A Harvard nutritionist shares the No. 1 vitamin that keeps her brain 'young and healthy'—and foods she eats 'every day'

A Harvard nutritionist shares the No. 1 vitamin that keeps her brain 'young and healthy'—and foods she eats 'every day'

Harvard nutritionist: This is the No. 1 vitamin to keep your brain sharp

As a nutritional psychiatrist, I always make it a point to maintain a well-balanced diet. Much of that has to do with making sure I get all the right vitamins, especially because it's essential to preventing cognitive decline.

And given that the risk of neurological diseases increases as we get older, one question I often get from my patients is: "What is the best vitamin for protecting our aging brains?"

Each of our microbiomes is like a thumbprint, so a truly effective eating plan is personalized to the unique needs of an individual. But the vitamin group I prioritize the most to keep my brain young and healthy are B vitamins.

Depression, dementia and mental impairment are often associated with a deficiency of B vitamins, found.

"A B12 vitamin deficiency as a cause of cognitive issues is more common than we think, especially among the elderly who live alone and don't eat properly," says Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, a psychiatrist and the lead author of the study.

There are eight different B vitamins, each with its own primary health benefits:

The brain is one of the most metabolically active organs in your body, which means it needs the support of thiamin to prevent the deficiencies that can lead to neurological problems down the line.

It also helps to grow cells, produce energy and break down fats and external materials like medications.

It also helps our cells generate acyl carrier proteins, helping to produce necessary fats. The brain is primarily fat, so pantothenic acid is among the most important vitamins in supporting brain health.

Additionally, pyridoxine helps many chemical reactions in the body that support immune function and brain health. 

B12 also supports the breakdown of homocysteine, a protein that can negatively impact cardiovascular health and lead to dementia when in excess.

I'm a "food-first" person, so I always encourage people to incorporate foods containing these vitamins into their meals. However, our diets are not perfect, so there may be instances where supplements may help. If that's the, case my simple advice is to "test, not guess" — and consult with your doctor first.

The goods news is that B vitamins are among the easiest to work into your diet because foods that are rich in one B vitamin often contain many, if not all, of the B vitamins when consumed as whole foods.

2. Yogurt is high in both vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, as well as in natural probiotics, which support both gut health and mental health. I like plain Greek yogurt for the added protein.

3. Legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, edamame and lentils all help to boost your mood and brain health. They are an excellent source of vitamin B9, and include small amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5 and vitamin B6.

4. Salmon is naturally rich in all of the B vitamins, especially vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Be mindful of the source of your seafood, and remember that frozen or canned salmon is a budget-friendly option, too.

5. Sunflower seeds are one of the best plant sources of vitamin B5. You can get 20% of the recommended daily value of this vitamin from just one ounce of seeds!

6. Leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and cabbage are a great source of vitamin B9. This is the first food I suggest to patients who want to boost low mood.

. She is also the Director of Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the best-selling book