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SCIENCE SAYS EAT THESE 17 BRAIN FOODS FOR MORE FOCUS AND MEMORY

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A soft and squishy three pounds fill your skull, making up this insanely important organ, called your brain. The brain controls your thoughts, memory, communication, and movements. Your brain is the boss of your body, running the show around the clock -- whether you're sleeping, alert, or somewhere in between. 

Your brain has a very intimate relationship with your gut, what's also called the gut-brain axis. They transmit messages to one another, relaying how they're feeling and what they need. Think about when you're nervous and get butterflies in your stomach; both your brain and digestive system are responsible for making neurotransmitters that determine the quality of your mood, memory, focus, and overall cognitive function. [1]

Your digestive system supplies your brain with all of the nutrients it needs, to function and perform at its best. Give your gut the right stuff and your brain can keep smart and sharp. Give your gut the really good stuff (brain foods), and it goes a step further -- protecting itself against of chronic disease and inflammation-related conditions such as brain fog and mental fatigue as well as disease and degeneration.

So do you mind if I share 17 top foods to eat for a better working brain?... 

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NUTRIENTS THAT CAN HELP BRAIN POWER 

The foods you eat have a big impact on the health of your brain. Your brain requires certain nutrients to stay healthy. It requires hearty helpings of carbs and calories and needs specific nutrients to build brain cells and keep inflammation at bay.

  • Calories: the brain uses about 20% of total energy intake. 
  • Glucose: the preferred source of energy, the brain uses about half of what's in the body. 
  • Antioxidants: protects brain cells from free radicals that come from stress, poor nutrition, and pollution.
  • Essential Fatty Acids: support communication between nerve cells and improve concentration and memory.
  • Vitamins and minerals: such as B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K and magnesium. These boost memory, improve brain function, create enzymes and help prevent stress and anxiety. 

By eating foods rich in brain-boosting nutrients we help ensure that our thinking is clearer, our memory is sharper, and our brain health is secured as we age.


THE 17 BEST BRAIN FOODS

There's no magic pill nor one single food that can can help improve cognitive abilities and prevent age-related decline. The most important thing to do is follow a balanced diet and lifestyle. Focus on a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats to your diet while decreasing inflammatory processed foods. Here are the top contenders for cerebral strength:  

17 Brain Foods

AVOCADOS

These creamy dreamy treats are actually classified as fruits. They contain some of the healthiest fats on the planet: monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). MUFAs work to help stabilize blood sugar, support healthy skin and promote blood flow to the brain and body. They are considered to be the best fats for blood cholesterol levels because they lower low density lipoproteins (LDL - the unhealthy type) while increasing high density lipoproteins (HDL - the healthy type). 

Avocados also contain vitamin K and folate which help prevent blood clots in the brain and improve cognition. Avocados contain the amino acid tyrosine, which is used to make dopamine, a brain chemical that is promotes feelings of motivation and confidence. [2, 3]

Related: Could You Have a Dopamine Imbalance?

BEETS

Beets are a one of the highest sources of nitrate - a compound known to improve blood flow to the brain.

For example: one study found that drinking beetroot juice 3 times per week made the brains of older people perform better and more closely to a younger brain. [4]

Studies have also shown beets to be effective at lowering blood pressure, comparable to the ability of some prescription medications. [5] They also contain potassium, magnesium, and iron which can help with blood flow and oxygen transport. Beets can also help increase physical endurance by increasing nitric oxide production.


BLUEBERRIES

Blueberries have so many health benefits, they're considered to be a superfood. They contain two very important compounds that are known to improve brain function:  anthocyanins and pterostilbene. These antioxidants have strong neuroprotective effects, and have been shown to reduce behavioral deficits in people who suffer from age-related cognitive decline. [6, 7]

Blueberry concentrate has been shown to increase blood flow, brain activation, and working memory in adults compared to placebo [8]. Blueberries have the highest antioxidant activity, when compared to other fruits and vegetables. These help prevent damaging oxidant activity in all cells, including the brain. 

Related: 11 Proven Ways To Generate More Brain Cells Improve Memory, and Boost Mood

Brain-Food-Blueberries

Related: 11 Proven Ways To Generate More Brain Cells Improve Memory, and Boost Mood

BONE BROTH

Grandma knew -- order up some hot chicken soup for better health and mood. Bone broth is a liquid containing brewed bones, from cow, chicken, or fish. Simmering bones helps release the nutrients from the bones, into the water. 

Bone broth is rich in amino acids proline and glycine. These less common amino acids have been shown to boost immunity and support your memory. Studies show that improvements in brain function have been reported due to high levels of glycine – an amino acid derived from collagen protein. [9]

Bone broth is also has powerful healing properties in the digestive system (gut-brain health), joints, skin and your brain.

BROCCOLI

This classic cruciferous known for it's cancer preventing properties is also a rich source of vitamin K and choline, two nutrients that keep your memory functioning well. Broccoli is also high in glucosinolates which are compounds that slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for memory formation and mental processing. Low levels of acetylcholine are linked with:

  • Poor concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Brain fog

Broccoli also contains a potent compound called sulforaphane that has been shown to:

  • Improve mood and alleviate depressive symptoms and reduce anxiety in animal studies.
  • Improve short term and spacial memory
  • Increase neuronal and synapse repair [10]

CHOCOLATE

Chocolate isn't just good, it's good for you. The raw cocoa or cacao bean contains fiber, iron, magnesium and powerful antioxidants. The flavanols (phytochemicals) in cacao powder have been shown to improve cognition in young adults and protect from cognitive decline in the elderly. [11]

We don't have to tell you this, but chocolate can also improve your mood. Consuming dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa) has been linked to a better mood via an increase in “feel good” brain chemicals known as serotonin and dopamine. [12]

If you really want to maximize the benefits, go for 100% cocoa powder or add a tablespoon of raw cacao nibs to your next Total Brain Health Smoothie. Aim for good quality dark chocolate with simple ingredients and low sugar.

COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are processed differently than other types of fat -- they're quickly broken down and used. 

MCTs break down into ketones, which cross from the blood to the brain, providing an alternative source of energy for the brain, other than glucose. When the body relies on fat (ketones) for fuel instead of glucose, some research shows that this may have a potent neuroprotective effect, able to prevent or even reverse serious brain illness. [13]

Aim for organic, virgin coconut oil instead of the refined versions or coconut oil that has been added to processed foods.

Aim for organic, virgin coconut oil instead of the refined versions or coconut oil that has been added to processed foods.

Related: The Beginner's Guide To Low Carb High Fat Diets

EGGS

Egg yolks

Eat eggs for your egghead. Eggs are a good source of B-vitamins and folic acid which reduce the amount of homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s.

Egg yolks are also one of the best food sources of mood boosting vitamin D. It also contains excellent amounts of the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which promotes faster mental processing and memory formation.


Related: Choline Deficiency: How Not Getting Enough Impacts Your Body and Mind

TOMATOES

Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects the brain from free radicals later in life, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disease. Psychology Today reported that lycopene "regulates genes that influence inflammation and brain growth." [14] 

The high antioxidants and lycopene content link tomatoes with reduced risk of some cancers. Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. 

Cooking tomatoes or eating them with a healthy fat source can increase how well lycopene is absorbed in your body.

FERMENTED FOODS

Gut bacteria are responsible for that gut-brain health as well as the formation of over 30 neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, and GABA. If you don’t maintain healthy levels of good bacteria you may be prone to memory and focus problems as well as anxiety and depression.

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tamari, and miso promote healthy levels of good bacteria in your gut. You also want to focus on prebiotics -- fiber that feeds healthy bacteria. Examples include garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, and whole grains. 

Take a good prebiotic complex to help optimize gut bacteria.

FATTY FISH

Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are essential supporting healthy nerve cells and cell membranes. [15, 16] Essential fatty acids (EFAs) also prevent chronic brain inflammation that may lead to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss as well as depression, anxiety, and brain fog.

Oily fish also contains vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which are essential for a healthy brain and nervous system. 

Choose wild-caught fish as this contains less mercury and fewer chemicals than farmed fish.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Krill Oil is the #1 Omega 3 Supplement For Brain Health


Brain-Foods-Fatty-Fish

Related: 5 Reasons Why Krill Oil is the #1 Omega 3 Supplement For Brain Health

GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES

Vegetables like spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, and romaine lettuce are rich in antioxidants and B vitamins that are important for brain development and help protect against brain degeneration. [17] Kale is especially high in vitamin C and vitamin K which are key nutrients for brain function and memory. As an added benefit, kale is one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Green leafy vegetables should be the foundation of everyone's diet. They have tons of benefits and can be really easy to add to your diet -- try throwing them in eggs, adding them to a sandwich, or blending them into a smoothie. Eat your greens. Eat them often. Your brain will thank you.

WALNUTS

These "brain looking" nuts are made for your mental health. They're high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can also improve mental alertness. 

Walnuts contain vitamin E which may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Walnuts are also high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is the plant version of omega-3 fatty acids. In one study the inflammatory load on brain cells improved neuron signaling, neurogenesis, and more. [18]  

A few walnuts a day is enough to make an improvement to your cognitive health.

Related: Nuts and Seeds: Are They Really A Good Source of Protein?

PUMPKIN SEEDS

Pumpkin seeds are rich in the mineral zinc, which has a range of anti-inflammatory properties, and is beneficial for energy production, cognition, and sleep. Zinc also helps regulate dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that gives you mental drive and motivation.

Pumpkins seeds contain brain protective omega-3 and and antioxidants. The fiber in pumpkin seeds can help lower cholesterol in your blood and decrease the risk of heart disease.

COFFEE

Coffee is one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Among the 1,000 different compounds in a single cup, coffee contains chlorogenic acid which plays a vital role in brain cell protection.

One study revealed that long-term coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk for age-related cognitive decline. [19] Additionally, caffeine is a known neuroprotective compound and stimulant. 

Drink coffee in moderation (up to 400mg per day) and avoid sweeteners, flavorings and processed milk.

Try pairing caffeine with l-theanine for an added nootropic effect.

TURMERIC

This yellow root contains one of the most versatile anti-inflammatories in the world: curcumin. Older Indians who consumed curcumin throughout their lifetime had better cognitive performance and lower risk of Alzheimer's disease than people in the Western world. [20]

A recent study published in the The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that taking curcumin daily not only helped prevent memory decline, but supplementation improved memory over time. [21] Curcumin is also effective in treating mild depression, comparable to certain well-known antidepressant medications [22]

Related: Curcumin: Everything You Need To Know About Turmeric Extract

GREEN TEA

Daily consumption of green tea has been associated with a 50% reduced risk of cognitive decline and 86% lower risk in people genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's disease. [23] 

Scientists aren't exactly sure how green tea protects the brain, but it's thought because of the wide variety of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds like catechins, theaflavins, l-theanine, and EGCG. Recent research found that Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) offers neuroprotective properties that may help reverse memory impairment resulting from a high fat, high sugar diet. [24]


HOW THE FOOD YOU EAT AFFECTS YOUR BRAIN

The foods you eat have a direct impact on the structure of your brain, the balance of your neurotransmitters, and the entire makeup of your neurochemistry.

You just learned about the top 17 favorite brain foods, and to bring it all together, we wanted to share this great video (less than 5 mins) that explains how the foods you eat affect your brain on a broader level.

 

GOOD FOOD FOR BABY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

Babies and kids brains are rapidly growing and changing which makes the food they eat even more important. Whenever possible, feed your baby blended and cooked versions of the foods discussed above. You can make some excellent and healthy home-made baby food:

  • Pureed or strained fruits: banana, applesauce, avocado 
  • Well-cooked and pureed or strained vegetables: carrots, squash, sweet potato 
  • Pureed meat: pork, beef, chicken, fish 

 If you have a picky eater, focus on simple snacks and fun ways of serving the kid approved brain foods:

  • Greek yogurt: make your own smoothie or parfait, top with a bit of your kids favorite cereal 
  • Leafy greens: blended in a smoothie, mixed in pasta, on top of pizza 
  • Eggs: scrambled, in tortilla, quiche
  • Fish: simply grilled, served with sauce of choice, tacos
  • Nuts and seeds: good quality or home-made nut butter, on top of yogurt or oatmeal
  • Berries or fruit: smoothie style, to snack on, fun with fruit (ants on a log or animal shapes)


THE BEST BRAIN SUPPLEMENTS

It can be difficult to consume all the nutrients we need to keep our brains functioning well from diet alone. If you need some extra support to get in all those brain boosting vitamins and minerals, you may want to try supplements. These are some of the best brain food supplements:

  • Krill Oil: Fish oils are a source of Essential Fatty Acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) They're associated with improved cognition, memory, and focus and are a key component in cell health.
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine: This amino acid can help boost memory and slow down memory loss. It can also make you feel more alert.
  • Creatine: Optimizes brain power, including mental energy and neuroprotection.
  • Dopamine Brain Food™: This formula contains the amino acids L-Phenylalanine and L-Tyrosine, two essential building blocks for the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine increases focus, concentration and motivation.
  • Vitamin B6: Also supports the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine as we as the mood-boosting neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin.
  • Magnesium: Supports cognitive function and brain health and may lead to improved memory and cognitive functions. Also reduces stress and promotes healthy sleep.
  • Vitamin C: Converts dopamine into norepinephrine which increases alertness and attention. Protects cells from damage.
  • Yerba Mate extract: Enhances alertness and mental performance.
  • Curcumin: The natural compound found in turmeric, curcumin supports healthy brain function and reduces the effect of cognitive aging.
  • Caffeine: We know too much caffeine is bad for us, but a small amount can boost focus and energy and make us feel more alert.

ADDING BRAIN FOODS TO YOUR DIET

To optimize the gut-brain connection you need to eat brain foods that contain the essential nutrients required for good brain cell health and the formation of neurotransmitters. These nutrients will also enable our brains to fight the effects of inflammation, disease, and degeneration.

By eating a diet that contains essential fatty acids, antioxidants and a range of vitamins and minerals, you are supplying your brain with the fuel it needs for optimized focus and memory. Focus on whole foods (think about how they're found in nature), a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (avocado, fish, oil) and add some extra support from supplements when needed. 

What are your favorite brain foods? Tell us in the comments!


What are your favorite brain foods? Tell us in the comments!

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  3. Litman BJ, Niu SL. The role of docosahexaenoic acid containing phospholipids in modulating G protein-coupled signaling pathways: visual transduction. J Mol Neurosci. 2001 Apr;16(2-3):237-42.
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  8. Joanna L. Bowtell, Zainie Aboo-Bakkar, Myra Conway, Anna-Lynne R. Adlam, Jonathan Fulford. Enhanced task related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementationApplied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2017; DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0550
  9. Wataru YAMADERA, Kentaro INAGAWA. Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. 27 March 2007.
  10. Valentina Socci, Daniela Tempesta, Giovambattista Desideri, Luigi De Gennaro, Michele Ferrara. Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids. Frontiers in Nutrition, 2017; 4
  11. Kashiwaya, Yoshihiro, et al. "d-β-Hydroxybutyrate protects neurons in models of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97.10 (2000): 5440-5444.
  12. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-farmacy/201204/fat-brains-need-tomatoes
  13. Han Z, Xu Q. Effects of sulforaphane on neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation. Genesis. 2017 Mar;5
  14. Astrid Nehlig. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Mar; 75(3): 716–727.
  15. Przybelski RJ, Binkley NC. Is vitamin D important for preserving cognition? A positive correlation of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration with cognitive function. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2007;460:202–205.
  16. Small, Gary W., et al. "Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial." The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2017).
  17. Marta K. Zamroziewicz, Erick J. Paul, Chris E. Zwilling, Aron K. Barbey. Determinants of fluid intelligence in healthy aging: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid status and frontoparietal cortex structure. Nutritional Neuroscience, 2017.
  18. Sanmukhani, Jayesh, et al. "Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial." Phytotherapy research 28.4 (2014): 579-585.
  19. Justine Chouet, Guylaine Ferland. Dietary Vitamin K Intake Is Associated with Cognition and Behaviour among Geriatric Patients: The CLIP Study. Nutrients. 2015 Aug; 7(8): 6739–6750.
  20. Sujatha Rajaram, Cinta Valls-Pedret. The Walnuts and Healthy Aging Study (WAHA): Protocol for a Nutritional Intervention Trial with Walnuts on Brain Aging. Front Aging Neurosci. 2016; 8: 333.
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