A fast-paced world requires us to stay mentally sharp. But the average American diet is doing all it can to keep our brain synapses from firing on all cylinders.
While life demands more and more from your brain, the food you eat may be giving you a lot of calories without the nutrients you need to meet those demands.
Fortunately, it isn’t hard to find the nutrient-dense foods your brain is craving. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, pass up the processed, sugary items for some of these brain-healthy (and delicious) alternatives:
In general, you want foods that provide 4 things:
- Blood circulation
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Why Omega-3s for the Brain
Your brain is mostly composed of fat, and it needs fatty acids to process information and for brain cells to communicate. Omega-3 fatty acids – particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – play an essential role in allowing brain cells to transmit signals properly. Lack of DHA can cause brain signals to become garbled and difficult to read. The harder it is for your brain cells to talk to one another, the harder it is for you to control mood, concentrate, and remember things.
Research also suggests that DHA can actually help you feel happier by prompting your body to release serotonin, the chemical the body uses to boost mood and relieve depression.
Why Antioxidants for the Brain?
Eating foods rich in antioxidants helps control the buildup of free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and halt the damaging effects they have on the body. Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, goji berries, and many others are a great source of antioxidants, as are a variety of nuts and seeds.
Why Blood Circulation for the Brain?
While only making up two percent of total body weight, the brain consumes 20 percent of the oxygen your body takes it. Your brain needs oxygen, and your blood is what delivers it. Having a healthy blood flow means that oxygen and nutrients can keep the brain going at full power. Foods like goji berries naturally promote circulation.
Why Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
Various factors contribute to the gradual decline of mental acuity as we age. Recent studies suggest that inflammation, high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, obesity, arterial inelasticity and a condition known as metabolic syndrome are all risk factors and can lead to a decline in brain health.
13 Super Brain Foods:
Fish: Salmon, anchovies, mackerel, tuna
Awash with nutrients, coldwater fish like salmon are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in strengthening synapses in your brain, strengthening brain function and memory. One concern that many have about consuming fish are the levels of mercury that accumulate through the food chain and residing in salmon. To avoid contaminates, experts recommend eating wild salmon. Wild Salmon is also an excellent source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two potent omega-3 fatty acids that douse inflammation. Sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are also packed with brain-healthy omega-3s, but have lower levels of mercury that may be found in other fish. They’re easy to find canned in grocery stores and you can easily make them an ingredient in snacks and meals.
This Asian spice Turmeric is commonly found in pre-mixed curry powder and contains a powerful, non-toxic compound called curcumin. Studies found that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are on a par with many potent drugs yet has none of their side effects. Although we don’t recommend substituting anything in place of a doctor’s advice.
In studies, Turmeric upregulates LDL receptor activity.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have revered mushrooms, specifically Shiitake, Cordyceps, and Reishi, for their immune-boosting properties. Mushrooms may reduce platelet aggregation, increase blood flow, and supports lower cholesterol levels. See also: Why Mushrooms Might be the Ultimate SuperFood.
Many consider avocadoes to be the food of the gods. This nutrient-packed fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit) is high in monosaturated fat, which helps lower cholesterol and improve blood flow. Since the brain uses 20% of all oxygen the body consumes, it’s vital to have healthy blood flow to carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Avocados are a good source for omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, which functions as an antioxidant and promotes healthy brain activity.
Researchers have linked tree nuts to a decreased risk of many diseases. Now there’s evidence that they also improve cognition. Most have high concentrations of vitamin E, B vitamins, antioxidants, magnesium, minerals and Omega-3s. All support the nervous system.
The walnut’s shape resembles a brain, so why shouldn’t it be a brain food? It is! Rich in both omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, walnuts offer a variety of benefits for brain health. Since omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in meats, walnuts provide a great non-meat alternative. They can help you concentrate and protect your brain against the effects of aging. Walnuts have also been shown to improve mood by influencing the brain’s serotonin levels. For those who suffer from depression, insomnia, or related issues, walnuts may be a helpful food to munch on.
Almonds may help save your memory. In studies on laboratory mice, the rodents rendered temporarily amnesiac were more apt to remember their way around a maze 24 hours later if they first consumed an almond paste. The evidence suggests that almonds slow the decline in cognitive abilities linked to Alzheimer's disease. Investigators attribute the memory effects to the presence of the essential amino acid phenylalanine and L-carnitine, believed to boost neurotransmitters essential to memory.
Brazil nuts can spare the obese the vascular damage associated with adiposity. An excess of fat tissue stimulates low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
With high levels of unsaturated fatty acids and bioactive substances that combat inflammation--selenium, phenolic compounds, folate, magnesium among them--Brazil nuts improved microcirculation, lowered cholesterol levels, and normalized blood lipid profiles without causing weight gain in 17 obese female adolescents.
China’s favorite drink has been shown to provide many benefits for memory and spatial learning, and may impact cellular mechanisms in the brain. The organic chemical, EGCG (epigallocatechin-3 gallate) that is also found in green tea extract, is a key property of green tea and is a known antioxidant. EGCG is also found to boost the production of neural progenitor cells, which like stems cells can adapt, or differentiate, into various type of cells. In laboratory studies, EGCG enhances learning and memory by improving object and spatial memory.
Seeds: Flax, Chia, hemp, sesame
These small seeds provide big benefits for both the body and the brain. An even more potent source of omega-3 fatty acids than walnuts, and also a source of B vitamins, eating flaxseeds can be a great way to give your brain cells what they need for improved cognitive function and memory. Flaxseed is also a source of manganese, which acts as a powerful antioxidant. It’s best to grind flaxseed before eating it, since the body has difficulty absorbing the seed’s nutrients when left in its natural state.
Chia seeds are a super-food that the ancient Mayans and Aztecs heavily relied upon. These seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and contain more antioxidants than blueberries. Add chia seeds to your diet for improved concentration, memory, mood, and protection against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Sesame and hemp seeds contain plant sterols that help modulate the immune system and bring down an overreaction.
Quinoa is an all-around good grain. It makes up a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also an excellent source of iron, which is needed to produce energy for the brain’s neurons. It is also rich in riboflavin (or vitamin B2), which is another important energy source. Since the brain consumes such a large amount of the body’s energy, it’s important to eat the right foods to supply it. Riboflavin also functions as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, Collard Greens, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, and cabbage
Kids may not consider this the world’s best-tasting food, but broccoli has become highly regarded for being a great source of nutrients. One thing that it’s rich in is Vitamin K, which has been shown to prevent arterial calcification in the brain, which may be linked to Alzheimer’s. Vitamin K also plays a role in creating important fats that the brain needs to perform properly. Other good sources for Vitamin K are kale, spinach, collard greens, and brussels sprouts. Broccoli also contains sulforaphane that helps the body get rid of potentially carcinogenic compounds. In studies, broccoli, red cabbage and sulforaphane have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
A good complex carbohydrate, it’s also a good source of beta-carotene, manganese, vitamin B6 and C as well as dietary fiber. Combined, these are powerful antioxidants that support inflammation in the body.
Berries: Blackberries, Blueberries, Goji Berries, StrawBerries, Cranberries -- there is no bad berry
Adding berries to your diet can help your brain better process information stay mentally sharp. Loaded up with polyphenols and antioxidants, berries can help reduce inflammation in brain cells, making it easier for them to talk to each other. Polyphenols found in blackberries also help reduce accumulation of toxins in the brain.
Some evidence suggests blueberries, strawberries and cranberries can improve metabolic syndrome through lessoning inflammation.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to slow brain aging. Virgin olive oil is Mediterranean’s secret to longevity. Its rich supply of polyphenols protects the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are also turned into anti-inflammatory agents by the body that can lower occurrences of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Don’t forget this important nutrient. Water makes up 85% of brain weight. A study in Neurology found that dehydration decreases brain volume, and rehydration increases cerebral volume significantly.
Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods You’ve Got to Know http://theconsciouslife.com/top-10-anti-inflammatory-foods.htm
Brainy Beverage: Study Reveals How Green Tea Boosts Brain Cell Production to Aid Memory http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120905083852.htm
Influence of dietary blueberry and broccoli on cecal microbiota activity and colon morphology in mdr1a(-/-) mice, a model of inflammatory bowel diseases http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22113065
Research reveals a broccoli boost for arteries http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_4-9-2009-15-8-42
Strawberries, Blueberries, and Cranberries in the Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Perspectives. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22082311
Curcumin up-regulates LDL receptor expression via the sterol regulatory element pathway in HepG2 cells. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1870488
Tweaking dietary fat intake could help slow brain aging, study suggests http://www.boston.com/dailydose/2012/05/18/tweaking-dietary-fat-intake-could-help-slow-brain-aging-study-suggests/OO7tmvxhB2E8V0algT7DlL/story.html
Time to go nuts: Nuts may extend brain and body power http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-04-04/lifestyle/sns-201204031830--tms--premhnstr--k-i20120404apr04_1_brazil-nuts-acids-vitamin
Dehydration confounds the assessment of brain atrophy http://www.neurology.org/content/64/3/548.abstract
Why Mushrooms Might Be The Ultimate Superfood http://www.naturessunshine.com/blog/post/mushrooms.aspx