Eating the right foods will assist in keeping you mentally positive, sharp, and productive. Evidence shows that eating green leafy vegetables like kale – just once per day – can support your brain health and may protect you from cognitive decline.
Kale contains plenty of nutrients, such as omega-3s, that are great for brain health. But how exactly does kale help improve your mood and mental processes, and what are some of the most important kale brain benefits?
Let’s dig into the science to find out!
How Kale Boosts Your Brain Function: The Science
If you really want to like kale, but really don’t – latest studies just gave us a reason to at least pretend to like it!
Recent evidence suggests that one particular nutrient in kale is a powerful brain booster, especially for middle-aged and older individuals.
What’s the nutrient called?
Lutein. And our bodies can’t make it on their own. We have to get it from food, with kale being one of the top sources.
Lutein accumulates in your brain and eye tissue. Previous studies have linked it to sharper mental functioning in older people. This study challenged the hypothesis with a younger crowd – they found out that a brain of a middle-aged person with higher levels of lutein performs more on par with the brain of a younger individual than with those of their peers.
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This was a small study with 60 adults, aged between 25-45 years old. The scientists tested the participants’ eye tissue to measure their lutein levels. Afterwards, their neural activity was analyzed through electrodes while they completed two challenging mental tasks designed to place a pressure on their neural resources.
Since previous research found evidence that higher lutein levels lead to sharper performance in older adults with cognitive decline, it made sense to look for a similar link in this study with middle-aged individuals. And the results showed that the same holds true.
The study’s lead researchers stated that “the neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher lutein levels looked much more like their younger counterparts than their middle-aged peers with less lutein.”
The researchers went on to say that lutein seems to have some protective role, allowing the person to engage more cognitive resources to finish the task.
The added value of this study is that it found benefits with middle-aged adults, suggesting that lutein may not only work for older folks but also for younger people, which is completely different from what was previously thought!
And food sources of lutein – like kale, avocados, and eggs – also contain an abundance of other nutrients that are good for your brain. This leads us to the first key benefit of kale:
Brain Benefits of Kale
1. It’s Rich in Brain-Nurturing Compounds
A cup of raw kale (about 2.4 oz or 67 g) contains the following nutrients:
- Vitamin A (as beta-carotene) (206% of RDA)
- Vitamin K (684% of the RDA)
- Vitamin C (134% of the RDA)
- Vitamin B6 (9% of the RDA)
- Calcium (9% of the RDA)
- Potassium (9% of the RDA)
- Copper (10% of the RDA)
- Magnesium (6% of the RDA)
- Manganese (26% of the RDA)
Kale also contains 3% or more of the RDA for thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), phosphorus and iron.
The best of all? All of these nutrients are coming with a total of 33 calories, 4 grams of net carbs, and 3 grams of protein.
There’s very little fat in kale, and the fat that is in it is omega-3 fatty acid called Alpha Linoleic-Acid, which your body uses to help build its retina, brain cells and other tissue.
With its incredibly low amount of calories, kale is among the most nutritious foods on the planet. Weaving more kale into your menu is a fantastic way to boost the total nutrient content of your diet.
2. Fights Brain Inflammation
Much like other leafy greens, kale is high in antioxidants. These include different flavonoids and polphenols, as well as vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Antioxidants work by donating their extra electrons to unstable molecules in your body – free radicals – which cause oxidative stress. By ‘stabilizing’ these free radicals, antioxidants help lower inflammation in your brain.
Oxidative stress is thought to be one of the leading culprits of mental ageing and various diseases. Antioxidants in kale help fight and slow this process down.
But many of these antioxidants have other important brain benefits, too.
This includes flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin which you’ll get in large amounts from kale. These two substances have been thoroughly researched, and are shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant effects among others.
3. Improves Calm and Well-Being
Kale packs a punch when it comes to minerals, many of which people lack.
Kale is a great source of calcium which your brain uses to efficiently fire signals between neurons. It’s also a good source of magnesium that most of us don’t get enough of.
In terms of brain benefits, the excellent mineral magnesium helps ease anxiety, lift mood, and improve your sleep quality.
One advantage of kale over other leafy greens is that it’s low in oxalates, plant compounds that prevent minerals like magnesium from being properly absorbed in your body.
RELATED: Prebiotics for Brain Health
4. May Help Protect Long-Term Brain Health
Consuming kale helps improve your cholesterol levels. Studies show drinking kale smoothies may help boost your lipid profile, reducing the oxidative damage to your LDL cholesterol particles.
This reduction of LDL oxidation has important implications in preventing brain diseases like stroke. Due to its protective effects on the brain, kale is also an excellent memory-boosting food.
Luckily, adding kale to your diet is really simple. You can simply mix it in your salads or use some your recipes.
A popular tasty snack is kale chips, where you drizzle some olive oil on your kale, add a pinch of salt and then bake it in your oven until dry and crunchy.
Alternatively, you might add kale to your smoothies, which is the most convenient way for many people.
Ultimately, kale is one of the healthiest brain-nurturing foods you can eat.
If you want to significantly boost the amount of nutrients you ingest, loading up on kale is pretty much all you need to achieve that!
FURTHER READING: The 5 Brain Benefits of Celery