Feed Your Brain: Ten Brain-Healthy Foods
I recently came back from a 4-day training in LA called Extreme Health, where I got the opportunity to learn from some of the best health experts on the planet. I returned from the training with a renewed motivation to eat healthier – not only for my body but also for my brain.
Although on average the brain is only about 2% of the body’s mass, it uses about 20% of the body’s energy supply (i.e. calories). What we eat therefore has a tremendous impact on our brain and how well it functions. As you probably know, there are some foods that are much better for our bodies than others. The same is true for our brains. The following is a list (in no particular order) of ten foods that research has shown can have a positive impact on the health of our brain and on our cognitive abilities such as memory, focus, and problem solving.
Most of the brain is made up of “good fats” know as fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, and other fish are high in brain-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids are an important brain food that is vital for healthy brain function. Recent studies have suggested that Omega-3’s can enhance cognitive performance and improve short term memory.
Nuts and Seeds
Studies have shown that walnuts can enhance memory and improve brain functions. Other nuts such as almonds, pecans, and peanuts are also a good source of vitamin E, which may reduce cognitive decline associated with aging. Flax seeds and other seeds are a good source of brain-healthy Omega-3’s.
Avocados have monounsaturated fats which help maintain the healthy blood flow necessary for a healthy brain. They are rich in oleic acid which helps in the building of myelin, the insulation which surrounds the neurons in our brain.
Blueberries seem to be the rage now. I have even heard them referred to as brainberries. I wouldn’t go that far, but blueberries, raspberries, and other berries do contain powerful antioxidants that help protect the brain and that have been shown to improve memory and learning.
Spinach is rich in antioxidants that help improve blood flow and protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. Spinach is also packed with nutrients such as folate, Vitamin-E, and Vitamin-K that may slow age-related declines in cognitive ability and help prevent dementia. Research performed on rats has shown that rats fed a diet rich in spinach performed significantly better on memory and learning tests than rats fed a normal diet.
Whole wheat, wheat germ, brown rice, and bran all contain folate, which helps increase blood flow to the brain. Whole grain foods also contain B vitamins, which some studies suggest can improve memory.
Eggs are full of essential fatty acids that are important for a healthy brain. The yoke itself is high in choline, a key nutrient necessary for normal brain development during pregnancy. Choline also plays an important role in memory function and has been shown to improve overall cognitive performance.
Freshly brewed tea
Freshly brewed black or green tea in the morning can be a great way to start your day. Both contain caffeine, which in modest amounts can enhance focus and memory as well as mood. They also contain catechin, a potent antioxidant known to promote healthy brain function.
Yes chocolate, dark chocolate especially, is good for the brain – in small amounts. The cacao beans found in dark chocolate have powerful antioxidants which help protect your brain from harmful effects. Recent studies suggest that dark chocolate can improve blood flow to the brain and help you concentrate.
Red or purple grapes
Red and purple grapes (as well as red wine) contain resveratrol which has been linked to improved blood circulation in the brain. Resveratrol is also known to mop up free radicals which can damage your cells (including brain cells). Since grapes are heavily sprayed, it is best to choose organic grapes whenever possible.
To make it easy for you to eat more of these brain boosting foods, enjoy this delicious recipe from Chef Jenny Brewer*:
Chocolate Mousse Parfaits
2 large ripe avocados
1/2 cup raw cacao powder or cocoa powder
1/4 cup agave or brown rice syrup (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup ground flaxseed, ground in a coffee grinder
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 pitted dates, chopped
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Fresh, seasonal fruit, such as raspberries
1) Puree avocado, cacao powder, agave or syrup, and vanilla in a food processor until very smooth. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use (up to 3 days).
2) In a clean food processor, combine flaxseed, walnuts, dates, coconut, cinnamon, and salt; pulse until crumbly. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, or up to 7 days. (Makes 1 scant cup.)
3) Layer 1 tablespoon mousse at the bottom of each parfait glass. Layer in fresh fruit and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon coconut mixture. Divide remaining mousse among glasses, top with more fresh fruit, and 1 tablespoon coconut mixture.
On a final note, maintaining proper hydration is important for both your body and your brain. Our brains rely on proper hydration in order to function optimally. Research has shown that dehydration can result in poor concentration, reduced cognitive abilities, and impaired memory. As you enjoy the summer, please stay hydrated and include more brain-healthy foods into your diet.
*Chef Jenny is the creator a Cleanse Organic, a 28-day healthy eating transformation program that will teach you how to cook healthy foods that taste delicious. Get a free ‘taste’ of Cleanse Organic by visiting www.cleanseorganic.com.
My Mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimers. I found one study that suggested that the brain of a person with Alzheimers gradually looses its ability to process sugars. So the brain is basically starving. The study suggested Coconut Oil as a substitute that the brain can use for fuel. The study did site “improvements” but did not claim that it was a cure. Since Coconut Oil is so cheap and readily available, I suggested that the family try it out. My Sister makes Mom a milkshake each night with a couple tablespoons of Coconut Oil. The family agrees. If Mom has not had the Coconut Oil for a few days, she repeats herself more often. So imagine my surprise to hear this study linking Coconut Oil to increased risk of Alzheimers. I strongly recommend that they revisit their findings.
When you consider the things you are most thankful for, do you put your brain health on the top of the list? Not many of us probably would, but the truth of the matter is that without a healthy brain, all of those other things you might be thankful for don’t matter a whole lot. Our bodies are pretty amazing at compensating in the interest of survival. People live happy, healthy lives everyday without limbs and even some organs. But take away your brain and I’d venture to guess not many would carry on so easily. Brain impairment can range from simple absent-mindedness (“Where are those car keys?”), to full on inability to function normally. Protecting and preserving your brain has been and continues to be the holy grail of aging gracefully and now new research is showing that the fats found in coconut may be one of the best tools we have to help our brains age gracefully.
Your brain is comprised of at least 60% fat. It’s the fatty or lipid part of your brain that helps rapidly transmit information across your neural networks. Our bodies don’t naturally produce omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s essential to include them in your diet. Why? Eating omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to maintaining proper fat in your brain, boosting your brain’s processing power and fighting mental health decline. In fact, research demonstrates a relationship between eating several ounces of salmon a week and both improved cognition and reduced risk of dementia. So it makes sense to seek out the sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
ive had a brain stroke – now ive recovered but my memory fails terribly? would this coconut oil help? by the way if i drink coconut milk will it be helpful?
There seems to be a craze these days about coconut oil and brain function. One doctor (Dr. Mary Newport) claims that coconut oil dramatically helped her husband’s symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
I have not read Dr. Newport’s book so I can not comment on any of the particulars. My best advice is to try out coconut oil and judge for yourself.
If you do, please post another comment and let me know how it goes. Good luck!
The most recent breakthrough on understanding the health benefits comes from Dr. Mary Newport’s work on Alzheimer’s in her husband. She identified organic coconut oil as an excellent source of fuel which can increase brain functions. Her findings have implications for memory improvement as well as for neurological degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Lou Gehrig’s (ALS), diabetes, etc.
Coconut oil has been shown to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms. Despite the common misconception that fat is bad for us; our brains NEED good fats to function. The circulatory herbs are also good for brain function. Remember to eat lots of antioxidant rich foods.