This is the year I’m mastering my mental game.
Meditation – check
Exercise – check
Learning – check
Journaling – check
Visualization – check
Brain nutrition – wait, what? –
What are you feeding your brain?
Working to keep our brains healthy requires more than just doing Soduko and exercising. Physical and mental exercise is crucial to good Brain health but the 3rd part of your strategy should be Nutrition. What are you eating to specifically nourish, fuel and repair your brain?
The goal of this Ultimate guide is to provide you with a solid foundation & basic plan for shifting to a more deliberate mind-diet.
You’ll be happy to know all these brain-foods can be found in your local grocery store. You’re probably already eating some of the power foods listed below. If not – don’t worry – after reading this guide – these amazing brain foods will become staples on your grocery list!
What is a Brain Diet?
Just hearing the word “diet” makes you think of restrictive, boring eating. The focus is always to achieve a “better body” – but if you shift that focus to eating for a “better brain” – the body will follow.
Ever notice how some days you feel sluggish and tired – even if its after a good nights sleep? Other days you’re focused, energized and seem unstoppable?
hmmmm….. maybe you should start noticing what you ate earlier in the day or even the night before.
Your brain needs a steady supply of fuel because it’s involved in everything you do – how you think, how you feel, how you act. It never stops working even when you’re asleep.
There is scientific proof that Food has a direct impact on your Mood! Food (fuel) affects your mood and energy level.
Subtle reminders from Nature
Have you ever realized that certain fruits & vegetables look a lot like body parts or organs? Slice a carrot in half and the inside looks like an eye. Celery helps our bones stay strong – notice the resemblance? Chemicals in Tomatoes ~ reduce heart disease. Oranges & Grapefruits help keep our breasts healthy.
How about Walnuts – isn’t it crazy they look exactly like the brain! It’s a clear sign they belong together. The nutritional benefits of walnuts help your brain grow and function….and so do a lot of other foods that you should be including in your daily diet.
Walnuts look just like our Brain
Certain foods can actually help brain cells heal from on-going damage caused by toxic environments, poor diet and lifestyle choices (drugs, alcohol, chronic stress, etc.)
Why you should care about feeding your Brain?
Your brain is in charge of everything! It’s the reason you feel the way you do, make the decisions you make, have the personality & intelligence you have & the reason you think the way you do. Even though this tiny organ only represents about 2% of your bodyweight – it consumes 20% of your daily calories.
It’s terrible to struggle through those days when you can’t shake the brain-fog or “get out of your own head” – because you’re over-stressed, sleep-deprived, over-stimulated from too much TV, internet, alcohol, drugs or sugar!
Not nurturing your brain is like trying to get fit by working out but still eating a crappy diet. You’ll never master your mental game without the right nutrition.
When your head is clear – you’ll feel better & make better decisions. It’s also easier to lose weight and you’ll have better memory & focus. Maintaining a diet full of good brain foods should be a “no-brainer” then. 🙂
In the simplest terms:
If you have a healthy brain you will make better decisions. This leads to being happier, healthier and wealthier. Period.
If you have an unhealthy or damaged brain you will struggle and make poor decisions. This leads to being less successful/poorer, unhappy and sick.
Check out this list of 6 types of foods more likely to cause an unhealthy brain: 6 worst foods for the brain
Top Brain Health Foods
Now I have your attention…..
Dark chocolate (preferably 72% cocoa or greater) has a boatload of brain boosting benefits. Dark Chocolate has been linked to improving depression, anxiety and your mood – through feelings of contentment.
The flavinoids (antioxidants) in dark chocolate increase blood flow to the brain which boosts your memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving skills. These same compounds can also help reduce inflammation and protect your brain cells.
Just a little goes a long way – recommended daily dose of 1-2 oz. is all you need to reap the brain-boosting rewards.
Tea & Coffee
Not exactly power “foods” but the caffeine and antioxidants found in coffee (coffee beans) and tea (tea leaves) have a positive effect on memory, focus and mood (serotonin boost).
Caffeine boosts brain activity which may protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Coffee is more potent and has more caffeine & antioxidants than tea – but you can drink more tea throughout the day if that’s what you prefer.
As with anything – too much of a good thing (i.e. caffeine) can be a bad thing. Just switch it up to decaf versions – which still pack high levels of brain-protective antioxidants.
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and other green leafy vegetable contain sulforaphane. This sulfur-containing compound has antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties that can repair brain tissue and promote cell growth. Broccoli, in particular, is one of the best foods for the Brain – high in Vitamin K, lignans and antioxidants.
Even if you’re not a broccoli-fan (yet) – there are lots of creative ways to sneak this powerhouse into your diet. Try the new riced versions or broccoli slaw (better crunch & firmness than traditional cabbage/coleslaw).
Super-simple Oven roasted Broccoli with garlic is still my favorite.
Blueberries are tiny but powerful and oh-so tasty!
Blueberries aka “Brain-Berries” help protect the brain from oxidative stress & may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The antioxidants in blueberries also affect areas of your brain that are essential for intelligence.
Rich in protective antioxidants, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries are also brain food, linked to better memory and coordination.
Eat beans, don’t eat beans, good carbs, bad (?) carbs. So confusing!
Beans do not get the respect they deserve. They have tons of health and specifically Brain-health benefits.
Besides being rich in antioxidants, magnesium and zinc, beans have more folate – which is crucial for brain function – than any other food. They also have fiber and are a slowly digested, nutrient-dense starch that provides the brain with its preferred fuel: glucose.
I LOVE when big things come in small packages like CHICKPEAS – they’re loaded with vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, choline, and selenium. Besides being an excellent vegan and gluten-free source of protein & fiber, chickpeas also contain high levels of iron, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. These little dynamo’s are definitely going to become a staple in your brain power menus.
How tasty do those crunchy roasted chickpeas look! Find the fast & easy recipe here!
Turmeric / Curcumin
- Improves memory & mood.
- Has many scientifically-proven health benefits, such as the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
- May help symptoms of depression & arthritis.
I’m sure you’ve run across these two that are being described as “possibly the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant we know about.” That’s a big statement and these are 2 Brain foods you shouldn’t miss out on.
Need more convincing? Read through this extensive guide then celebrate being the “Brain hero” for your friends and family!
Easiest way to get these super compounds into your diet are:
- Used as a spice in your recipes & food
- As a tea – try this Anti-inflammatory Golden Milk Recipe
- In supplement form – but do your research (it can be hard to get the recommended dosage and this can be an expensive option)
Nuts & Seeds
All nuts are considered brain foods but Walnuts are the top pick for brain health because they provide brain-boosting essential fatty acids.
Snack on just a 1/4 cup of walnuts to get almost 100% of the recommended daily allowance of DHA – which supports brain function.
Nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds) are all good sources of Vitamin E which can lower age-related cognitive decline. Nuts and seeds are nutrient and calorie dense – eat sparingly or you’ll exceed your daily calorie limit.
Adding an ounce a day of roasted or raw: (walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia, flax seeds & sesame seeds) is all you need to reap major brain benefits.
Coconut oil has tons of internal and external health benefits but the reason Coconut oil made this list is because it’s full of healthy saturated fats.
The saturated fat found in coconut Oil is full of MCT’s (medium-chain triglycerides). MCT’s are processed by the body differently than other types of fat. They are quickly absorbed by the body and converted into ketones. Ketones provide instant energy to brain cells and can help prevent brain aging.
Just know that not all Coconut Oil is the same – stay away from the refined stuff. You want to choose organic, virgin coconut oil – and yes, you can find it at Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
Another one of “nature’s perfect foods” – avocados are in a category above “basic nutrition.”
Avocado’s are packed with brain-boosting nutrition including Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Copper & Folate. They also have high levels of potassium (more than bananas) , fiber & omega 3 fatty acids.
Eating a diet rich in healthy fats is critical to our brain health. Our brain is 60% fat so it needs fat to function at a high level. The monounsaturated fats found in this fruit help contribute to a healthy blood flow in the brain = which equals a healthy brain. These same fats help keep your brain cells healthy and supports the connecting nerves.
Eating a raw, ripe Avocado is delicious just plain – but here are 50 amazing recipes for you to try!
This powerhouse has been gaining in popularity recently due to all the incredible health benefits it provides. It helps flush out toxins, is anti-inflammatory, has Vitamin K, Vitamin C, boosts immunity and may prevent cancer.
Its amazing for the Brain because Celery is a big source of luteolin. Luteolin can reduce brain inflammation. Celery also has magnesium which will help you sleep better.
For maximum benefits – do yourself & your Brain a big favor and drink fresh, raw Celery juice ~
I remember hearing once that eggs were nature’s perfect food. Then the yolk-haters started making a bunch of noise and people were only eating the egg whites (zero taste and minimal nutritional value unless you eat a bajillion). Now the research has proven the WHOLE egg has major benefits – specifically for the brain.
Eggs are rich in vitamin B6, B12, folate and choline-(yolks have high concentration). Whole eggs have protein, healthy fats, vitamins & minerals = sounds pretty perfect to me.
Oily & fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines and kippers) are a great source of healthy omega-3 fats.
When you consume a high amount of these healthy fats – blood flow to the brain is increased. This has a direct positive impact on memory, depression, learning and dementia.
These healthy fats are crucial for keeping the brain healthy and giving a boost to your serotonin levels.
But – even more important than the type of fish you consume is the way you cook it. Don’t fry it – it’s healthier to bake, poach, saute, roast or grill it – just don’t ruin it by frying it.
Flaxseed is one of the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, it’s high in a type of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has been strongly linked to brain health.
Flaxseed is also loaded with fiber and provides the highest source of antioxidant lignans in the human diet. This makes it the #1 choice among other seeds.
To maximize the health benefit from flaxseeds you should buy them ground or grind them yourself in a dedicated coffee-bean grinder. Mix a tablespoon into your smoothies, yogurt, cold cereal, or oatmeal. Or use them as a substitute for breadcrumbs & baking.
Just sneak them in – your brain & gut will thank you later.
Here’s a lesser-known powerhouse. Also called “forbidden rice,” black rice has amazing health & brain benefits. It is a whole grain packed with fiber, minerals, vitamins & antioxidants. Interesting fact: Forbidden rice got it’s name because it was once reserved for the Chinese emperor to ensure his health and longevity, and forbidden to anyone else.
“Measure for measure, black rice is bursting with even more antioxidants than blueberries,” says Ann Kulze, MD. Actually, blueberries and black rice have a lot in common. “Black rice contains the very same deep purple anthocyanin pigments as berries, but the pigments are so concentrated the grains appear black,” she explains.
Healthy cooking and eating should be simple and affordable!Dynamic Life Guru
Brain Power recipes
Let’s face it – it’s tough to try and fit everything on this extensive list into your weekly diet. Below are 2 incredible cookbooks that offer creative ways of sneaking nutrition into your “mind-diet.”
These cookbooks make it possible to get just about anyone to eat healthy!
Both have 100’s of recipes that pack a double or even triple-punch by combining many of the brain foods listed above.
The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes to Ignite Your Energy and Focus, Attack Illness and Aging, Transform Pain into Purpose – by Dr. Daniel Amen & Tana Amen.
Spoken from a “true Reese cup fan” – you must try 2-ingredient nutty butter cups (pg. 264 Brain Warrior cookbook)!
This award-winning registered dietician shows you ways to amp up the nutritional value of foods you like–in a way that you won’t even notice! Delicious Brownies made with black beans (giving you a boost of fiber)…you bet!
This is a great resource for sneaking nutrition into meals even our kids will love.
Stealth Health: How to Sneak Nutrition Painlessly into Your Diet – by Evelyn Tribole
Hopefully this Ultimate Guide to Brain Foods shows you how realistic and easy is it to feed your Brain – instead of eating “mindlessly.”
One quick & easy way to get started is by making a delicious Power Smoothie using as many power brain foods as possible. To be honest – the health and brain benefits always outweigh the taste for me…..especially if I know I’m drinking a nutrient-dense shake that will improve my brain power.
Making even small changes can have an immediate BIG impact on your Brain Health. Imagine how beneficial this could be for your kids!
Challenge yourself to start rotating these Brain Foods into your diet this week.
Yes – you can start with coffee and Dark Chocolate.
Wooo nice work. Long-form suits you!
This is a great article. Love the pictures and subjeaders, and although I consider myself kind of a super brain-food junky–I ended up learning quite a bit.
Thanks Pete! Just remember – too much dark chocolate is NOT good for you. :))
I appreciate your comments!
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