Although we have already briefly covered the topic of foods which fuel brainpower, in this article we are looking to expand the list with more neuro-enhancing foods and ingredients that can enrich your diet.
How important is the food we eat, you ask? Extremely – and that’s an understatement.
Namely, our gut keeps inflammation and our body’s immune responses under control. Furthermore, hormones produced in our gut travel to our brain and greatly influence our cognitive abilities, including focus, understanding and processing new pieces of information.
From fruits and vegetables, across a variety of seeds and nuts, to spices and oils – our list of foods includes a range of natural vitamins and nutrition supplements that give boost to your mind, but also entire body.
Aside from a range of vitamins different fruits and vegetables contain, recent studies indicate some are highly beneficial when it comes to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Increasing regular fruit and vegetable intake also helps protect your brain from oxidative damage, that way lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.
- Potato starch
Starch represents a tasteless and odorless white substance that derives from all-green plants. When it comes to potato starch (as its name suggests) it is a product of the potato plant which edible tubers (potatoes) contain a high amount of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamins C and B, etc.
Some of its benefits include the ability to regulate blood sugar, as well as boost good bacteria by acting as a probiotic. Additionally, as it is 100% gluten-free, it became a great cooking alternative to wheat flour.
It is also important to note that potato starch falls into the category of resistant starch foods, thus providing a number of health benefits through the brain-gut axis.
- Beet juice
Two of beet juice’s main ingredients represent nitrite and nitrite oxide which affect the responsiveness of the blood vessels. Now, according to the research conducted by Wake Forest University, the two components highly influence the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. As a result, drinking beet juice can further help boost certain cognitive functions and brain health.
For the elderly, this increased oxygen flow helps delay and fight dementia. Aside from beet juice supplying the parts of the brain that lack oxygen, beets are also great sources of choline which has a positive effect on a person’s memory.
Also known as Luteolin, artichoke extract is a natural PDE4 inhibitor which boosts motivation, learning and memory. It also has a vital role in neurogenesis, supporting the growth of dendrites and contributing to the reconstruction process of synaptic connections between the brain neurons.
Broccoli is a source of vitamins K and choline, the two nutrients known to strengthen cognitive abilities and improve memory. Considering these benefits, no wonder parents often include broccoli in their child’s nutrition plan – they want to enhance their children’s learning ability and benefit their academic achievements.
Both celery and parsley contain luteolin, a compound which helps us fight the aging process and lowers the risk of developing cancer, or any kind of heart disease. So far, the only studies conducted were on mice, but they showed that luteolin reduces brain inflammation, thus minimizing brain damage.
- Tart cherry
Tart cherry is known for a variety of nutrients it contains, including vitamins A, C and K, potassium, manganese, fiber and many more. In comparison to other kinds of cherries, it contains around 20 times more vitamin A. Due to its high antioxidant levels, it has protective effects on neuronal cells.
It is also interesting to mention that tart cherry can aid in insomnia treatment, due to tryptophan and anthocyanins it contains, which contribute to melatonin production.
The medical use of bilberry dates to the 18th century when it was considered a cure for inflammatory conditions and diarrhea. It was also used by WW2 pilots to improve their vision and overall bodily functions.
In time more of its benefits became apparent, and today we consider it an effective memory brain supplement that is available in literally every form. You can nip dried bilberries, make tea, or consume bilberry extract in a supplemental form.
A study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry also indicates that bilberry extract can alleviate behavioral abnormalities in Alzheimer patients thanks to its anthocyanin levels.
Due to the fact that they are high in nutrients and low in calories, blueberries are most people’s favorite munchy. They are enriched with fiber, manganese, and vitamins C and K. Because they also contain high levels of antioxidants, blueberries delay cognitive aging. In addition, they proved to have direct interaction with aging neurons and better cell signaling.
Avocado contains a high amount of monosaturated fats that protect brain nerve cells which transmit information. It contributes to the healthy blood flow and as such boosts brain function. However, since it is high in calories, be careful not to go overboard – a quarter or a half of avocado a day is more than enough to improve your cognitive functions without adding a few pounds to the scale.
There are a number of ongoing studies determining the benefits of different cooking oils on our overall health. But here’s what we know so far about their impact on our brain functions:
- Olive oil
Due to its high levels of monosaturated polyunsaturated fatty acids, olive oil is shown to decrease the risk of cognitive decline. Although it adds mouthwatering flavor and health benefits to your every meal, note that it should be used in small amounts – whether you’re using it in a salad dressing, or when you’re preparing a chicken, it adds calories to every meal.
- Coconut oil
Several studies oriented towards finding a solution for Alzheimer’s focus on coconut oil benefits. Namely, these health benefits come from medium-chain fatty acids that get digested in our body and used as an alternate energy source. Aside from the researches which demonstrate the effect of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s, there are studies focused on determining whether extra virgin coconut oil has any anti-stress and antioxidant effects.
- Krill Oil
Like coconut, krill oil contains omega 3 fatty acids. Their supplementation prevents many neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. So far, some studies conducted on mice have shown dietary krill oil boosts cognitive functions and protects the brain from cognitive damage.
- Fish oil
Rich with two types of omega 3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA – fish oil is a popular over-the-counter supplement. Aside from its hearth and skin benefits, fish oil has a great impact on our mental health and reasoning. DHA and EPA have anti-inflammatory functions and are critical for maintaining normal brain functions.
- Nut oil
Walnut or peanut oil both contain vitamin E which helps postpone neurodegeneration. Walnut oil, in particular, comes with omega 3 fatty acids which intake showed positive effects in adults fighting age-related cognitive decline.
- Rosemary oil
Rosemary essential oil is a popular ingredient in aromatherapies which are intended to relieve us from stress and benefit our overall mental state. But over the years, studies have shown its benefits extend way beyond that. In fact, while lowering our stress levels, rosemary oil boosts our attention and cognition, especially in elderly.
Nuts, seeds and grains
According to a Harvard study conducted in 2013, people who regularly consume nuts have higher chances of living longer and healthier lives. Research indicated that people are less likely to develop any kind of cancer, respiratory or heart disease. In addition to these benefits, we are about to look at the impact nuts, seeds and grains have on the brain health.
- Cacao nibs
Aside from chocolate’s ability to promote the production of dopamine (“happiness hormone”), researches highlight its effect on our thinking skills. One Italian study managed to prove that cocoa flavanols have a significant impact on executive function, attention and memory for people between the ages of 60 and 85.
- Brown rice
Brown rice is an unpolished and unrefined whole grain which benefits our digestive, cardiovascular and nervous system. It contains vitamin B, manganese and magnesium, all of which help regulate our nerves. Furthermore, due the presence of vitamin E, it helps prevent different brain diseases which occur as a result of oxidative damage.
Walnuts have twice as many antioxidants than any other nut we commonly consume. They contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, or to be more precise – DHA (which benefits we’ve already covered above). These fatty acids are the building blocks of the brain, which means nibbling walnuts on a daily basis can significantly affect our reasoning and cognitive functions in the long run.
Almonds come packed with a multitude of minerals and vitamins, but also carbohydrates and high-quality protein. Protein in almonds affects brain performance as they feed neurotransmitters with amino acids. That is why after eating almonds you can feel empowered to work or study – almond protein will significantly increase your alertness and focus.
Not only do certain spices add flavor to your meal, but they serve as an additional source of nutrients essential for our brain health and overall wellbeing. Several ingredients likely to already be on your kitchen shelf are being tested for their impact on our brain and below are some which managed to prove their effectiveness:
- Black pepper
Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices on a global level, not just thanks to its distinct taste, but health benefits as well. Aside from improving our cognitive functions, it is also studied for its antidepressant activities. Black pepper is particularly beneficial when added to a mix of spices – for instance, turmeric with black pepper boosts bioavailability of nutrients in other foods, thus helping you better absorb healthy minerals and vitamins from everything else on your plate.
- Turmeric vs Curcumin
Why did we put the two together? Because curcumin is the compound found in turmeric. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to act as a preventive measure against arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. As published in Science Daily, Stem Cell Research & Therapy findings indicate that turmeric plays a crucial role in the recovery and repair of the brain in patients diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases.
Cinnamon has been put in the superfood category years ago and is equated with blueberries and their powerful anti-oxidant properties. Adding cinnamon extract to your dessert can help fight inflammation and bacteria. Furthermore, it promotes alertness and cognitive functions. Over the years, researchers have tested it to see whether it can be beneficial for elderly who are struggling with dementia.
- Raw honey
Since honey is classified as added sugar, we decided to place it among the spices. And what is raw honey? The 100% unprocessed, unheated and unpasteurized honey.
It comes with nootropic effects – including memory improvement and alleviation of depression. Furthermore, honey showed to effectively elevate the quality of sleep in patients who had difficulty falling and staying asleep at night. The fact is – rested brain is a functional brain.
Raw honey is especially recommended for women who are going through a menopause – with age usually comes estrogen decline which directly affects cognition, learning and memory. Daily honey intake will promote concentration and empower their memory.
Lion’s mane mushroom
Although a loner in its category, lion’s mane mushroom comes with a variety of benefits that cannot be overlooked.
This type of medical mushroom is known in nutritional circles as a powerful superfood which has a positive effect on our immune system, nerves and brain function. Lion’s mane mushroom proved to be highly beneficial for people who experience occasional seizures, as it promotes nerve regeneration. Research also indicates it can boost cognitive functions and improve memory.
Additionally, Lion’s mane mushroom’s nootropic properties lower anxiety levels and elevate mood. Considering this, it is no wonder it has been recommended for people who suffer from mild depression.
Foods high in niacin
Niacin represents one of the 8 B-complex vitamins soluble in water. Its role in the body is crucial, contributing to the functioning of the digestive system, nervous system and skin health.
Niacin deficiency is one of the most common causes of brain fog. It is a critical component our brain requires to energize and function at the most optimal level. Consuming niacin foods is also associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but further research is needed to prove its benefits for this specific case.
Niacin foods that should find their place on your daily menu include:
- Meat and fish
- Nuts and beans
- Green vegetables
After going through the entire list, it is evident the majority of these foods and spices are common ingredients you can find in any grocery store. In addition to them being valuable to our overall health, they can have a significant influence on our cognitive functions.
Is there anything you keep passing by every time you go grocery shopping? Take a second to consider adding a new fruit, vegetable or spice to your nutrition plan and experience the benefits it brings to your health and professional life.