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Anxiety & Stress

Brain Health 101: Foods for Brain Power

Bowl of foods that support brain health. Concept of balanced nutrition for brain health

The reason that you are able to read the words before you is because fireworks of incalculable synchronic processes are happening in the 3-pound, pinkish-grey hunk of matter sitting in your skull right now.

The human brain is a masterpiece of biology, but like every other organic complex, it needs care and nourishment to stay in top shape. If you’re wondering what causes brain fog, or just want to improve your overall brain health, it is possible to lean on all sorts of organic matter, often in the form of  food and herbs, to give your brain the TLC it needs to operate smoothly, efficiently, and with longevity. 

Here, we’ll take a tour of the top foods and herbs for memory to support your mind so that it can function at its highest potential.

5 Foods That Boost Brain Power

Your brain is tasked with quite a heavy workload, and to handle it all you’ll need to recruit some powerhouse nutrients from each level of the food pyramid for sustenance. 

Below are the top 5 best types of food for brain power to support core neurological functions like memory, mood, and focus, as well as a healthy central nervous system.

Brain Food #1: Fatty fish

Your brain is a complex masterwork of cells, chemicals, and electrical signals that all need to fire efficiently for optimal cognitive function. Further, certain foods can affect your brain cells’ performance. 

For example, saturated fats and cholesterol have been shown to cause an accumulation of plaque between neurons, which can impede memory and even result in long-term neurodegeneration associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.1

One of the best nutrients for warding off this brain gunk and supporting your memory functions is omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s constitute half of the fat in your brain, and they’re a major component of many kinds of seafood, making it relatively easy to get your daily dose of fatty nutrients.2 

Omega-3-packed sea food to increase brain power include:

  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Seabass
  • Sardines
  • Oysters

Harvard Medical School recommends the Mediterranean diet for optimal neurological and cardiovascular health. This healthy diet is full of fatty, oily fish, as well as other healthy brain foods like fresh fruit, leafy green variations, and good-for-you oils, like olive oil, to keep your mind and memory on point.

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Brain Food #2: Nuts and seeds

Are you a vegetarian who still wants to enrich your diet with omega-3’s? Not to worry, there are plenty of animal-friendly omega-3 options as well.

It just so happens that, unlike money, omega-3’s grow on trees. Many nuts are chock full of this healthy fat, including:

  • Walnuts – Of all the nuts out there, walnuts have the highest quota of ALAs, or alpho-linolenic acid, which is one of the best lipids for reducing inflammation and aiding your cardiovascular and brain health. Just 4 walnuts a day can meet your recommended daily dose.3
  • Flax seeds – They are small, but they are mighty. Flax seeds rank second for the highest percentage of ALAs, with around 2.35 grams per tablespoon. To integrate them into your diet, try stirring them into oatmeal or dusting them over a slice of avocado toast as a nutrient-packed garnish.
  • Chia seeds – Chia seeds can take a bit of work to prepare correctly, but if done right they’ll pack a punch of 5.055 grams of ALAs per ounce. To avoid digestive discomfort, be sure to let them soak for at least 12 hours before sprinkling them atop your smoothie bowl.

While all nuts and seeds contain good fat, not all of them contain the omega-3 fats that your brain craves to stay sharp. When in doubt, opt for whole nuts rather than nut butters, which tend to carry loads of processed sugar and fat.

Brain Food #3: Sea greens

One source of brain-enhancing nutrients that is not to be ignored is sea vegetables. Not only do seaweed, kelp, nori, spirulina, and chlorella contain omega 3 fatty acid, they’re also terrific sources of key nutrients your brain and nervous system depend on, like:

  • Vitamin B12 – This is an essential vitamin for preventing cognitive and nerve dysfunction.
  • Folate – Folate supports healthy cell growth, cardiovascular function, and an even-keeled, elevated mood.
  • Magnesium – This mineral fosters expedient communication between your central nervous system and the rest of your body, and can aid in information processing and storage.4

In addition to these brain-boosting nutrients, sea flora is also high in calcium, zinc, essential amino acid, and vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

Brain Food #4: Berries

Fruit is nature’s candy, but when it comes to your brain some varieties are better than others. Apples, pineapple, and oranges are good in moderation, but their high glycemic index can cause a sugar rush that’s not ideal for feeding your brain a sustainable source of energy.

Berries have far less sugar than other kinds of hand fruit, and strawberries and blueberries in particular are filled with flavonoids, which is where their vivid jewel tones come from. 

Flavonoids are also responsible for a string of brain-boosting benefits:

  • Flavonoids have anti-oxidative properties, which prevent premature aging and damage to cells caused by free radicals. 
  • Flavonoids are anti-inflammatory, supporting immune function and reducing damage to brain tissue.
  • Flavonoids are anti-carcinogenic, which reduces the likelihood of cell mutation and cancer.

Furthermore, Harvard researchers found that regular consumption of berries can markedly delay memory loss and cognitive decline associated with aging.5 Berries are also associated with improved focus and executive functioning, so help yourself to as many of nature’s gemstones as you like.6

Other delicious foods packed with brain-boosting flavonoids include dark chocolate, kale, and green tea. 

Brain Food #5: Fermented foods

Brace yourself for the following statistic: up to 95% of 5-HT—otherwise known as the happy-making hormone serotonin—is generated by your gut. While your brain depends on serotonin for a variety of neurological functions, it only produces about 5% of the hormone itself. However, serotonin affects:

  • Mood regulation
  • Stress response
  • Reward centers (regulating sex drive and appetite)
  • Cognition
  • Learning
  • Memory

Fermented foods are foods that have been partly deconstructed by microorganisms like yeast to break down sugars and feed cultures of health-enhancing bacteria. Increasing the number of fermented foods you eat can promote serotonin production within your body to aid your brain health. 

Familiar fermented brain boosting food options include: 

  • Yogurt or kefir
  • Miso
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are some of the most common probiotics found in fermented foods, but there are thousands of strains of microbial life found in the gut. Research about the gut-brain axis and the functions of serotonin continue to unfold, but suffice to say maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is vital for maintaining a happy and alert mind.

Plants, Herbs, and Supplements for Optimizing Brain Function

Using food to boost brain power is only part of the equation. It’s a tall order to integrate brain-healthy ingredients into every meal. But, two major players can help pick up the slack where your meal plan falls short: herbs and fungi.

Brain Power Source: Herbs

Long before there were pharmaceuticals, there was herbal medicine. Practitioners in the field of herbal medicine crafted thousands of remedies that vary across particular regions. Let’s meet 3 time-honored herbal remedies to add to your brain-boosting lifestyle, especially if you’re curious about how to get rid of brain fog:

  • #1 Gingko – Gingko trees, distinguished by their elegant fan-like leaves, are one of the most ancient living arboreal species. Their extracts are packed with antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help promote your memory functions. 
  • #2 Rhodiola – Rhodiola, indigenous to Northern Europe and Asia, was first recorded for medical use in 77 C.E. to treat physical and emotional discomfort. It is regarded as an adaptogenic herb, which means that regular ingestion over long periods can help the brain be more resilient to external stressors.7
  • #3 Rosemary – In essential oil form, rosemary can be used to reenergize and hone the mind’s focus. In supplement form, this well-known herb is a robust mood elevator that’s rich in antioxidants to combat the effects of stress and bolster immune function.

While herbal support may come in pill form, working with herbs isn’t as instantaneous as popping an Ibuprofen. Herbal remedies, particularly adaptogens, take around 3 weeks to start working in tandem with your body. In the end, herbal supplements can provide gradual and sustainable support to your brain.

Brain Power Source: Mushrooms

Beyond salad toss-ins like Baby Bella mushrooms, the mycological biosphere is teeming with a variety of fungi whose benefits to humans are still being uncovered. Two mushrooms, in particular, are gaining recognition as brain boosters: 

  • Cordyceps – Cordyceps has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat liver disease and fatigue. In contemporary times, this mushroom is known to foster physical strength and is often taken to improve athletic performance. Cordyceps may also promote the creation of antioxidants in the body, which can help the body mitigate cell damage and aging, as well as promote memory functions.
  • Lion’s Mane – Lion’s Mane, a bushy, buttercream-colored mushroom, can be eaten or taken in supplement form to unlock its cognitive benefits. Lion’s Mane may help soothe symptoms of anxiety and depression, fight dementia associated with aging, and bolster the nervous system by mitigating inflammation.

Particularly in the case of Cordyceps, fungi may work more speedily than their herbal counterparts. Mushrooms can be eaten, taken as tinctures, or incorporated with other supportive fungi and herbs in supplement form.

Brain Power to Plant People

Food, herbs, and mushrooms with neuro-supportive properties work best as a team, and Plant People is devoted to crafting blends that support the holistic health of your body, from your brain to your digestive system.

For a brain-boosting combination of nutrients that supports long-term brain health, check out Plant People’s Clear Focus supplement. The clinical-strength blend draws on adaptogens, fungi, and herbal all-stars for a holistic formula that promotes your mood, boosts your concentration, and supports your brain’s overall function for the good of your whole body.

 

Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy

 Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.

Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.


Sources: 

  1. Harvard Medical School. Boost your memory by eating right. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/boost-your-memory-by-eating-right
  2. PubMed. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System - A Review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26795198/
  3. National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. ​​https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
  4. Healthline. What Does Magnesium Do for Your Body? https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-does-magnesium-do#brain-benefits
  5. The Harvard Gazette. Berries Keep Your Brain Sharp. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/04/berries-keep-your-brain-sharp/
  6. Livestrong. The 9 Best Foods to Help You Focus. https://www.livestrong.com/article/13764056-brain-foods-for-focus/
  7. Healthline. 7 Proven Health Benefits of Rhodiola. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rhodiola-rosea

 

 

 

 

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