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This nutrient could make a huge difference in your brain health—and FYI it’s in dark chocolate


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Photo: StockSnap/Yoori Koo

If the thought of adding yet another supplement to your daily lineup makes you want to Marie Kondo your medicine cabinet, brace yourself. Because it turns out there’s a key nutrient that you could be missing in your diet—and it could make a serious difference in your brain health.

According to psychiatrist and Well+Good Council member, Drew Ramsey, MD, most people are deficient in iron. And, not only are most people at a less-than-optimal level of the essential mineral, but Dr. Ramsey says a lack of iron in many people’s diets could be behind a host of mental and brain-related issues.

“Iron deficiency is a top cause of poor brain development around the globe. Making sure pregnant women and children have proper nutrition is the fastest, surest path for a happier, smarter, healthier planet,” Dr. Ramsey said at the WELL Summit earlier this month in New York City.

“Iron is essential for the brain. We need it to make brain molecules like serotonin that regulates our mood, weight, and sex drive.” —Drew Ramsey, MD

In addition to being the author of Fifty Shades of Kale and Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health, Dr. Ramsey is also a farmer. And he’s all about using the power of nature and plants to improve your mental state.

His best suggestions for boosting your iron intake? First of all, he says dark chocolate is a “surprisingly good” source of iron. (Totally #onboard.) For heme iron (AKA the type that attaches to proteins and thus is easily absorbed in your system), he recommends bivalves (like mussels, clams, and oysters), as well as sardines, pate, and grass-fed beef or lamb. He also recommends sources of non-heme iron like beans, leafy greens, cashews, and pumpkin seeds—but for these foods (and the iron they contain) to be absorbed effectively, they should be paired with other foods.

“Iron is essential for the brain. We need it to make brain molecules like serotonin that regulates our mood, weight, and sex drive. The brain is a furnace burning a lot of energy, and the oxygen it needs for this process is carried to the brain by iron in hemoglobin,” Dr. Ramsey explains. “Low iron means low energy, brain fog, and depression.”

Before you click “add to cart” on that iron supplement, Ramsey says you can generally get enough iron from eating the right foods. “Iron supplements are good for rapid repletion and necessary for some people with medical conditions, but generally healthy folks can get plenty of iron from food.” So yes, you have yet another reason to pick up that dark chocolate bar in line at Whole Foods.

Another nutrient that’s neuroscientist-approved for help with mental health: magnesium. And for a delicious way to fight morning brain fog, try this adaptogenic pancake recipe