I’ve certainly read articles and blog posts about the foods that are beneficial, and the foods to avoid. But when I get into the grocery store, it’s sometimes a challenge to remember the best of the best and why they are the optimal choices.
So, I dove deep into the world of food, exploring why some foods are awesome for the brain and our overall health. I’ve rounded up 13 brain foods we should be eating to feed both our minds and bodies. These foods fight inflammation, are rich in antioxidants, and provide nutritious benefits in the forms of good fats, vitamins and minerals, and micronutrients. They all keep our gut healthy (which scientists are linking to brain health), enabling us to fight off illnesses and keep inflammation at bay.
The avocado is a stone fruit that provides healthy fatty acids and is a great source of Vitamins C, E, K, B-6, folate and potassium. Most people think of a banana as an optimal source of potassium, but an avocado has more. One banana has roughly 425 milligrams of potassium, whereas an avocado yields about 975 milligrams. Potassium is essential because it helps the brain relay signals to muscles, and plays a role in the function of brain neurons.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes healthy blood flow, and helps to improve memory, cognitive function, and brain power. To me, everything is better with avocado – salads, sandwiches, eggs, crackers!
Blueberries are coined “brain berries” and contain more powerful disease-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. Wild blueberries contain more of the powerful antioxidant anthocyanin than cultivated blueberries and have more intense, sweet flavor. In addition, studies have shown that blueberries improve memory and cognitive ability. They are yummy by themselves, in cereal, or in a brain-boosting smoothie.
Broccoli and its cousin broccolini are not just delicious, they are nutritional powerhouses. Broccoli fights many diseases like heart disease and it’s good for your brain. It contains brain-healthy Vitamin K and sulforaphane, an antioxidant with anti-inflammation properties that research shows can promote brain function and stimulate regeneration. Broccoli isn’t just a side dish, but also can be dipped in hummus and added to salads.
Coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat that boosts fat burning and creates ketones in your body that fuel the brain. Although the brain uses glucose first for its primary energy source, it draws from ketones when glucose isn’t present. Your liver converts stored fatty acids into ketone bodies, almost like an emergency backup to the brain when glucose isn’t available.
Although the research is early regarding conclusive cognitive benefit, adding a bit of coconut oil to your diet is a better choice than most available oils like canola, corn and soybean. (Olive oil and avocado oil are also good choices.)
Woohoo, you say? Before you reach for that bag of Hershey’s dark chocolate, read on. High-quality dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa (and preferably, 85 percent) improves brain focus and concentration, while stimulating endorphins that improve mood. The flavonoids in dark chocolate also improve blood flow to the brain, memory, reaction time, and problem-solving skills.
Make sure your dark chocolate does not contain soy lecithin, lecithin, or other fillers. Ideally, it should also be organic and fair trade certified. If the label does not specify a percent cocoa or dark chocolate that is greater than 70 percent, then it’s not dark chocolate, regardless of what the branding may indicate. Goodbye, Hershey’s and most other brands that claim to be “dark chocolate”. Alter Eco and Theo Chocolate are awesome brands.
Oh, these little fellas took a bad rap during the food-cholesterol-is-bad era. It turns out, eggs can actually improve your cholesterol profile by increasing HDL cholesterol, and they are so good for your noggin. Packed with choline, they are brain boosters that improve memory and cognitive function. Eggs are also high in B vitamins, high-quality protein, and good fats. The whole egg is so nutritious, with most of the nutrients in the yolk and the protein in the white.
Here’s the key: pick the right egg. The nutritional content varies depending on how the hens were raised and what they were fed. Who knew? The ideal egg is one that is organic (the hen was not treated with hormones and was fed organic feed) and Omega-3-enriched (the hen’s feed was supplemented with flax seeds, or another Omega-3 source). Remember, whenever you see Omega-3 fatty acid, think: improved memory, learning ability, circulation, blood sugar control, and reduced inflammation.
Although a bit pricier and harder to find, go for the pasture-raised eggs where the chickens got to roam free with their buddies, eating plants and some commercial feed. This is not the same as free-range, which means the hens have the option of heading outside.
Green tea has been consumed for thousands of years and is an absolute must to add to your brain-healthy diet. It’s loaded with antioxidants and boosts brain function, including memory, focus, and attention. Green tea contains polyphenols and L-Theanine, which helps prevent memory decline, boost attention, and improve problem-solving. In addition to other health benefits, more recent research finds that green tea may help to dissolve both heart and brain plaque formation.
When selecting a high-quality green tea, choose organic, fair trade certified, and one without natural or artificial flavors. My favorites are Numi Gunpowder Green, Traditional Medicinals Green Tea Ginger, and Rishi Jade Cloud.
Leafy Green Vegetables
You can’t get enough of these brain- and body-healthy leafy greens! Fill your shopping cart with spinach, kale, arugula, collard greens, swiss chard, mustard greens, and romaine. Leafy greens are packed with Vitamin K, folate, lutein, beta-carotene, and Vitamin E. Research shows the benefits are numerous, including memory, processing speed, flexibility, and problem solving. One study showed that leafy greens are associated with decreased age-related cognitive decline. You can increase your consumption by including them in brain-healthy smoothies.
When you carve your pumpkin this year, save those slippery pumpkin seeds! Those little fellas are considered a “brain food”. They are packed with brain-healthy magnesium, zinc and iron, and are a powerful antioxidant. Pumpkin seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are super for brain health and memory. I eat them in the shell out of the bag and love CB’s Nuts Organic Pumpkin Seeds. You can also add them to salads or your favorite recipe.
Your brain loves the awesome Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and other oily fish, like sardines. More than two-thirds of the brain’s fatty acids are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The essential fats in salmon help to protect neurons, reduce inflammation, and produce neurotransmitters that are required for quick thinking, memory, cognitive function, and overall brain health. Both fatty fish like salmon and fish oil have also been found to reduce depression and reduce the risk of dementia. And, best of all, salmon is delicious.
If you have a choice, choose wild-caught salmon over farm-raised salmon. Most farmed salmon contains contaminants like PCBs, dioxins and pesticides, but it varies between fish from different regions. Be selective on where you buy your salmon. Wild Planet Wild Sockeye Salmon is a good option if you prefer wild-caught, but have a hard time finding it.
Turmeric is a powerful spice that contains curcumin and is known to improve the brain’s oxygen intake and overall health. Curcumin possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and boosts brain function. Curcumin has been used for centuries and studies show that it may improve memory and cognitive function. Many people also take turmeric for arthritis and heart health. You can add turmeric when cooking or can take turmeric supplements. Look for a high-quality organic brand like Organic India Turmeric Formula.
Someone once told me that ancient wisdom says that there’s a reason a walnut looks like a brain. It’s considered of one the best nuts to eat for brain and heart health. Walnuts are rich in Vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, zinc, manganese, and magnesium. Walnuts protect our brain neurons and research shows those little nut brains may ward off brain aging. Walnuts are super snacks by the handful, and also can be added to salads, cereals, and energy balls.
Yep, it’s not a food, but it’s so important for brain health that it must be included. Your brain is about 75 percent water and it depends on hydration to function optimally. You can eat all those nutrients from the other 12 brain foods, but without water, they’d have trouble getting to the brain for benefit. Water is essential for delivering those nutrients to the brain and for removing toxins out of the brain.
How much water you need depends on variables like gender, weight, exercise, hot weather, and overall health. Eight to ten eight-ounce glasses per day is the recommended rule of thumb. I also use the pee rule: if your urine is very light yellow and has little odor, you’re drinking enough water. But if your urine is darker and stinky, drink up… you’re dehydrated.
Product links in this post are to assist readers. North of 52 receives no compensation for these products.
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