7 foods to support brain health no.7 – broccoli

It’s the final day in my series about food and brain health. Last, and definitely not least, is broccoli.

This vibrant green – or purple – cruciferous vegetable is frequently quoted as being super healthy. And it really is! But one of the reasons is it’s just studied more frequently than others in this huge group of vegetables (you can find out more about cruciferous vegetables as a group in this post).

Broccoli is fantastic for cell health throughout the body, including the brain. It contains

  • Vitamins C and K
  • Folate
  • Beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A)
  • Leutin
  • Fibre

As seen in previous posts, vitamins C and K and the phytonutrient leutin are powerful antioxidants that support brain health. Vitamin A is formed from beta-carotene in the liver and is essential to many different organs. In the brain it aids learning and development as well as supporting neurones and brain plasticity. Folate supports memory (amongst other things). And fibre – well, fibre supports gut health which in turn supports brain health.

What’s not mentioned in the above list is the extra special hero of brain health found in broccoli – sulforaphane. This tiny phytonutrient is part of the glucosinolate family found in cruciferous vegetables. Once activated during food preparation (ie: chopping it!), sulforaphane becomes bioactive and is readily absorbed into the blood stream where is can travel to wherever it’s needed in the body. It even crosses the blood-brain barrier so it can support brain cells and nerve transmission directly.

This process sounds so simple but involves a number of chemical processes to make this happen. But once in the brain, research suggest it has a strong neuro-protective role in conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. It’s also suggested sulforaphane can protect cognitive function after a head injury, although that research has been done in a lab not on the type of patients I used to look after in ITU!

Sulforaphane acts as a powerful antioxidant. But it also appears to help promote autophagy (killing off) of damaged cells. Breaking down damaged or inflammatory cells is an important process in protecting the brain – and the body. It prevents the build up of damaging proteins like amyloid seen in Alzheimer’s Disease for example.

We consume a lot of broccoli in our house. Fortunately my children enjoyed to when there were at home. In fact, my daughter loved it so much we joked we should have named her ‘Brocca’ so she could be Brocca Lee 😉 .

There are so many ways to include that fantastic, and generally affordable, vegetable every day. You could:

  • Simply steam it and serve as a side veg
  • Add it to a stir fry or in a fajita mix
  • Pop it in a big green salad raw
  • Feature it in a curry
  • Add it to pie
  • Use it in a pasta sauce
  • Try it in risotto

As with all vegetables, try to eat organic if you can. Broccoli is not currently on the ‘dirty dozen’ list, but pesticides and other chemicals will no doubt have been used. It’s season is pretty long in the UK so you should be able to buy locally grown. Check out your local farm shop or veg delivery service to get as fresh and local as you can.

I hope you have enjoyed learning more about tasty ways to support our most vital organ. All the foods I’ve included are great for the whole body, not just the brain. And there are many more I’ve not included otherwise the series would go on for ever!

If you don’t like some of the foods I’ve listed or are allergic or sensitive to them – don’t worry. A whole-food plant-based diet in general is great for brain health. As long as you are eating a wide variety of foods from all the key groups, you brain will be fully nourished and happy.

 

 

 

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