. It exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may contribute to the protection of neurons and potentially reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants that captures energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. This pigment is responsible for the green color in plants and is found abundantly in dark leafy greens. It has been studied for its potential detoxifying and antioxidant properties. Some research suggests that chlorophyll may be beneficial for cognitive function and reducing neuroinflammation. In a study of mice with Alzheimer’s disease, supplementation with chlorophyll was associated with improved memory and reduced inflammation in the brain.
Polyphenols are a diverse group of phytonutrients for brain health. They are found in a wide range of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, tea, and red wine. Many polyphenols tend to be found in plants based on their color. For example, resveraltrol is a polyphenol found in grapes and red wine. This polyphenol has attracted attention for its potential neuroprotective effects. It has been linked to enhanced memory and cognitive function, and its antioxidant properties may help combat oxidative stress in the brain. Some other examples include flavonoids, tannins, curcuminoids, isoflavones, and many more.
Saponins are phytonutrients that give certain foods a soapy or frothy texture when agitated. These compounds are found in legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils. Some saponins have been studied for their potential to support brain health by reducing inflammation and promoting neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons.
Cool! Now what?
Now you know the names of some phytonutrients for brain health and the benefits that they offer. How can you use them?
Well… When I was recovering, I asked the same thing!
What I do is provide tools and resources that I wish I had so that you can go further than I have!
My main resource is my book, How to Feed a Brain. But… You don’t need the book (though it’s a good book)!