Fruit and vegetable cognitive health benefits

Fruits and vegetables are sources of macro and micronutrients that can benefit cognitive health.

Becky Douglas

June 15, 2020

6 Min Read
Fruits provide innovative edge with cognitive health benefits.jpg

In addition to exercising and getting adequate sleep, correct nutrition plays a major role in development, protection and maintenance of brain functions. The human brain requires a constant supply of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to keep up with the extraordinary workload of the central nervous system.

The brain only makes up about 2% of the weight of a human adult. At the same time, this organ can be burning up to 20% of all consumed calories.1 With signals racing through the neural network at 268 miles per hour,2 it’s no wonder the brain has such high metabolic demands. It is critical to feed the body correctly, so it has the resources to build, guard and preserve this vital system.

Fruits and vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition, supplying concentrated and tasty sources of macro and micronutrients that can help reduce stresses and slow age-related decline in brain function. “Fruits are an essential part of any healthy diet because they supply several key nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and B vitamins,” according to the article, “Fruits Containing Vitamin B.”

The following nutrients that have been shown to benefit cognitive health are naturally found in numerous fruits:

Vitamin C

Readily available in most fruits and vegetables, vitamin C plays a critical role in brain function. This micronutrient is used to repair oxidative damage caused by free radicals. It also is used to generate the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.3 The general function of norepinephrine is to mobilize the brain and body for action. In the brain, norepinephrine will increase alertness and vigilance, assists formation and recall of memory, and focuses attention. In the rest of the body, norepinephrine increases blood pressure, triggers the release of glucose from stored forms and increases blood flow to muscles.4

Since human metabolic systems cannot generate vitamin C from within, it is dependent on a constant supply of dietary sources to maintain these critical activities.5 Men should consume 75 to 90 mg/d, while women need between 65 and 120 mg/d.


Doctors, nutritionists and neuroscientists are starting to get a grasp on understanding the connection between the digestive microbiome, gut and brain. Several different neuropsychological characteristics, such as resistance to anxiety and depression, have been linked to the proper feeding and function of the components of this communication pathway.7

Prebiotics are a class of fibers that can be metabolized by human gut bacteria. These fibers not only help to feed beneficial bacteria and promote benefits of probiotic organisms, they also have been shown to significantly reduce the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, found in the human body.6

Soluble and insoluble fibers can be found in dried fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, beans, bran and other whole grains. Men should consume 30 to 38 g of fiber daily, while women need 21 to 25 g.

B vitamins

The B-complex of vitamins plays a critical role in building strong neural networks, maintaining white brain matter and balancing the chemicals that make up the communication system for the nervous system. Cognitive decline and dementia have been associated through multiple studies with low and suboptimal levels of B vitamins.8

Thiamine, vitamin B1, is important because it assists in metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids and amino acids. Decreased levels of thiamine can lead to nerve degeneration in the arms and legs.9

Niacin, vitamin B3, is required for several oxygen-reduction reactions within the brain. Deficiency in this vitamin can include symptoms such as headache, fatigue, depression, ataxia, poor concentration, delusions and hallucinations. If left untreated, a niacin deficiency can lead to memory loss and psychosis.10

Pantothenic acid, vitamin B5, is crucial to building and maintaining the white matter in the brain. This white matter makes up the sheathing that protects the signals as they travel through the neurons. Deficiencies of this vitamin can lead to slower reaction times and increased difficulty planning and processing information.11

Pyridoxine, vitamin B6, is concentrated in the brain at levels 100-times the rest of the body. It is required for the generation of many of the neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, gamma-Aminobutyric acid and norepinephrine. Deficiency can lead to brain fog, irritability and depression.12

Biotin, vitamin B7, helps the body metabolize fatty acids and amino acids. While deficiency is rare, prolonged absence or hereditary disorders have shown that deficiency can lead to depression, numbness and tingling of the extremities, hallucinations and lethargy.13

Folic acid, vitamin B9, studies with older women have shown eating diets high in folate-containing fruits and vegetables has slowed the generation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which reduces the transmission of signals between brain cells and eventually kills them off.14 Keeping folate levels high daily will provide the maximum benefit to slowing the decline of attention, decision-making and reasoning.

Cobalamins, vitamin B12, plays an important role in protecting the myelin sheath, the fatty substance that covers the neurons and allows signals to pass uninterrupted through the nervous system. Deficiency can affect as much as 10 to 15% of the population over age 60. Decreased levels of this nutrient lead to difficulty with motor skills, reduction in comprehension and concentration, memory loss and dementia.15 The good news is supplementation of the diet with additional B12 can partially reverse the effects of deficiency.

Fruits have always carried a healthy halo image and now might be an effective ingredient solution for formulating products targeting brain health. Bananas, pomegranates, pineapples, apricots, blueberries and strawberries all contain vitamin B, while vitamin C can be found naturally in guavas, strawberries, blackberries and citrus fruits. Fruits that are a good source of fiber include apples, raspberries, blackberries and pears.

Becky Douglas joined the Tree Top team in 2017. Prior to her transition to her current role, Becky spent 10 years in the food industry specializing in food manufacturing process and packaging systems. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University.


1. Squire L et al. Fundamental neuroscience, 4th Edition. Amsterdam: Academic Press; 2008:271-293.

2. Ross V. “Numbers: The Nervous System, From 268-MPH Signals to Trillions of Synapses.” Discover Magazine, March 2011.

3. Haller J. “Vitamins and brain function.” In: Lieberman HR, Kanarek RB, Prasad C, eds. Nutritional Neuroscience. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2005.

4. Cassata C. “What is Norepinephrine?” Everyday Health, Ziff Davis, December 2015,

5. Harrison FE et al. “Ascorbic Acid and the Brain: Rationale for the Use against Cognitive Decline.” Nutrients. 2014 Apr 24;6(4):1752-81. DOI: 10.3390/nu6041752.

6. Schmidt K et al. “Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers.” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 May;232(10):1793-801. DOI: 10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0.

7. Breit S et al. “Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders.” Front Psychiatry. 2018 Mar 13; 9:44. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044.

8. Rindi G. Thiamin. In: Ziegler EE, Filer LJ, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 7th ed. Washington D.C.: ILSI Press; 1996:160-166.

9. Hegyi J et al. “Pellagra: dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhea.” Int J Dermatol. 2004 Jan;43(1):1-5.

10. Brody T. Lipids. Nutritional biochemistry. 2nd ed. San Diego: Academic Press; 1999:311-378.

11. Leklem JE. Vitamin B6. In: Machlin L, ed. Hanbook of vitamins. New York: Marcel Decker Inc.; 1991:341-378.

12. Healton EB et al. “Neurologic aspects of cobalamin deficiency.” Medicine (Baltimore). 1991 Jul;70(4):229-45.

13. Mattson MP et al. “Neuroprotective and neurorestorative signal transduction mechanisms in brain again: modification by genes, diet and behavior.” Neurobiology of Aging. 2002; 23:695-705.

14. Baik HW et al. “Vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly.” Annu Rev Nutr. 1999; 19:357-77.

15. Healton EB et al. “Neurologic aspects of cobalamin deficiency.” Medicine (Baltimore). 1991 Jul;70(4):229-45.

About the Author(s)

Becky Douglas

Tree Top, Inc.

Becky Douglas joined the Tree Top team in 2017. Prior to her transition to her current role, Becky spent 10 years in the food industry. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University. Before joining Tree Top Inc., Becky specialized in food manufacturing process and package systems. More recently, her career has focused on the science of fruit, and the processes used to convert it into delicious ingredients. Becky is serving our industry with innovative solutions by tapping into her diverse processing expertise and scientific approach to all fruit matters. When Becky isn’t pondering the next fruit solution, she enjoys gardening with her husband.

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