Did you know that the human brain consumes the largest portion of the energy created by the human body? It is truly the most complex and misunderstood organ we have. You may be mystified by the inner workings of your car, but it’s got nothing on what’s going on above your neck. Much the same as our vehicles, though, the brain needs to be tuned and fuelled to perform at its fullest.
Like our stomach, heart, and other muscular organs, our brains feed on the nutrients we get from food. The brain is the mission control center in our craniums and everything we digest, every chemical we consume, has an effect on how our brain works, positively or negatively.
With the growing popularity of the keto (ketogenic) diet, more people are consuming natural fats and proteins while eschewing carbohydrates. There are many benefits found in a specialized diet of that nature but the science behind how food affects our brain is still relatively young.
Every year, research gives us more information on what foods can soup-up our brains, and there is always some new, trendy superfood that health conscious people preach in their “eating right” sermons. Some are more legitimate than others. But whether you kneel at the nutrient altar or not, food religion isn’t going away, so let’s separate the wheat from the chaff.
Here are ten different brain foods that – as far as we know, based on existing evidence – will help with everything from preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia to increasing memory, focus, and learning capabilities. They should all be among the most popular brain foods you’re going to see this year!
2016’s Top Brain Foods
Fish has always been known as a top-shelf brain food. Not only is it a great source of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin for a healthy brain and nervous system, but it is also a major source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs), considered the most important group of nutrients for your brain.
Unfortunately, the majority of humans don’t get enough omega-3 EFAs, which is too bad because your brain cells depend on them. They’re also a strong anti-inflammatory which is important because chronic brain inflammation contributes to depression, anxiety, and ADHD, not to mention serious degenerative disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Some of the best fish to consume for omega-3 EFAs are salmon, trout, sardines, tuna, and herring. Those fish are already some of the most popular brain foods currently being consumed due to wide availability and general deliciousness!
Spices like cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, and saffron do wonders as powerful antioxidants. But there is one super spice that sits above them all when it comes to brain benefits: turmeric, which contains 100 known compounds that do wonders for our brain.
We’ve talked about turmeric before, so let me remind you, the compounds that are contained in this spice have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective characteristics. Turmeric is also considered an antidepressant that has been found to work even better than Prozac for some people.
Turmeric has seen a big spike in consumption and not just in curries.
Experts have called avocados – a creamy and nutrient-dense fruit – the world’s most perfect food. A great source of complex vitamins like vitamin C, E, K, and B, they’re brain boosters, as well.
Unlike other fruits that are high in carbohydrates, avocados are made up of mostly monounsaturated fats, the same healthy kind of fat you find in olive oil. Monounsaturated fats support the production of acetylcholine, a chemical associated with memory and learning.
Like fish, Avocados are always going to be a popular superfood because they’re ubiquitous and delicious!
Nuts are full of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and while almost all nuts offer many brain benefits, nothing compares to the mighty walnut.
The undisputed champion of nuts is a great source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is the plant form of omega-3 fats (a.k.a. brain fuel).
One study found that eating walnuts improved reaction time, and learning and memory recall. Like fatty fish, walnuts help in reducing brain inflammation and have the potential to reverse rapid brain aging. Approximately one tablespoon of walnuts per day will help in improving cognitive health.
Like wheat germ (discussed below), eggs are a great source of choline, a B complex-related nutrient that most of us don’t get enough of. Choline is a precursor of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that aids with memory and learning.
If you feel like you’re forgetting things far too often, you might be low in acetylcholine. (Such a deficiency can also lead to Alzheimer’s.)
Choline is also a precursor to citicoline, which increases blood flow to the brain and enhances the brain’s ability to use blood glucose. (Staying with the car analogy, blood glucose is like unleaded fuel for our brains!) Eggs are also high in tryptophan, a building block of the happiness neurotransmitter known as serotonin.
Berries could be at the top of any brain food list. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are bursting with flavonoids, a gang of antioxidants that defend and protect brain cells from oxidative damage.
Flavonoids – which give berries their bright colors – play a role in improving many cognitive skills like decision-making, learning, and memory.
Berries are also a source of resveratrol, a polyphenol that’s been dubbed the “fountain of youth.” That’s obviously a bit hyperbolic, but the more berries you eat (recommended to have 3-4 servings of berries per week) the younger and smarter you’ll may feel.
Grass Fed Butter
Saturated fats are not the devil like some people make them out to be. The whole saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease myth has been thoroughly debunked by many leading nutritionists. So stop the butter bashing and start looking at the tasty topping as a potential brain food.
Real butter from grass fed cows has the perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and the arachidonic acid that is found in butter helps with brain function, skin health, and more. Grass-fed butter also contains higher levels of CLA, a compound that protects against different types of cancer. Most people still think butter is unhealthy – and it can be in large quantities – but saturated fats in moderation will boost your brain function.
Coconut Oil/MCT Oils
MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are a form of saturated fatty acid that can improve cognitive function. Coconut Oil is one great source of MCTs, and it’s recommended that you consume it on a daily basis for instant brain energy.
It is also said that coconut oil has anti-stress and antidepressant properties, and can delay brain aging. If coconut oil is not your thing, there are other more concentrated forms of MCT that you can purchase.
Wheat germ is a rich vegetarian source of choline which, as discussed above, helps the body produce acetylcholine, a memory-boosting neurotransmitter. Besides that, it contains B vitamins that help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It’s also rich in vitamin E, which is a big help for brain function in older adults. The name “wheat germ” doesn’t exactly sound tasty, but it actually has no taste. I guess that’s better. Can we say dull will be trendy?
Want to induce blood flow to the brain? Then eat your beets, because they are a great source of naturally-occurring nitrates. More blood to the brain means a higher level of mental performance. The benefits of beets don’t stop there. They also carry anti-cancer properties, are rich in valuable nutrients and fiber, and can boost your stamina and detoxify your body.
Embrace the prehistoric red vegetable!
Feature photo credit: courtesy of Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Labs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons