The brain is the most important organ in the body, yet its also one that we often forget to consider when planning our diets.
As it turns out, there are some amazing brain foods that will help you to fuel your noggin with everything it needs to run smoothly!
Defining brain foods
The main thing to consider when talking about brain foods and food in general is nutrients, which are the myriad compounds within the food that are essential to life and health. These can further be broken down into macronutrients and micronutrients, the former consisting of compounds such as protein, carbohydrates and fats, and the latter vitamins, minerals and other important elements.
Using the analogy of the body as a piece of machinery, macronutrients provide the basic building blocks used to make it and the fuel on which it runs, while the role of micronutrients is to maintain the individual parts such as the organs and tissues, as well as ensuring that they all work in harmony to regulate bodily processes to keep the machine running smoothly.
In this analogy, our brains are the control center, the piece of hardware that organizes the system and sends instructions to individual parts of it, while our minds could be considered the software that controls it. Brain foods are thus any source of nutrition that provides the right mix of essential nutrients to help the brain function at maximum capacity, or as close to it as possible.
The brain-body connection
Before we move on to discussing the best brain foods in detail, it’s important that we also explore and discuss the brain-body connection. In that sense, using the above machine analogy may be doing the rest of the body a disservice. When it comes to inorganic machines, the control center is not usually dependent on the health of the rest of the hardware. In the case of biological machines like us, however, we know that the entire system is interlinked and interdependent.
Factors such as hydration and the oxygenation levels of our blood affect every organ in the body, including the brain. The study of gut microbiomes is one of the fastest growing fields in medicine and has established a strong link between gut health and brain health. In fact, we know now that around 95% of our serotonin (one of the most important brain chemicals) is produced in our gut, bringing the study of gut health to the frontiers of psychology and mental health as well.
What this all means for brain health
Accordingly, just as it is pointless to think about food only in terms of calories while ignoring the essential nutrients and potentially harmful compounds that accompany them, it is futile to discuss brain foods without considering the other factors that determine our physical and mental well-being.
To maximize your mental acuity, you need to look after your entire system well. Aside from having a diet that promotes good health in general, that also means exercising both the body and mind regularly, minimizing stress, staying hydrated and avoiding harmful contaminants wherever possible.
Above and beyond this general maintenance that allows the whole system to function properly, you can also consume specific foods that promote good brain health. In general, these so-called brain foods will contain one or more of the following essential nutrients in high amounts:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Antioxidants such as flavonoids and vitamin E
- B vitamins
- Healthy fats
If the term “seafood” seems deliberately vague, that’s because it is. Usually, when people talk about brain foods, fatty fish are right at the top of the list. There are good reasons for this, but they come with a few important caveats.
Many fish are indeed high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks of brain and nerve cells. Omega-3s have also been shown to play an important role in learning and memory. They also likely slow age-related mental decline and help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, omega-3 deficiency has been linked to learning impairments and mental health issues.
There’s only one problem…
Most fish is highly contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, industrial chemicals and microplastics. There’s also the not insignificant fact that we humans have removed around 90% of fish biomass from the Ocean in just the last century, meaning there isn’t a whole lot left and there soon won’t be any if we continue at the current rate.
Thus the term seafood.
Fish, like other forms of animal-based nutrition, are just middlemen. Almost all essential nutrients that we eat are either synthesized or made available by plants. The fish that we consume get their nutrition from sea plants including algae, seaweed and, at the base of it all, tiny phytoplankton. Even larger predatory fish who don’t consume plant matter directly are ultimately eating what was generated by these plants. This holds true on land and no matter how high up the food chain you go.
As always, you’re better off cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source. Skip the harmful contaminants and help to avoid ecological collapse by getting your brain food directly from plants. There are an increasing number of supplements made from farmed sea plants that are both nutritionally effective and have minimal impact of the environment.
Cacao & Dark Chocolate
For most people, chocolate is something you eat when you’re cheating during a diet rather than as part of a good one. While it’s true that most chocolate bars are not good for you, that can be put down to basically everything found in them except the chocolate itself. The main culprit, of course, is the sugar.
Cacao beans, main ingredient in chocolate, are actually somewhat bitter when eaten alone. They are also an incredibly nutritious food that seems to offer fantastic benefits to brain health.
The main way in which they do this is through combating oxidative stress with powerful antioxidants known as flavonols. They also contain other types of flavonoids, which are all antioxidants, as well as several other beneficial vitamins and minerals.
If you don’t fancy chewing on toasted cacao beans or nibs by themselves (they’re actually quite good once you get used to them), you can use them to add some chocolaty goodness to smoothies, add them to baked goods or throw them into granola or trail mix. Dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao is also considered an excellent brain food.
There are over 3000 kinds of cruciferous vegetables, many of which are among the most nutritionally dense foods on Earth. This is especially true of broccoli, brussel sprouts and leafy greens such as kale and spinach, offer a wide array of potential benefits when it comes to brain health. To be fair, you could replace the phrase “brain health” with just about any other kind of health and this statement would be just as true. These truly are extraordinary foods!
Many cruciferous vegetables contain compounds known as glucosinolates, which are know to reduce oxidative stress. They also have decent amounts of vitamin E, which protects cells from damage and slows the ageing process, as well as flavonoids and many other beneficial vitamins and minerals. The fact that they offer so much good stuff with so few accompanying calories also make them a perfect brain food if you’re watching your weight.
Other noteworthy brain foods
- Berries – Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and others are all fantastic sources of antioxidants including anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin.
- Nuts & Seeds – Many nuts and seeds are rich in omega-3s, vitamin E and other antioxidants, making them some of the most complete brain foods out there.
- Turmeric – The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is on of the most powerful anti-inflammatories on Earth and is able to cross the blood-brain barrier to absorb directly into brain cells.
- Caffeinated drinks – Coffee and caffeine containing teas such as green tea are excellent sources of antioxidants and seem to improve brain function. That said, it’s also important to note that caffeine has been show to disrupt deep sleep (even if you don’t realize it), which is one of the most important aspects of brain health. In that sense, it’s best to use moderation and avoid drinking caffeine in the second half of the day.
- Peanuts – While they are in fact a legume rather than a nut, peanuts contain high amounts of healthy unsaturated fats, high levels of vitamin E and resveratrol, a non-flavonoid antioxidant that seems to have protective effects on the brain.
- Avocados – Another food with high levels of healthy unsaturated fats that appear to beneficial to brain health and aid in the absorption of other vitamins and minerals.
Beyond brain foods
If you’re serious about improving your productivity, this is the tool that will help you to do it. Don’t take our word for it though. Check out reliable third-party reviews by our many satisfied users to see what FocusMe can do for you. If you’re ready to get serious about beating your gaming addiction, simply click the big shiny button below and we’ll guide you every step of the way!