It’s no secret that the food you eat impacts your overall physical and mental health, but you may not know that food can affect your brainpower. It’s true – some types of food can make you feel sluggish, anxious, and mentally foggy while others can enhance your memory and mental agility. You need certain nutrients to protect and repair brain cells and reduce your risk of developing mental disorders and degenerative brain conditions like dementia later in life.
So no, I’m not going to tell you that eating a handful of kale will magically give you an A. But by incorporating these brain foods into your diet, you’ll definitely learn, remember, and focus better.
1. Fatty fish
This one’s kind of a no-brainer (no pun intended). Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are rich in protein essential to the formation of dopamine and serotonin. They are also an excellent vitamin B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the functioning of your brain and nervous system. Your brain cell membranes and nerve cells depend on omega-3s, but 70% of us don’t get enough of them in our everyday diets - which is important because our bodies cannot produce them on their own. Because Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, they can ward off depression, anxiety, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and seasonal affective disorder. And vegans, don’t despair! While omega-3s are mostly exclusive to fish, they are also found in flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are packed with flavonoids, antioxidants that increase blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive function, including memory, decision-making, and learning. Berries also protect you from chronic inflammation and mental decline, while increasing brain plasticity. A polyphenol called resveratrol, which enhances overall brain function and memory, is also found in berries (and red wine – if you need an excuse to go for another glass).
Your Instagram feed may be devoted to avocado toast right now, but maybe you should follow the crowd and eat more of this nutrient-dense superfood. Avocados contain monounsaturated fats, which help produce acetylcholine, a brain chemical crucial to learning and memory. They also contain Vitamins B, C, K, and E, and tyrosine, which helps with focus and motivation. Paying extra for guac seems a little more worth it when you realize that you’re getting all these brain-boosting vitamins.
Yes, this is another superfood that you’re probably tired of hearing about. But kale is in the spotlight for a reason – it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world! It’s high in antioxidants like beta-carotene, flavonoids, and polyphenols, as well as Vitamin E and folate, a B vitamin necessary for brain development. Not only do B vitamins ward off depression and brain aging, but they may even prevent Alzheimer’s. Kale even has omega-3s and omega-6s, which are hard to come by in plants.
5. Dark chocolate
If you’re a choc-a-holic, you’ll probably be happy to know that chocolate doesn’t just satisfy your sugar cravings – it also helps your brain. Its small amount of caffeine can boost mood, memory, and concentration, and its flavonoids increase brain plasticity and cell life. They also stimulate blood flow, aiding memory, problem solving, reaction time, and attention span. Just one catch: eating a huge slice of dark chocolate cake definitely won’t make you feel more alert or focused. Stick to a serving of dark chocolate chips when you need a mental pick-me-up.
I’ve only listed five brain foods here, but there are tons more (like beets, broccoli, and eggs)! The bottom line is that the food you eat impacts all aspects of your health, so if you want to feel, look, and think your best, give your body what it needs – and you just might get a grade boost out of it.