The connection between food and the brain is inextricably interlinked. Food can either boost your brain’s performance or slow it down dramatically, depending on the type of food you’ve eaten. For instance, processed foods filled with refined sugar or unhealthy fats (trans-fats and seed oils) can impair cognitive function, and neurotransmitter production and expression, leading to poor brain performance. On the other hand, the right food choices can enhance brain function.
As you already know, your brain is the command center of your body that works 24/7 and processes information faster than a one-formula race car, even while you’re asleep. This vital organ regulates a wide array of functions, from keeping your bodily organs working day and night to regulating your mood, motivation, cognition, and routine activities.
All of these functions are carried out through the continuous production and expression of neurotransmitters in your brain that are released from your brain cells upon need.
You would be surprised to know that the synthesis of neurotransmitters is directly linked to your food since it provides essential compounds that stimulate the functioning of neurotransmitters.
Hence your brain needs a steady and constant supply of fuel to function and perform better and lower the risk of cognitive impairment or any brain disorder.
How Does Food Influence Your Brain Performance?
Food (including macro and micronutrients) plays a tremendous role in influencing brain performance as it is the only energy source the brain utilizes to function properly. Research shows that glucose, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, flavanols, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, and ketone bodies not only nourish the brain but also improve overall brain health and boosts the brain’s performance.
The nutrients provided by the right food can shape your brain structure, keep your brain cells healthy, help in neurotransmitter production and allow you to think, learn, memorize and focus on other tasks.
Best Food for the Brain
When it comes to choosing “brain food,” you should be aware that not all foods are beneficial for brain health .
Therefore, we have listed the best and scientifically proven brain foods you can add to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner to bolster your brain performance and cognitive functions.
Let’s dig into it.
The liver is one of the highest sources of choline, which is a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Research has shown that proper levels of acetylcholine are extremely important for proper cognitive function and brain health. In the Framingham Heart Study, people with higher choline intake performed better on verbal and visual memory tests. Furthermore, these people had lower levels of white matter hyperintensities on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), suggesting lower ischemic damage in the brain . When I teach seminars, I really need my brain to be sharp, so organ meats, such as organic rabbit or lamb liver (100 grams will provide about 400 mg of choline), are my top favorite.
Caviar, having high levels of choline (191 mg / 100 gr), is a favorite amongst Russian lifters as it provides the foundational nutrients for the synthesis of acetylcholine.
3. Fatty fish
Fish holds a top place when you search for the best food for the brain because of their omega-3 fatty acids-rich content. Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, trout, and sardines are a rich source of good fat (omega-3 fatty acids) and tryptophan. Both are good for brain health and development and boost neurotransmitter functions, especially dopamine and serotonin.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an important building block of your brain and constitute half of the brain’s fat. This beneficial fat coats the brain cells to transmit rapid signals. The signals play an essential role in learning, remembering, thinking, and focusing .
A study reveals that people who eat fish regularly tend to have more gray matter than those who consume less or once in a blue moon . The gray matter is the most critical region of your brain, where most of your nerve cells reside, and controls cognitive abilities such as decision-making, learning, emotions, and memory.
On the contrary, a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in your body is linked to poor brain performance and learning impairment .
So, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating fatty fish foods dense in omega-3 fatty acids per week can boost your brain performance and maintain your brain health.
4. Clean Red Meat
Clean red meat is an excellent source of protein, choline, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Each nutrient provided by clean red meat plays a significant role in brain performance. For instance, brain cells (neurons) communicate with each other via the release of neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are actually being produced by using protein components called amino acids.
Some amino acids (L-tyrosine, glutamic acid, phenylalanine, tryptophan) provided by protein act as a precursor for the production of brain chemicals; dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters regulate your mood, happiness, cognitive functions, and overall brain health.
Similarly, vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that your brain needs but cannot produce. Vitamin B12 supports the nerve cells, prevents brain atrophy (neuron loss), and improves mood since it is needed to synthesize serotonin – a chemical that regulates mood.
A randomized trial showed that a combination of vitamin B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids slower the rate of cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive impairment .
As discussed in our previous article, “Power breakfast.” Eggs contain nutrients that your brain needs. Eggs are high in protein and are a good source of vitamins B6 & B12, folate, and most importantly, tryptophan and dietary choline. Egg yolk contains more nutrients than egg white.
Choline and tryptophan are essential nutrients that your brain cells use to produce acetylcholine and serotonin neurotransmitters. Similarly, L-tyrosine (an amino acid) is a precursor of dopamine and is needed for efficient dopamine production.
These neurotransmitters play a tremendous role in enhancing brain performance, from boosting your mood, pleasure, and motivation to improving your cognition process (learning, focus, concentration, memory, and thinking).
Adequate intake of eggs improves brain performance, such as initiating rapid communication between your nerve cells, regulating mood, and improving memory, focus, and attention .
6. Organic greens and Cruciferous veggies
Adding organic green vegetables (free from pesticides) to your diet not only gives your food a visually appealing effect but also beneficially affects your whole body’s health, especially your brain. Following you’ll find some of the best leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables that are packed with brain-boosting nutrients;
- Organic spinach
- Organic kale
- Broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts
These veggies are rich in folate, Vitamin K, beta carotene, and Vitamin E, which are important precursors of certain dietary neurotransmitters, especially acetylcholine, GABA, serotonin, and dopamine .
A study conducted on older adults revealed that intake of Vitamin K-rich food such as broccoli and leafy green vegetables improves their memory and cognitive status [9, 10].
Similarly, a phytochemical called Sulforaphane (SFN) in broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts is also good for brain health. It increases brain performance due to its antioxidants and inflammatory effects, which protect the brain cells from oxidative damage .
Note: if you are sensitive to oxalates, be aware that some of the vegetables mentioned above are high in oxalates.
We all hear that eating nuts, specifically walnuts, pistachios, cashews, and almonds, are beneficial for brain health. A recent study reveals that nuts strengthen the brainwave frequencies associated with cognition, learning, perception, information retention (memory), healing, and other essential brain functions.
Nuts are also good sources of brain-boosting nutrients such as polyphenols, antioxidant vitamin E, B6, and tryptophan (a serotonin precursor). Each nut brings special benefits, such as:
- Almonds not only improve your memory but also contain phenylalanine (a precursor of mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters – dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine).
- Cashews increase the oxygen flow in your brain and also contain tryptophan which can increase serotonin levels.
- Pistachios boost brain power and improve concentration and learning, as they have a high content of vitamin B6, which is important for dopamine synthesis.
- When it comes to Walnuts, they offer 2X benefits as they provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids , and also maintain a healthy level of serotonin, which influences your mood and appetite.
Evidence suggests that regular consumption of nuts lowers the risks of cognitive decline and slows mental decline .
Likewise, a study on older women reveals that daily intake of nuts boosted their brain performance by improving cognitive functions such as memory compared to those women who eat less .
8. Organic Berries
Berries such as blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries are good for brain performance.
These tiny fruits are loaded with flavonoids and anthocyanin – phytochemicals with anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects that improve memory and delay brain aging [15, 16].
The antioxidants also stimulate the constant flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, which results in boosted concentration and high brain performance during challenging mental tasks.
9. Tea and Coffee
Coffee contains brain-boosting nutrients, caffeine, and antioxidants that make you alert, improve mood (by modulating dopamine levels), boost the brain’s information processing speed, and reduce cognitive decline [17- 20].
Green tea also increases alertness, performance, memory, and concentration . Additionally, it contains L-theanine, which is an amino acid that increases the activity of GABA and makes you feel relaxed and less anxious .
A review of 11 studies reveals that people who consume caffeine regularly tend to have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline [23-26].
It is recommended to drink coffee and/or tea based on your own tolerance.
Now it’s time to boost your brain performance by adding an adequate proportion of the above foods to your diet plan.
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