Your brain is the most powerful organ in the body and proper nourishment is vital to creative thought, positive feelings and mood, memory, and total body wellness. If we are what we eat, it should be no surprise that certain foods will affect how you think, feel, act, remember and even how you grow and learn. Certain foods can even enhance neuron firing and cross-linking in the brain. The foods listed below can help you concentrate, increase memory, tune sensory and motor skills, keep you motivated, control stress, and even slow down the aging of brain cells! If it's possible to eat your way to a smarter, healthier, happier you, why not give it a shot?
In order to help your brain function best, you need to increase your intake of essential fatty acids known as omega-3. These fatty acids are found in fish oils, nuts, and seeds. The traditional diet of the Japanese, for example, is high in fish, which explains why the Japanese have one of the longest life expectancies in the world.
Here are some of the foods that are generally very inexpensive but still have the highest nutritional value for your brain.
Berries – Blueberries serve a wide range of functions for improving mental function. Most notably, regular blueberry consumption has been shown to improve memory function. Furthermore, blueberries are rich in antioxidants, helping to prevent free radical damage. Still not convinced? Research has found that blueberries can also reverse age related declines in motor function, balance, and coordination. Eating blueberries and a diet rich in deep pigment from fruits and vegetables helps preserve the brain machinery and boost the potency of neuron signals. Blueberries literally strengthen the brain. They have compounds that turn on key systems in the brain enable other proteins to help with memory or other cognitive skills.
In one recent study, subjects who ate one cup of blueberries a day for two weeks showed an increased birth rate of brain cells in the hippocampus (region responsible for memory), and scored significantly higher in classroom tests than those subjects who did not.
Blueberries are also known to protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. In addition, blueberries also contain ellagic acid, another phytochemical that has been shown to prevent cell damage.
Strawberries – Antioxidant-rich strawberries can prevent age-related neurological declines by improving brain cell abilities to send and receive the ‘signaling’ molecules. The brain uses these signaling molecules to communicate.
Remarkably, these same studies showed that the powerful antioxidants in strawberries, spinach and blueberries can improve the ability to communicate even among brain cells already showing signs of age-related damage.
Blackberries – Blackberries contain an amazing class of nutrients called anthocyanins. Our brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative damage but anthocyanins help protect our brain from oxidation stress, which in turn fights degenerative brain diseases. One study even found anthocyanin-rich supplements to reverse age-related neurological deficits in subjects.
Fish – Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, salmon helps your brain develop tissue for increasing your brain power. Furthermore, salmon also plays a key role in fighting Alzheimer’s and other age-related cognitive disorders.
Seeds – Flax seeds are crammed with ALA- a healthy fat that aids the cerebral cortex in functioning better. This is the portion of the brain responsible for processing sensory information. Keeping it sharp is vital.
Sunflower Seeds – Like nuts, many seeds and nuts can boost your mood and brainpower. Sunflower seeds contain tryptophan, an important amino acid that the brain converts to seratonin, which is a natural way to relieve mild depression and insomnia. Additionally, sunflower seeds are high in thiamine, an important B vitamin, which increases memory and cognitive function.
Pumpkin Seeds – A little known tidbit of information is that the most powerful part of the pumpkin lies in its least used part. The seeds of the pumpkin are a power food, rich in many nutrients including: Zinc, Vitamin A and E, and the precious Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. The Zinc found in pumpkin seeds plays a vital role in enhancing memory and thinking skills.
Coffee – Regular coffee drinking has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other mental disorders. That’s because caffeine is good for the brain (in moderation), and it contains antioxidants. The important thing to note is you shouldn’t add in all the other junk to your coffee (i.e. Dunkin & Starbucks drinks crammed with sweeteners and fatty products).
Mixed nuts – Peanuts, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts contain properties that help with everything from fighting insomnia to promoting mental clarity and strong memory. Walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids while almonds contain natural mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.Everything from the most common nuts — such as walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds — to the more exotic seeds and nuts can clear up that “brain fog” and enable you to think clearer and are positive mood enhancers.
Walnuts – Both literally and figuratively speaking, walnuts are “brain food”. Physically the walnut looks a lot like the human brain. The thin, outer green cover that is taken out before the walnuts are sold is similar to the scalp. The hard shell of a walnut is like a skull. The thin sheet inside, with its paper-like partitions between the two halves of the walnut, is like the membrane. The shape of the walnut itself represents the human brain’s two hemispheres.
Walnuts are made up of 15 to 20 percent protein and contain linoleic (omega-6 fatty acids) and alpha-linoleic acids (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamin E and vitamin B6, making them an excellent source of nourishment for your nervous system.
Omega 3 fatty acids found in walnuts are especially helpful in brain function. Our brain is more than 60% structural fat which needs to be primarily omega-3 fats, found in walnuts and flaxseed, for its cell membranes to function properly. Cell membranes, primarily composed of fats, are the gatekeepers of the cell. Omega-3 fats, flexible and fluid by nature, make it easy for nutrients to pass thru the outer membrane of the cell and also helps remove waste efficiently. Definitely worth it when the cell belongs to your brain, don’t you think?
Walnuts may also help correct the human brain’s seratonin levels. Seratonin is an important brain chemical that controls both our moods and appetite. Walnuts may be able to relieve disorders like insomnia, depression, overeating and other compulsive behavior, commonly treated with antidepressant drugs like Prozac, without the dangerous side effects.
Cashews – While you’re in the nut aisle shopping for walnuts be sure to pick up some cashews, almonds, pecans and peanuts too. Each nut can enhance your mental health in its own way. Cashews are high in magnesium, known to open up the blood vessels in your body. More oxygen-rich blood = better brain function.
Almonds – Phenylalanine, found in almonds, can do wonders for your mental and neurological health. Phenylalanine has the rare ability to cross the blood-brain barrier where it stimulates the brain to generate natural mood-boosting neurotransmitters called dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Additionally, almonds are high in riboflavin which is known to boost memory.
Pecans and Peanuts – Pecans and peanuts provide choline, another important nutrient for optimal brain function. Choline aids in both memory and brain development.
Avocados – Don’t let the avocado’s fat content fool you. It’s a healthy fat that promotes blood flow, keeping your mind functioning at its peak. That’s not all: Avocados have also been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Eggs – Egg yolks are rich in choline, an essential nutrient to improving memory function. Eggs indeed offer a very impressive nutritional profile for their 70 calories. They are a precious source of high-quality proteins and rich in vitamins and minerals. But there’s more!
Nutrient called choline, found in eggs, can help boost the memory center in the brain. Researchers have found choline to increase the size of neurons, which helps them fire electrical signals more strongly and rebound faster between firings.
Two antioxidants found in egg yolk called lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent the risk of age-related cataracts and macular degeneration, two of the most prevalent age-related eye conditions.
Remember this the next time you open the fridge door. The amazing egg: naturally good.
Whole grains –
Whole grain is a great brain stimulator because it contains high percentage of folate. Make sure you’re eating a diet rich in whole grain breads, cereals, barley, popcorn, etc., because they can boost your blood flow to the brain. Every organ in the body is dependent on blood flow… especially the brain.
Wholegrain breads and cereals are rich in Vitamin B6, an important brain vitamin. Wheat germ additionally contains memory-improving thiamine.
From oatmeal to whole grain bread, whole grains are excellent brain foods as they improve circulation and contain essential fibers, vitamins, and even some Omega-3. Just make your sandwiches from whole grain breads to enjoy the benefits.
Chocolate – For me, this is the yummiest brain food of all. Dark chocolate is antioxidant-rich, and it also improves focus and concentration. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, improves memory and reaction time. It’s hard to believe that anything as incredibly delicious as chocolate can actually be incredibly good for you as well. Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties and contains several natural stimulants which increase the production of endorphins while enhancing focus and concentration. The stimulants found in dark chocolate also improve mood. It has high content of flavanols that facilitate blood supply to the brain and enhance cognitive skills.
Milk chocolate jump starts impulse control and reaction time. It has also been known to improve visual and verbal memory.
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to chocolate. This is, unfortunately, one superfood that you have to indulge in in moderation.
Broccoli – Broccoli has been shown to improve memory function as well as slow the aging process. This means a broccoli-rich diet will keep you young and sharp. Broccoli is labeled as superfood due to its high overall nutrient content. It is a great source of vitamin K, which enhances cognitive function and improves brainpower.
Green Tea – Green tea is a wonderful beverage, and when freshly brewed, it enhances memory and focus and fights mental fatigue. Green tea contains catechines, which help you relax mentally, yet also keeps your wits sharpened.
Green Tea also helps maintain positive mood states and fights against many brain disorders. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants found in green tea that can boost the availability of the important signaling brain substance dopamine in brain circuits. Dopamine is vital in creating positive mood states.
Polyphenols also help the brain and body run smoothly by maintaining a steady supply of our body’s primary fuel: glucose. These powerful polyphenols also help prevent cancer and heart attacks.
Spinach – Spinach slows down the effects of age-related declines in brain function and helps protect the brain from oxidative stress. Researchers suggest that a diet rich in spinach can significantly improve learning capacity and motor skills.
Yogurt – Calcium rich foods such as yogurt, milk and cheese improve nerve function. Yogurt contains an amino acid called tyrosine which is responsible for producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin. In short, yogurt helps improve alertness and memory.
Eggplant – Eggplant skin contains a nutrient called nasunin which keeps our brain sharp by enhancing communication between our brain cells and messenger molecules. Remembering to use the skin pays tremendous benefits in vastly improved focus.
Tomatoes – Lycopene, an amazing antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against free-radical damage to cells, which is believed to be a primary factor in cases of Dementia, and particularly, Alzheimer’s disease.