'I'm a Neurologist—This Is the Vegetable I Eat Every Day for Brain Health'

When you think of “brain food,” what comes to mind? For many people, foods like fish, eggs and walnuts top the list because of their high omega-3 fatty acid content. While all three of these foods certainly are beneficial for brain health, it’s important not to underestimate the importance of a diet high in vegetables—a food group the majority of Americans don’t eat enough of.

While you may already know that vegetables, which are high in fiber, are good for gut health, you may not know how they support cognitive function. But the truth is, they do—big time. While all vegetables support brain health, there’s one in particular a neurologist likes eating every single day because of its many benefits.

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How Do Vegetables Support Brain Health?

There are several key reasons why a diet that includes lots of veggies supports brain health. Neurologist Dr. Lori Schneider, MD, says that one is that vegetables are high in antioxidants, which help protect against free radicals that can cause inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.

Coming into contact with free radicals is unavoidable. Air pollutants, alcohol, pesticides and heavy metals are just a few sources of them. This causes stress on the body, causing inflammation. But antioxidants can help fight off these free radicals, protecting the body.

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Vegetables are also high in fiber, which is important for brain health. A high-fiber diet is linked to both better mental health and cognition. Scientific researchers believe that this is because of a direct connection between the brain and gut, called the brain-gut axis. This means that whatever is good for the gut is also good for the brain.

Vegetables contain a range of vitamins and minerals, which vary based on the type of vegetable. Since all vegetables have different nutrient profiles, Dr. Sharon Sha, MD, MS, a Clinical Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, recommends eating a wide variety of them. One way to do this, she explains, is following the Mediterranean diet. “The most studied diet that has been helping to support brain health is the heart-healthy, Mediterranean diet. If your culture is not Mediterranean, I suggest including more vegetables and fruits with lean proteins that fall within your culture. Vegetables likely help support the variety of nutrients that our brain needs,” she says.

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The Vegetable a Neurologist Eats Every Day for Brain Health

While all vegetables benefit brain health and both doctors recommend eating a wide variety of them to get a well-rounded mix of nutrients, there’s one veggie in particular Dr. Schneider says she eats every single day, both because she likes the taste and because of its health benefits: mushrooms. “I enjoy their earthy taste and love that they are high in protein and fiber, low in calories and fat, contain anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in many nutrients,” she explains.

She adds that beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber linked to supporting immune health, is found in the cell walls of mushrooms. “Mushrooms may also help regulate blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and decrease cancer risk,” she shares.

Dr. Schneider says that scientific research has shown brain-specific benefits of mushrooms. “There is a wealth of research on mushrooms' impact on brain health, and frequent consumption may not only stimulate nerve growth but also improve memory,” she explains.

She says that one particular type of mushroom, lion’s mane, has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to alleviate depression, anxiety and stress. “[This] makes mushrooms a potential game-changer for your mental well-being,” she continues.

When Dr. Schneider cooks mushrooms at home, she likes to sauté them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, shallots and Italian seasoning. “I also like to air fry sliced portobello mushrooms marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and taco seasoning, creating a crispy and savory dish,” she says.

While Dr. Schneider’s favorite vegetable is mushrooms, maybe you prefer other types of vegetables instead. Both doctors say that’s completely okay! In fact, they recommend prioritizing vegetables you like the taste of because that will make you more likely to eat them regularly. They also reiterate the importance of eating a wide variety of vegetables to get a wide mix of nutrients.

“I believe in eating a colorful palate of vegetables daily because each color represents different phytonutrients.” Dr. Schneider says. For example, she explains that the red pigments in tomatoes, beets, red peppers and red onions are rich in carotenoid lycopene, a potent scavenger of free radicals that can damage genes and lead to severe illnesses such as prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease. In contrast, she says that the green pigments in broccoli, spinach, kale avocados, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and asparagus contain strong cancer-blocking compounds.

“The white and brown pigments in mushrooms, onions, cauliflower, garlic and leeks are rich in allicin and flavonoids, which have anticarcinogenic properties. The blue and purple pigments in eggplant and purple cabbage contain anthocyanins that may decrease the risk of blood clots and delay aging. The orange and yellow pigments in corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers and winter squash are not only vibrant colors but also indicate the presence of beta cryptoxanthin. This phytonutrient aids in intracellular communication, a crucial process for overall health,” Dr. Schneider says.

Every time you incorporate vegetables into your meals, you’re benefiting your entire body, including your brain. Upping your intake is an important step in caring for your brain’s current and future health.

Next up, find out what fruit a neurologist eats every day for brain health.


  • Dr. Lori Schneider, neurologist and medical acupuncturist located in Cornelius, North Carolina

  • Dr. Sharon Sha, MD, MS, Clinical Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University and Chief for the Memory Disorders Division and the Stanford Memory Disorders Center