Medically review by Kim Langdon
Here is the magic in food, in case you didn't already know: food nourishes every fibre of your being.
We often label foods 'good' versus 'bad' without thinking about what exactly they're providing or not providing.
When it comes down to it, a real food diet is vital to our every organ which is where it might obtain its 'healthy' label.
When it's good for the whole body, it's likely doing specific work on many different parts of it.
Today, we want to focus on foods that are good for the brain.
After all, this is the organ that controls the rest. Many people choose a healthier diet to lose weight, but there's so much more that goes into keeping us fit and healthy.
When our brain is in good shape, our bodies have more power to follow in its path.
Turns out, what we eat has a huge effect on the brain's overall health from quicker cognitive processing, memory and information recollection, and reducing that dreadful 'brain fog' that tears down our focus.
Whether you want to improve mental clarity for enhanced work performance, boost your mood the natural way, or ward off degenerative disease like Alzheimer's, these foods are for you.
Learn more about eating healthy foods for your brain with our 7 Day Make Ahead Meal Plan.
The basic facts About Your Brain
Before we get into what, we want to cover the why's.
After all, you very well may already include these foods in your diet regularly, so it might just help you to understand how your choices are affecting your noggin.
In a study of over 27,000 people over the age of 55, those consuming the most nutritious diets (rich in vitamins and minerals from fruits and veggies) were 24% less likely to develop cognitive diseases.
Moreover, long-term adherence to the Mediterranean diet - rich in seafood, nuts and olive oil - is associated with less cognitive decline and better brain functioning overall according to this research.
It's no surprise that there is direct correlation between brain health and a nutrient-dense diet. The case is especially strong for seafood, as getting a good ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids is thought to improve cognitive aging.
Finally, breakfast - specifically those comprised of food low on the glycemic index - is thought to improve cognitive functioning, especially in children according to this study.
It just might be the most important meal of the day after all!
Best foods for brain health
We've outlined some general guidelines, here.
It's obvious that real food trumps all considering we should be receiving glucose to fuel our brains from sources other than table sugar and cereal.
The Mediterranean diet is focused entirely on whole foods and emphasizes the need for omega-3 fatty acids. Finally, brain health isn't limited to aging of the brain.
Kids in school need proper nutrition to reach full academic potential, and this isn't just limited to elementary school. Here are a the 8 "brain foods" you should be eating!
The healthy toss-up of antioxidants and omega-3's in this nut make them the perfect snack. Heading off to a test or need an afternoon boost at work?
A handful of walnuts can up your focus and mental performance.
They are also the only nut that provides a good source of alpha linolenic acid which promotes blood flow, therefore delivering more oxygen to the brain. A brain that can breathe is a brain that can work.
Finally, walnuts have been shown to improve learning and memory in mice with Alzheimer's.
A food staple in the Mediterranean diet packed with undeniably good-for-you fats, specifically the monounsaturated kind. What does all that mean?
Well, this type of fat has been proven to slow down brain aging.
Vitamin E, which a dose of olive oil contains nearly your entire daily serving of, can help protect neurons which subsequently helps to prevent Alzheimer's and cognitive deterioration.
You love 'em or you hate 'em, but these roots are worth getting your kitchen a little dirty for. The natural nitrates in beets which sound bad off the bat, but they're actually found in lots of veggies.
These nitrates actually improve blood flow to the brain which increases the oxygen, one of the main properties we look for in brain foods.
This veggie has powerful properties that ward off dementia.
Besides getting more omega-3 fatty acids for the brain to feed on, it's important to balance the ratio of those 3's to the 6's.
Grain-fed beef tends to contain more of the latter which can sway your ratio in the opposite direction.
Grass-fed beef also contains loads of antioxidants which prevents oxidative stress on brain cells while the CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) reduces inflammation in the brain which is thought to be a root cause of depression.
Ah, any excuse to drink coffee is a GOOD thing. While coffee gets a bad rap sometimes, it's actually pretty good for you in moderation.
It's no secret that just the right amount of caffeine can increase our focus and help us stay task-oriented by keeping us awake and alert.
Moreover, coffee contains antioxidants which we know are good for optimal brain health.
Lastly, coffee is a mood booster and can actually help women to manage depression and mood disorders.
If you can get over the "gross factor," these guys are tasty and incredibly nutritious.
They're a powerhouse when it comes to omega-3's, specifically acids like EPA and DHA which aids neurotransmitters in the brain stay regulated which keeps YOU focused.
If you don't quite dig this canned delicacy, you can always opt for other oily fish like salmon - fresh or canned - for the same benefits.
What isn't avocado good for?
This fruit is one that everyone loves whether it's sliced and diced in a salad or smashed into a lovely guac recipe. Beyond glucose, the brain uses fat for fuel.
Like olive oil, avocado's fat content is mostly comprised of monounsaturated fat making it easy for the brain to use.
Garlic is an easy addition to your everyday diet with some boost for your brain power.
It's actually thought to prevent brain cancer by killing cells found in a malignant tumor. How's that for preservation?
Garlic extract encourages optimal brain functioning and prevents loss of it over time. The extract also provides a natural aid against symptoms of Alzheimer's.
This beautiful soup packs in a whopping thirty cloves of garlic for some serious brain power!
If you already eat these foods, it might already be apparent that you're feeling better, sharper and more clear-headed. How do you feed your brain? Share your tips with us below and spread the word by sharing this with your friends.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Dr. Kim Langdon, MD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
McCann JC, Ames BN. Is docosahexaenoic acid, an n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, required for development of normal brain function? An overview of evidence from cognitive and behavioral tests in humans and animals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82:281–295.
Rush AJ, et al. Vagus nerve stimulation for treatment-resistant depression: a randomized, controlled acute phase trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2005;58:347–354.
Follesa P, et al. Vagus nerve stimulation increases norepinephrine concentration and the gene expression of BDNF and bFGF in the rat brain. Brain Res. 2007;1179:28–34.
Share on Pinterest
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She delivered over 2000 babies to mothers in a suburban Midwestern community.