Food can make or break your ability to concentrate and stay sharp for better learning, no matter what your age. Here are the big-ticket science-backed foods and nutrients for ultimate brain health and function.
In a nutshell: Look for omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, antioxidants and a couple of extra nutrients and spices.
#1. Fatty Fish/Salmon
Omega-3 fatty acids keep your brain functioning at tip-top capacity. Omega-3s help stave off fatigue, improve sleep and are anti-inflammatory. Salmon is also high in B vitamins, minerals including selenium, and protein. Aim to eat 2 servings of wild-caught fish per week, each about the size of your palm. A simple spice or marinade and skillet fry/grill/bake makes for a really easy dinner main dish.
#2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is unrefined and cold-pressed, which preserves all of its monounsaturated fatty acid goodness. It is an anti-inflammatory food with strong antioxidants like vitamin E. It’s a Mediterranean diet staple, it protects learning and memory, and should be your fat of choice whenever possible. Make your own veggie salad dressings and drizzle here and there. Everyday.
Avocados boost energy throughout the day. A nice veggie-based source of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats, relatively high in magnesium, potassium B vitamins and antioxidants A, D, E & K are all must-haves for the brain. Avocados also have a good amount of lutein (antioxidant), which has been shown to boost our ability to think. Throw some avocado in your morning smoothie, enjoy with a spritz of lemon and salt and pepper as a rich snack, or add guacamole to almost any meal for an extra boost.
If you’re not a fan of fish, you can get your Omega-3s via plants. Walnuts are an excellent choice with a relatively high amount of O3s as well as a good amount of protein. A 2015 study from UCLA linked higher walnut consumption to improved cognitive test scores. A handful of walnuts is a simple delicious afternoon snack. Couple with berries or dark chocolate for added sweetness.
#5. Dark Green Leafys
We’re looking at you, spinach, kale and broccoli. Loaded with brain-healthy vitamins and minerals (vitamin C, iron, vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene), leafys help fight off fatigue for better learning, strengthen cognition and better memory and they protect the brain against damage. Add a side salad to dinner most nights.
The deep dark colors of berries contain loads of antioxidant flavonoids, which improve memory in the brain. Blueberries are great, but so are raspberries, cherries and strawberries. Add them to salads, love them at snack time and serve them as dessert.
This deep yellow spice boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a type of growth hormone that helps brain cells grow. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and is better absorbed in the body along with black pepper. Include it in your week via golden milk as an afternoon snack (coconut milk, turmeric, honey) or in a curry for dinner.
#8. Dark Chocolate
There is LOTS of research suggesting that the antioxidant plant compounds called flavonoids in dark chocolate are brain boosting and specifically help with learning and memory. It also helps boost mood. Couple a square or two of the sweet stuff with walnuts.
Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off free radicals that can damage brain cells. You can also get excellent amounts of vitamin C from red bell peppers, tomatoes and strawberries. Think red and orange colored veggies and you’ll hit some vitamin C.
Eggs are full of good nutrients tightly tied to brain health and functioning. Soak up the vitamins B6 and B12, folate and choline. Two studies found that higher intakes of choline were linked to better memory and mental function. Egg yolks contains plenty of choline. Eggs also have high amounts of B vitamins, which assist with brain functioning and development, as well as boosting mood. Add hard-boiled eggs to your snacking lineup for the win!
Don’t Forget Water
Last, but not less important—water! Your brain and body contain LOTS of water. This means that dehydration, even in small amounts, can have a negative effect on how the brain functions. Shoot for half your body weight in ounces. Drink as you wake up and continually throughout the day.
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Want more detail or help outlining a whole foods diet for you and/or your family? Please reach out! Healthy Nest Nutrition is here for you. We have whole food programs and customizable info to meet your food needs. And we make them achievable—even on your busiest weeks.
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Hi! I’m Robin, the founder of Healthy Nest Nutrition. I am a board-certified holistic nutritionist in Denver, Colorado. My passion is helping people find the right diet for their bodies and then showing them how to make healthy nutrition doable and delicious!