Eating in some cultures is very important. It is a time when friends and family gather and enjoy a meal together. The Spanish even have a special word, sobremesa, to describe the time spent together after finishing the meal and talking with one another. Experts claim that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world, and thanks to a global market, we’re able to get a taste of this diet from around the world.
We all know how important it is to eat well, both for our physical and mental health. I don’t think I would be wrong in claiming that in the last couple years, there has been a surge in the amount of attention given to “brain foods”, the foods that help our brain work smoothly and at top level. The brain is like an orchestra. It has to be coordinated to work properly, and in order to be well-coordinated, we have to give it the proper nutrition. Our brain needs a ton of different nutrients that give it energy to do all of the many different tasks that it has to handle everyday.
We know that we want to give our brain the food it wants, but where can we start? Do apples make us smarter? Maybe onions keep our brain happy? What’s the deal with tomatoes? We’ll try to take away some of the mystery (and help you plan your grocery trip) below with some superfoods for your brain.
Get a delicious quinoa salad recipe here.
13 Superfoods For Your Brain
When you can, choose the whole grain option. Whether it’s rice, pasta, quinoa, bread, or wheat, choose whole-grain. The brain, like we mentioned earlier, needs a lot of energy to be able to pay attention and concentrate all day long. Normal white bread or pasta, while undeniably delicious, releases glucose soon after eating, which means that all of the energy that you consumed is either not used, or not used efficiently. Whole-grains, however, release the glucose slowly, helping us stay alert and focused longer.
Oily fish, like salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies, along with seafood are rich in Omega 3 (specifically DAH), which helps protect our brains from cognitive decline and have been shown to improve memory and concentration. In fact, some studies have shown that low levels of DAH are related to Alzheimer’s Disease and memory loss.
Check out Bon-Appetit‘s recipes for easy weeknight fish dishes
This small blue fruit is considered a super-fruit by nutritionists and natural therapy-lovers alike, and now science has stepped in and jumped on the band wagon. Blueberries are one of the fruits that contain the highest amount of antioxidants (they’re what help our body get rid of free radicals that build up in our brain and cause aging and cell death), which helps our brain stay young and health. Some studies, like the one conducted at Tufts University in Boston showed that a blueberry-rich diet improved memory loss and reverted loss of balance and coordination in elderly rats, which helped rejuvenate their brain.
Try this delicious blueberry smoothie recipe
Nuts sometimes get a bad wrap. It’s true, they have quite a bit of fat, but they’re also packed with vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. While maybe we don’t need to eat a Costco sized container in one sitting, we should try to make nuts part of our daily diet. Among the vitamins that many nuts provide, complex B vitamins are especially important for keeping our brain running well. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid (B9) improve oxygenation, which helps transport nutrients to cells and decreases homocysteine in the blood. High levels of this aminoacid are related to cognitive deterioration and Alzheimer’s Disease. Nuts also have a ton of vitamin E, which helps prevent cognitive decline in the elderly.
So, you know what do to. Grab a handful of nuts and sprinkle them on top of some of your favorite foods: oatmeal, salads, or just right out of the package. You’ll get some great vitamin E and B which will help prevent cognitive decline.
Mix up your nuts with this great spiced nuts recipe!
Broccoli is one of the richest foods in vitamin K, a super vitamin that improves memory and cognitive ability in general, as well as helping with the learning process. Other greens like kale or Brussels sprouts are also rich in vitamin K.
You can cook broccoli in a few different ways. Try making a soup, saute them, add them to a stir fry, steam them, or even eat them raw!
Take your pick of any of these amazing broccoli recipes
A personal favorite. Avocado is the perfect final piece to any great dish… I put it on soups, salads, sandwiches, rice…It fits in well anywhere and it’s got a ton of vitamins to keep our brains working well. Guacamole, for example, is rich in vitamin E and omega 3, and some even say that its antioxidant powers are similar to those of the magnificent blueberry. The avocado’s downside comes from its notorious fat and calorie levels. Yes, we need to watch out for the calories, but it contains monosaturated fats which actually help blood circulation, lower blood pressure, and help with hypertension (which is a risk factor for cognitive decline).
Maybe you don’t have to eat quite as many avocados as me, but half an avocado a day won’t hurt you and can be great for brain health.
Give any of these creamy avocado recipes a try!
Beta-Carotene or pro-vitamin A is one of the best vitamins for improving memory and protecting our neurons. We can find pro-vitamin A in fruits like mango and papaya, but also is orange vegetables like carrots and pumpkins. Now is a great time to go tropical! Make some delicious mango smoothies, or cut some up and put it on top of a fresh salad. It’ll give it some color and will provide you with important nutrients that your body and brain need.
Check out any of these mouth-watering mango recipes
There are (luckily) multiple benefits to eating chocolate. Chocolate can help improve memory and heart function. Cacao is rich in flavonoids, a powerful antioxidant that keeps our cells from maturing aging prematurely. It also naturally contains caffeine which helps improve concentration and stimulates the production of endorphins which makes us happy :).
So, does this mean you can eat chocolate like there’s no tomorrow? I’m sorry, but not quite. Even though it has multiple beneficial properties, experts advise that you eat it in moderation. You can get all the beneficial effects by eating just one ounce of chocolate a day, so no need to fill up on it. Just remember: it has to be dark chocolate, not white or milk chocolate.
I don’t think you need a recipe to eat chocolate…
Eastern cultures have been enjoying green tea for hundreds of years. It’s recently been proven to be a superfood..er, drink. It is beneficial for multiple different organs and systems in the body. Focusing on brain health, green tea is a super powerful antioxidant, which a lot of catechins and isoflavones that help prevent cardiac and cerebrovascular problems, as well as Alzheimer’s disease.
Some studies have said that catechins help to reduce amyloid protein levels, which is what is responsible for cell death in Alzheimer’s. It is also related to an improve state of alertness (increases concentration and makes mental processes easier), and memory.
Check out this recipe to spruce up your average green tea with a citrus mint tea recipe!
These nutty flavored little seeds pack a whole lot of nutrients. Originating in Central America, it has recently be converted into a crowning jewel of superfoods. It has high amounts of vitamins and minerals, and is also one of the best sources of vegetable Omega 3, which helps brain function and neuron health, and prevents aging. You can put them in a glass of water with lemon (antioxidant and detox), or put a spoonful in oatmeal on on top of a salad. There are a ton of recipes to use with chia seeds. What’s your favorite?
Get some ideas for your chia seeds here.
We usually think that pumpkin is used for 2 things: Halloween or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. But pumpkin really is one of those foods that you just can’t do without. You can make cream of pumpkin, bake it like squash, or add it to any of your favorite sautes. Pumpkin is a powerful antioxidant and is rich in folic acids. It’ll keep you sharp, improve processing speed, and help improve memory.
Try any of these delicious pumpkin recipes, perfect for fall!
Lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) is what makes tomatoes so good for our brains. Multiple studies have shown how lycopene is an ally against cerebrovascular diseases and strokes, it specifically reduced the risk of hemorrhagic strokes and brain damage. You can eat it raw, or cooked, in salsas or soups or as a garnish. It’s fresh and perfect for the summer!
Check out my personal favorite tomato soup recipe here
Last, but certainly not least, we have olive oil. Our Mediterranean neighbors believe it a liquid from the gods, and they’re not entirely wrong. Olive oil is an antioxidant that protects our brain from free radicals. It is also great for heart health and blood circulation, which allows the brain to get all of the nutrients and energy that it needs to function. Keep in mind that there are different types of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed, meaning it carries the most benefits.
Now that we have our basket full of yummy, healthy foods, it’s time to try new recipes! As you can see, there are a ton of different foods that help keep our brain healthy and strong, and there are a ton more that we didn’t include on this list. What are your favorites?
Molly is a writer specialized in health and psychology. She is passionate about neuroscience and how the brain works, and is constantly looking for new content from interesting sources. Molly is happy to give or take advice, and is always working to educate and inspire.