The average human brain weighs only 3 pounds and makes up about 2 percent of our body mass. The brain, small in comparison to our bodies, uses about 20 percent of our daily caloric intake—more than any other human organ. Eating the right foods to feed our brain is a smart idea. With the right kinds of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and vitamins, these “brain foods” will help build healthy brain cells, and a healthier you.
Blueberries are considered one of the #1 brain foods, and are linked to improved memory, learning, reasoning, decision-making, and comprehension. Blueberries help maintain communication between brain cells, and eating blueberries activates the production of BDNF, a protein that is superior at stimulating new brain cell production. Blueberries are also exceptionally good at protecting the brain from degeneration. This fruit is one of the highest known antioxidant-rich foods, containing vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. What you may not know about these blue powerhouses is that frozen berries actually contain more available nutrients than fresh ones!
Avocados are loaded with fiber and vitamins. They contain vitamin C, E, and K as well as folate, a type of B vitamin that is key for cell growth. Both vitamin B and C are not made in our bodies, so consuming them is important. Although avocados are often considered a “fatty” fruit, the fat they contain, monounsaturated fats, are the good kind. Monounsaturated fat contributes to healthy blood flow, and is one reason why avocados help lower blood pressure and promote overall brain health. Avocados also boost production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps improve cognitive function, memory, and concentration.
Green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, chard, and bok choy are some of the best sources of B vitamins. Of the B vitamins, three in particular—folic acid, B6 and B12—are essential brain vitamins. An Oxford University study found that these three vitamins work together to reduce brain atrophy, improve brain function, and reduce brain shrinkage in the part of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s. Leafy greens are a good source of the amino acid L-tyrosine which can improve your mood and increase your ability to learn, solve problems, and remember. A Harvard medical study even linked consumption of leafy greens to decreased cognitive decline.
Potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, turnips, and legumes are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates that supply your brain with a steady stream of energy. Because your brain cannot produce glucose, root vegetables give your brain a constant supply. They are sources antioxidants and important nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and dietary fiber. They are believed to boost blood flow to your brain, improving your alertness, focus, and ability to encode new memories.
Maybe unfamiliar by name, Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its gold hue. The compound curcumin is found in turmeric and is a potent antioxidant that boosts levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which increases the growth of brain cells and fights degenerative processes in the brain. Turmeric also helps keep your immune system healthy while improving your brain’s oxygen intake. For all these reasons, turmeric keeps you alert and able to process information, improves memory, and reduces brain inflammation.
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which enables the oil to supply energy directly to the brain. Since your brain’s main source of energy is from glucose, and because your brain cells can’t store energy, they need a constant supply. MCTs help do that. It’s this property that also makes coconut oil a potential treatment for neurological disorders. Coconut oil works as a natural anti-inflammatory, suppressing cells responsible for inflammation. It also helps with memory loss and memory disorders. When given to adults with mild cognitive impairment, they experienced significant improvement in memory recall within 90 minutes of taking their first dose.
Made from the cocoa seed, chocolate contains a number of compounds that increase pleasure-giving substances called endorphins. Chocolate boosts mood, protects the brain from damage, improves memory and focus, and reduces stress. It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, which contribute to improved memory and focus. Chocolate’s health benefits are largely attributed to compounds called flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants linked to neurodegenerative prevention. In general, darker chocolate contains the most flavonoids and is best to eat when made with 70 percent dark chocolate.
Like many herbs, rosemary has significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to fight free radical damage in the brain, which are linked to neurodegeneration. Carnosic acid, a phytochemical found in this herb, is particularly good for protecting the brain from a stroke and neurodegenerative conditions. Rosemary also stimulates nerve growth factor synthesis, reversing nerve cell damage.
Most fish, but especially salmon, have a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, one of the most important nutrients for your brain. Omega-3s support healthy brain cell structure. Two important omega-3s, EPA and DHA, are found in certain fish, particularly wild salmon. Wild salmon get their omega-3 from their natural food sources—wild plankton and small crustaceans—as compared to their farm-raised counterparts that receive very little of each. Omega-3s also improve the brainpower of younger adults. Research from the University of Pittsburgh found adults under age 25 who increased their omega-3 intake over six months improved their scores on tests measuring working memory.
Most nuts and seeds, although small in size, are nutritional powerhouses. Of all the nuts, walnuts are considered a top nut for brain health. They have a high concentration of DHA, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the brain. DHA has also been shown to improve cognitive performance and memory, and prevent age-related cognitive decline.