Ever wonder what the best brain injury diet is? Well, look no further!
In this article, we’ll show you what the best foods for brain injury are and how they boost recovery. We’ll also look at what foods you should NOT eat after a brain injury.
So let’s get started!
Elements of a Good Brain Injury Diet
The best diet for brain injury is one that fuels your brain. Your brain requires lots of energy, and when you sustain an injury, it will need even more to function efficiently.
Basically, a good brain injury diet should be high in protein and rich in certain vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and zinc, which are both depleted following a TBI.
Antioxidants are also important because they help protect the brain from free radicals, reduce inflammation in the brain, and improve communication between brain cells.
The Best Food for Brain Injury
So now that we know what a good brain injury diet requires, here are some of the best foods for brain injury patients!
1. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate’s high levels of both magnesium and antioxidants, two nutrients essential for a healthy brain, make it great food for TBI recovery.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should add it to every meal. Even though dark chocolate has less processed sugar than milk chocolate, there is still some in it. (see section below on what foods to avoid for why processed sugar is bad for brain injury recovery)
Still, the health benefits of dark chocolate are well established and most of the time you can eat it without any guilt on your conscience.
In general, the higher percentage of cocoa, the less sugar it has in it. So, to get the most out of dark chocolate’s health benefits, try to eat products containing at least 70% cocoa.
2. Fatty fish
The omega-3 fatty acids found in certain types of fish are great for brain injury patients.
This is because about 60% of the brain is made up of fat, and half of that fat is omega-3. So if you really want to feed your brain, giving it omega-3 is the way to go.
Plus, your brain actually uses omega-3 to rebuild brain and nerve cells!
Omega-3 also plays a huge role in preserving the brain’s plasticity. Since a big part of traumatic brain injury recovery revolves around engaging neuroplasticity to rewire the brain, you are definitely going to want to include omega-3 in your brain injury diet.
Some fish that are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
To get the most health benefits it is best to bake or broil the fish.
Other sources of omega-3:
If seafood isn’t really your thing, there are many other foods that are rich in omega-3 that you can add to your diet, including:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark leafy greens (e.g. kale or spinach)
Flaxseed oil is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids and is a great alternative to fish. Just mixing one tablespoon into your food will give you 57% of your daily value of omega-3!
You can also try adding ground flaxseeds to your morning yogurt or oatmeal.
Berries are full of antioxidants, which, as we learned, are very helpful in protecting the brain from damage and reducing inflammation.
Studies have also shown certain berries like strawberries and blueberries to be useful for improving memory, learning and other cognitive functions.
Blueberries (as well as omega-3 fatty acids) are also helpful for promoting BDNF, an important growth protein that acts as a fertilizer for your brain. (We’ll learn more about BDNF later in this article)
All of this makes berries, especially blueberries, some of the best food for brain injury patients.
4. Eggs (and avocados)
Eggs are important for brain injury patients because they are a good source of choline.
Choline is a nutrient that is used to create the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps with mood and memory. Higher choline intake has also been shown to lead to better overall cognitive function.
For extra health benefits, try stuffing eggs into an avocado. Avocados are rich in oleic acid, which your brain uses to process information quickly. Combining eggs with avocados lets you give your brain a huge boost with one small meal.
They also just taste great together!
Meat, in particular red meat, is an especially great source of zinc, one of the nutrients depleted in the brain after a head injury.
However, eating large amounts of red meat has been linked to other health problems, so it is not recommended you make this a major part of your diet.
But as long as you are also eating all the other foods listed above, and you have no other health restrictions, a little red meat can be very beneficial for brain injury recovery.
Alternatives to red meat:
If you have a history of heart disease, or would just prefer to avoid red meat altogether, there are other great alternative to meat that can get you the zinc you need, including:
- Legumes (like chickpeas, lentils, and beans)
- Squash seeds
Seeds like squash seeds and flaxseeds have also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, so they are just an all-around great food to add to your brain injury diet.
6. Turmeric root or powder
Finally, one of the best foods for brain injury is technically a spice. Turmeric is a curry spice used in many dishes, and it is a great source of curcumin, which has many benefits for TBI patients.
Not only is curcumin an antioxidant, it also stimulates the production of an essential growth factor in the brain, called BDNF. (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) BDNF is used by your brain to trigger a process known as neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is similar to neuroplasticity, except where neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself, neurogenesis actually involves the creation of new brain cells. No wonder turmeric is such a great food for brain injury!
How to get more turmeric:
Turmeric has a strong taste, and can take some getting used to. But because it is a spice, you can add it to almost anything! You can sprinkle some on rice, or add some to your tea. Chicken soup also goes great with turmeric.
If you want more specific ideas for how to use turmeric in your diet, check out these recipes.
Foods to Avoid in a Brain Injury Diet
Now that we’ve covered some of the best foods for brain injury, it’s time to look at some of the foods you should try to not eat.
In general, you should avoid foods containing saturated fat and processed sugar.
These foods can reduce BDNF and neuroplasticity, which are two things we are trying to promote in a good brain injury diet.
Some foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar are:
- Dairy products (butter, cream, milk, cheese etc…)
- Fatty meat cuts like ribeye steak or lamb chops
- Processed meat (salami or sausages)
- Sugary drinks
It’s important to note that this isn’t meant to be an absolute prohibition, because some of these foods (like dairy products) have important health benefits. The key is to only eat these foods sparingly if you want to improve your brain’s function.
Are These TBI Recovery Foods Safe for You?
We tried to keep this list as healthy as possible, but many foods that are good for the brain are high in fat and sugar.
Even though the fat and sugar in these foods are the healthier kind, if you have high cholesterol or are at risk of stroke or heart attack, some foods on this list might not be safe for you.
Also, although fasting has a lot of research behind it, it can be dangerous for some people. As with everything, you should talk to your doctor before making any serious changes in lifestyle or diet.
And that’s it! We hope this post gave you some inspiration to try out some new foods and create a great brain injury diet that will help you in your recovery.