Tag Archives: #brainfood

3 Nutrients for Better Brain Health

Good nutrition plays a big role in brain health.

There’s a long list of nutrients that help support brain health and development, and no lack of information on the internet about them. Here are three unsung heroes of brain health that are particularly worthy of your attention, too.


Twenty years ago, the Institute of Medicine deemed choline an essential nutrient, one that you must get from the diet because your body doesn’t make enough. Yet, choline still flies largely under the radar.

Consumer surveys suggest that just two out of five consumers (40%) are familiar with choline. That’s surprising, given that choline is part every nerve and brain cell, and every other cell in the body, too.

How choline builds and maintains the brain 

Studies show that choline is critical for brain development during pregnancy and in a child’s early years. Choline is linked to a lower risk for neural tube defects, which affect the brain, spine, and spinal cord. Choline also plays a particularly important role in the development and maintenance of the hippocampus, the brain’s “memory center,” and continues to support the hippocampus, one of the only areas in the brain that produce cells well into late adulthood.

Choline is critical during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and throughout the rest of life, too.

Some studies show a link between better verbal and visual memory and other benchmarks of brain function in adults with higher choline intakes and higher blood levels of choline. People with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of the enzyme that allows the brain to use choline.

How to include enough choline

More than 90% of U.S. adults don’t consume adequate choline, including pregnant and breastfeeding women. Here’s how much choline you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Female: 425 milligrams; Males: 550 milligrams

Pregnant: 450 milligrams

Breastfeeding: 550 milligrams

Choline is found in a variety of foods, but high-protein animal foods, such as eggs, meat, and seafood, have the most choline. If you avoid, or limit, animal foods, and even if you don’t, you probably need a choline supplement.

Egg yolks are rich in choline; two whole eggs supply nearly half of the daily suggested choline intake.

The amount of choline in foods can be found in the Nutrient Facts panel on food labels, and on dietary supplements labels. The Daily Value for choline is 550 milligrams.  Most multivitamin pills and prenatal supplements do not supply suggested choline intakes, so you will likely need additional choline in pill form. Limit choline intake to 3,500 milligrams daily.

 Coffee, walnuts, and berries for brain health


Nearly all the iodine in your body is found in the thyroid gland, which stores this mineral for the production of hormones that support brain development and growth, and for energy metabolism. Iodine is vital to proper brain development during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and we all need iodine every day to keep the body in working order.

Salt with added iodine is best. Check to see if you’re using iodized salt.

How iodine builds and maintains the brain

During pregnancy, thyroxine and other thyroid hormones are necessary for the myelination of baby’s nerve cells. Myelination ensures speedy and correct communication among the nerve cells and in the brain.

Adequate iodine intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding maximizes baby’s brain to its fullest potential. Severe iodine deficiency in mom’s diet can lead to serious effects for her child, including mental retardation, but even moderately insufficient intakes may take a subtle, irreversible toll on a child’s brain, including increasing the risk for Attention Deficit Disorder.

How to include enough iodine

Iodine needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding.  Yet, women in their childbearing years are among those most likely to consume inadequate amounts of iodine, likely because of a lack of awareness. Iodine is not listed in the Nutrient Facts panel, making it difficult to know how much iodine is in packaged food.

Here’s how much iodine you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Males and females: 150 micrograms/day

Pregnancy: 220 micrograms

Breastfeeding: 290 micrograms

Seafood is a good source of iodine.

All salt is not created equal

People who avoid iodized table salt, seafood, and dairy, or all three, may be at risk for an iodine deficiency.

Dairy milk is rich in iodine, but many people are drinking less than the recommended amounts

Seafood and sea vegetables, such as kelp, are reliable iodine sources, which is one of the reasons why it’s important to eat the suggested minimum of eight ounces of seafood weekly, and eight to 12 ounces a week when pregnant and breastfeeding.

Salt with added iodine, known as iodized salt, is an excellent iodine source, but the same isn’t true of salty processed foods.

While the majority of salt intake in the United States comes from processed foods, manufacturers almost always use non-iodized salt in the process.

Dairy milk is a good source of iodine.

Iodine is so important to brain development and future brain health that the  American Thyroid Association (ATA) recommends that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or may become pregnant, take 150 micrograms of iodine as a dietary supplement every day to fill in iodine gaps. 

Choose a multivitamin with potassium iodide, as this form of iodine is well absorbed by the body. More iodine is not better, so there’s no need to overdo it.

Vitamin B12

During pregnancy, vitamin B12 is necessary for peak brain development and to prevent developmental abnormalities. Vitamin B12 is critical for brain health from birth on, too.

How vitamin B builds and maintains the brain

Vitamin B12 is essential for the preservation of the myelin sheath around nerve cells. Throughout life, vitamin B12 helps to keep your body’s nerve cells healthy and allows them to communicate with each other and with the brain.  It’s also involved in the production of neurotransmitters, which help nerve cells relay signals.

Vitamin B12 is necessary at all ages and stages of life.

How to include enough vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common, affecting between 1.5% and 15% of the general population. Deficiency symptoms include poor memory, confusion, depression, and dementia.

With the exception of pregnancy and breastfeeding, you need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily after age 14. During pregnancy, the suggested intake is 2.6 micrograms, and 2.8 micrograms daily during breastfeeding.

Animal foods such as yogurt are naturally rich in vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products, including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, and milk products.

Vitamin B12 is not present naturally in plant foods. Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast products are readily available vitamin B12 sources.

It’s possible to become deficient in vitamin B12 when you completely avoid animal products or eat inadequate amounts, and don’t eat enough fortified foods or take a vitamin B12 supplement to fill in the gaps.

Exclusively breastfed infants of women who consume no animal products may have very limited reserves of vitamin B12 and can develop vitamin B12 deficiency within months of birth. Undetected and untreated vitamin B12 deficiency in infants can result in severe and permanent neurological damage.

Fortified breakfast cereals are typically excellent sources of vitamin B12.

People with celiac disease and Crohn’s disease and those who have had gastrointestinal surgery, such as weight loss surgery, may absorb less vitamin B12.

The long-term use of common medications may affect how your body uses vitamin B12, too.

Metformin, a drug used to treat diabetes, and medications known as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) and (H2)-receptor antagonists that treat gastric reflux disease and stomach ulcers, respectively, also interfere with the body’s absorption and use of vitamin B12. People taking these medications may need vitamin B12 in supplement form to counteract the effects of the drugs.

Ask you doctor or pharmacist about how any medication you take, including the over-the-counter kind, influences your vitamin B12 needs.

Age affects vitamin B12, too. Experts suggest that people over the age of 50 consume the majority of their daily vitamin B12 in the synthetic form, which is added to foods such as breakfast cereal, and is found in dietary supplements.

With increasing age, the levels of acid in the stomach necessary to separate vitamin B12 from food decrease, making less vitamin B12  available to the body. Synthetic vitamin B12 does not require stomach acid during digestion so that body can use it easily.


Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato

I make these tuna burgers a lot. I love them so much that I included them in my latest book, Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy. Don’t worry – you don’t need to be pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive to enjoy the benefits of these burgers! Experts suggest that adults eat at least two fish meals weekly, and that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume two to three meals a week. My burgers are made with canned tuna, an inexpensive, convenient source of several nutrients, including protein, iodine, and omega-3 fats necessary for heart health, and for a baby’s brain development and vision.

Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato are ready in less than 30 minutes!


Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato

Makes 4 servings.

4  5-1/2 ounce cans or pouches of tuna, drained

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or red onion

2 teaspoons dried dill

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 pitted avocado, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 small tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

4 2-ounce whole-grain sandwich buns or whole-wheat English muffins

Place the tuna in a medium mixing bowl and break it up into small pieces with a fork.  Add the bread crumbs, eggs, shallots, and dill, and combine well.  Form the mixture into four burgers.


Use an empty tuna can to form the burgers so that they are uniform in size and fit on the buns or English muffins.


In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook burgers for about four minutes on each side.

The tuna burgers should be cooked until golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside.  


I usually make a double batch of this recipe because they are easy to freeze and reheat for a quick lunch or dinner.

Wrap cooked tuna burgers well and date the package. They will last for several months in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave and make the avocado/tomato topping just before serving.


In a small bowl, combine the avocado and tomato until just mixed, mashing lightly while stirring.  To serve, place burgers on sandwich buns and top with the avocado mixture. Enjoy with baby carrots for extra crunch and more vegetables.

Delicious and nutritious Tuna Burgers With Smashed Avocado and Tomato pack omega-3 fats, fiber, protein, and much more!


Per serving:
430 calories; 14 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat); 139 milligrams cholesterol; 810 milligrams sodium; 40 grams carbohydrate; 8 grams fiber; 39 grams protein

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