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Top Brain Superfoods

When it comes to nourishing our brains, certain foods stand out for their exceptional benefits. Brain foods are packed with essential nutrients such as antioxidants, healthy fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients not only provide energy to the brain but also play a crucial role in safeguarding brain cells, thereby reducing the risk of developing brain diseases.


How do these healthy foods contribute to mental health?

One way is by supporting gut function and promoting a healthy inflammatory response.

The gut plays a vital role in the production of important hormones and neurotransmitters that ultimately influence cognitive abilities. These abilities include understanding and processing new information, memory and concentration, as well as happiness and the ability to cope with stress. Surprisingly, a significant amount of serotonin (80%) and dopamine (50%) is actually synthesized in the gut. This means that maintaining a well-functioning gut is essential for sending the brain the chemical signals necessary for optimal functioning.


Conversely, a poor-quality diet, such as the unfortunately prevalent Standard American diet, can trigger the release of inflammatory cytokines in our bodies. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which has been linked to various mental and cognitive conditions, including dementia, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's disease. The accumulation of oxidative stress, often associated with aging, can exacerbate these issues.


While acute inflammation serves a protective purpose in fighting illnesses and aiding in the body's recovery process, chronic inflammation is a different story. It can potentially inflict damage on the brain and contribute to the development of mental and cognitive disorders.


Here are some of the Top Brain Foods to incorporate in your diet:


1. Oily Fish


Including oily fish in your diet can have remarkable benefits for brain health and overall well-being. These fish varieties are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which play a crucial role in enhancing brain function. Omega-3s are essential for building cell membranes, including those of brain cells called neurons, thereby improving their structure.


Research indicates that individuals who consume a diet high in omega-3s experience increased blood flow in the brain and demonstrate better cognitive abilities.


Oily fish is not only a great source of omega-3s but also provides unsaturated fats, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, all of which contribute positively to memory and learning. Consuming fatty fish has been linked to improved mood and a strengthened immune system. To reap these benefits, it is recommended to consume oily fish at least twice a week (12 oz/week), ensuring you choose high-quality, low-mercury fish.


Salmon stands out as one of the most nutritious brain foods available, contributing to improved memory and bidding farewell to brain fog. For children, incorporating oily fish like sardines or trout into their diet can even help prevent ADHD by enhancing focus. It's important to note that these benefits are associated with Alaskan wild-caught salmon, as farm-raised fish may contain higher levels of mercury and toxins due to a less optimal diet.


On the other hand, inadequate intake of omega-3s has been linked to learning impairments, as well as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, research suggests that individuals who regularly consume fish tend to have higher levels of gray matter in their brains. Gray matter houses the majority of nerve cells responsible for decision making, memory, and emotion.


Excellent sources of oily fish include:

  • salmon

  • mackerel

  • tuna

  • herring

  • sardines

  • anchovies

  • cod

  • pollack

  • trout


While some nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, hemp, chia, and walnuts do provide omega-3s, it's important to note that these sources contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body inefficiently converts to the EPA and DHA forms of omega-3s. On average, less than 5% of ALA is converted into EPA, and less than 0.5% is converted into DHA. Conversion rates may be even lower in vegetarians or individuals with chronic illnesses, as it depends on adequate levels of nutrients like vitamin B6, zinc, and iron.


Incorporating oily fish into your diet can be a powerful way to boost brain health and overall cognitive function. By choosing high-quality sources and consuming them regularly, you can tap into the incredible benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for a sharper mind and improved well-being.


2. Dark chocolate


Dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of over 70%, is a powerful mood booster. It contains high levels of flavonoids, antioxidants that enhance cognitive functions, especially memory and mental tasks. The bitter taste of dark chocolate may take some getting used to, but the higher cocoa content provides greater benefits.


Dark chocolate's compound, tyramine, triggers dopamine release in the brain, generating feelings of pleasure and happiness. Additionally, cocoa contains stimulant substances that improve brain function and concentration.


Antioxidants in dark chocolate protect the brain from oxidative stress, which contributes to cognitive decline and brain diseases. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, promotes cerebral blood flow and oxygenation, and reduces blood pressure and oxidative stress in the brain and heart.


Rich in fiber, magnesium, zinc, copper, and other minerals, dark chocolate supports overall health and well-being. Cravings for chocolate, particularly among women during their menstrual cycle, may indicate a need for magnesium.


Even though dark chocolate can be very good for you - remember that not all chocolate is created equal. Most of the chocolate you see on supermarket shelves is highly processed, high in sugar and other additives and is therefore not considered a great food for the brain. Anything lower than 70% will not have the health benefits discussed here.


The rule of thumb is the darker the chocolate, the more benefits it has.


70% or higher ensures you’ll get your cocoa fix and uplift your mood and nourish your brain!


3. Berries


Like dark chocolate, many berries contain flavonoid antioxidants making berries good food for the brain. This antioxidant rich food can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

  • strawberries

  • blackberries

  • blueberries

  • raspberries

  • cherries

  • black currents

  • mulberries

  • cranberries

  • goji berries

  • acai berries

... all provide the body with the much-needed anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective compounds which support a decline in neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions.


They also modulate signaling pathways responsible for inflammation, cell survival, and neurotransmission, along with their rich content of vitamins C and K, which revive the blood flow and oxygen supply to all the tissues in our bodies. They are also high in fiber which makes them a great fruit source for those working on balancing blood sugars.


These antioxidant compounds found in berries have many positive effects on the brain, including:

  • improving communication between brain cells

  • reducing inflammation throughout the body

  • increasing plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory

  • reducing or delaying neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline

Blueberries alone are one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods known to man. Because of their high levels of gallic acid, blueberries are especially good at protecting our brains from degeneration, cognitive decline and stress.


4. Nuts and seeds


Nuts are fantastic sources of beneficial nutrients like healthy fats, flavonoids, phenolic acids, melatonin, folate, and vitamin E. These compounds protect cells from free radical damage and oxidative stress, which are key factors in the aging process of brain tissue and cognitive decline.


While all nuts offer health benefits, the one that resembles a brain shape-wise is especially advantageous for brain health. Walnuts, rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, help decrease concentrations of beta-amyloid protein, a major component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease.


Incorporating walnuts into your diet can safeguard cognitive function, reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's, and even lower the risk of depression, particularly for those with chronic conditions like heart disease and type-2 diabetes.


Nuts and seeds also serve as excellent plant-based protein sources. When it comes to brain health, it's important to focus on a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids over omega-6. Excessive omega-6 intake can lead to inflammation, so maintaining a balanced ratio is key. Good choices for omega-3s include walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Pecans and pistachios also contain relatively higher levels.


In addition to their healthy fat content, seeds are typically rich in brain-boosting nutrients:

  • Zinc: Crucial for nerve signaling and preventing amyloid plaque formation. Zinc deficiency is linked to neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease, depression, and Parkinson's disease.

  • Magnesium: Essential for learning and memory. Low magnesium levels are associated with neurological disorders such as migraines, depression, and epilepsy.

  • Copper: The brain relies on copper for proper nerve signal regulation. Imbalances in copper levels increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's.

  • Selenium: Essential for thyroid function and acts as an antioxidant for brain health. Enjoying 2-3 Brazil nuts per day provides a good selenium boost.


So, embrace the power of nuts and seeds to enhance your brain health. Incorporate walnuts and other brain-friendly varieties into your diet, and enjoy the multitude of benefits they offer.


5. Green Tea


Green tea is not only a great way to improve alertness, performance, memory, and focus, but it also offers other brain-healthy benefits. L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and promotes relaxation. Additionally, L-theanine increases alpha waves in the brain, which helps you relax without feeling tired.


Green tea is rich in polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamin B2, manganese, and compounds like EGCG, which have strong anti-inflammatory effects. It protects against chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, while supporting brain health, blood sugar regulation, healthy bones, and the immune system. Green tea also acts as a natural metabolism booster and has natural antibiotic and antifungal properties.


Recommendation: Drink at least one cup of green tea daily. For added digestive and anti-inflammatory benefits, you can add ginger root and lemon juice. If you want to boost bone health, increase your consumption to three cups per day.


6. Avocados


Avocados are a superfood that provides excellent brain support due to their high content of unsaturated fats. Consuming monounsaturated fats, like those found in avocados, can help reduce blood pressure, which is linked to cognitive decline.


Containing both vitamin K and folate, avocados help prevent blood clots in the brain (protecting against stroke), as well as help improve brain functions related to memory and concentration.


They’re also rich in B vitamins and vitamin C, which aren’t stored in your body and need to be replenished daily. Plus, they have the highest protein and lowest sugar content of any fruit.


Avocados have high levels of fiber for overall gut health and balanced blood sugar as well as potassium, vitamins E, copper, calming magnesium.


7. Whole Eggs


Despite many people having choline deficiency, eggs, particularly egg yolks, are an excellent dietary source of choline. Choline is a micronutrient crucial for creating acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and memory. Research shows that higher choline intake is associated with better memory and mental function. Adequate choline intake is especially important for fetal brain development.


Eating eggs is an easy way to obtain choline, as egg yolks are a concentrated source of this nutrient. Adequate intake of choline is 425 mg per day for most women and 550 mg per day for men, with just a single egg yolk containing 112 mg.


Egg Yolks were once on the nutritional naughty list due to their fat and cholesterol content – but research has shown since that the cholesterol you eat has nothing to do with your blood work results. Our body’s need healthy fats and cholesterol to build hormones and to support a healthy brain, heart and detoxification process.


Whole eggs are nutrient dense in healthy fats, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin A – and most of these nutrients are in the yolk. Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 actually lower the risk of developing dementia, anxiety and depression and are essential to energy production as well.


Eggs are also one of the most inexpensive sources of protein out there – but you really should purchase organic, free-range, pasture-raised eggs for these benefits. The more orange the yolk the healthier the egg!


8. Cruciferous Veggies and dark leafy greens


Cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens, such as broccoli, cabbage, spinach, cauliflower, bok choy, brussel sprouts, radish, arugula, collard greens, swiss chard, kale, and dandelion greens , are nutrient powerhouses that have high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can significantly slow cognitive decline, enhance memory, and support learning.


These vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins A and K, choline, and other essential nutrients. They help keep your memory sharp, stabilize blood sugar, and promote a healthy gut microbiome. Including a variety of colorful vegetables in your diet maximizes the antioxidant benefits that can reduce oxidative stress, lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and boost brain power.


Cruciferous veggies also contain a compound called DIM which is very helpful in balancing hormones, especially estrogen dominant issues like PMS, mood swings, long and heavy periods, breast tenderness, uterine fibroids and breast growth in males.


*Note: If you have digestive issues or thyroid imbalances, focus on cooked vegetables as they are easier to digest. Raw cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens that can disrupt thyroid hormone production.

   

9. Bone Broth


Bone broth is a healing food that benefits both your gut and brain. It supports immune function, aids in gut healing, improves joint health, and helps overcome food allergies/sensitivities.


Bone broth is packed with fat-soluble vitamins, B vitamins, minerals like zinc and iron, collagen, and amino acids. It promotes healthy digestion, reduces intestinal inflammation, and supports memory and mood balance. Aim to drink 6-12 oz of bone broth made from pasture-raised animals daily. Poultry, game and pasture-raised meat on the bone for slow cooking. You can consume it as a hot beverage or use it as a base for soups and stews.


10. Coconut Oil


With so many coconut oil uses, from skin health to brain health there’s almost nothing that coconut oil can’t help. When it comes to your brain, it can help suppress cells that are responsible for inflammation. It can also help with memory loss and fight bad bacteria that hang out in your gut. The fatty acids in coconut oil provide the body with energy, boost organ function (liver, gallbladder) and regulate thyroid function.


Coconut oil and related MCT oil are also two of the most popular fats for people following the ketogenic diet, which research suggests may offer benefits related to reduced Alzheimer’s risk due to ketone bodies having a neuroprotective impact on aging brain cells.


Anything coconut is a fabulous addition to the diet: coconut oil, yogurt, flakes, milk, etc.


11. Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Real extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and olives are highly recommended for brain health. They contain powerful antioxidants called polyphenols and healthy monounsaturated fats. The Mediterranean diet, which includes EVOO, has shown cognitive benefits in older adults.

EVOO improves learning and memory and helps fight proteins that contribute to Alzheimer's.


As great as extra virgin olive oil is, remember that it’s not a great option for cooking, as it hydrogenizes and begins decomposing at higher temperatures. The best way to get your fill is by having it cold or at room temperature drizzled over foods or used as salad dressings with lemon juice and herbs.


12. Rosemary + Other Herbs


Rosemary contains carnosic acid, which helps protect the brain from neurodegeneration and oxidative stress. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that support brain health. Other herbs like basil, peppermint, sage, parsley, and cilantro also contain high levels of antioxidants and can contribute to brain health.


13. Turmeric


Turmeric is an ancient root that’s been used for its healing properties throughout history. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning it can directly enter the brain and benefit the cells there. It is one of the most powerful (and natural) anti-inflammatory agents.


Turmeric also helps boost antioxidant levels and keeps your immune system healthy, while also improving your brain’s oxygen intake, keeping you alert and able to process information. You can utilize turmeric in cooking or as herbal teas. For even more benefits, combine turmeric with black pepper to help improve absorption and with other spices like ginger and cinnamon for digestive and metabolic support.


Keep in mind that most studies use highly concentrated curcumin supplements in doses ranging from 500–2,000 mg per day, which is much more curcumin than most people typically consume when using turmeric as a spice. This is because turmeric is only made up of around 3–6% curcumin. Therefore, while adding turmeric to your food may be beneficial, you may need to use a curcumin supplement to obtain the best results.


The Bottom Line

So, there you have it! A brain-boosting feast of delicious foods to fuel your mind, sharpen your concentration, and improve your mood. These brain-boosting foods can also reduce the risk of stroke and age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Incorporating these nutrient-dense foods into your diet gives your brain the nutrients it needs to support overall brain health and the well-being of your entire body!



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