You are what you eat—right? You actually are, and not even in some abstract metaphorical way. The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains. Eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term brain function. You could even have a fairly healthy diet and still not be eating the right foods to maximize your productivity and feel your best. So whether you want to avoid a terminal illness, or just want to pass your midterms, check out our grocery list of brain food that’ll help you unlock your full potential.
- Oily fish
Oily fish contains omega-3 that can help boost brain health. Oily fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help build membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain cells. They can improve the structure of brain cells called neurons. Examples of oily fish that contain high levels of omega-3s include:
- Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains cocoa, also known as cacao. Cacao contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. Cacao flavonoids seem to be good for the brain. According to a 2013 review, they may encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. They may also stimulate blood flow in the brain.
Like dark chocolate, many berries contain flavonoid antioxidants. Research suggests that these may make the berries good food for the brain. Antioxidants help by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The antioxidants in berries include anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin. Antioxidant-rich berries that can boost brain health include:
- Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a plant-based source of healthy fats and proteins. Eating more nuts and seeds may be good for the brain, as these foods also contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Nuts and seeds are also rich sources of vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. As you age, your brain may be exposed to this form of oxidative stress, and vitamin E may therefore support brain health in older age.
The nuts and seeds with the highest amounts of vitamin E include:
- sunflower seeds
Yes, Coffee. You’re probably saying to yourself, “well at least I’m doing something right”. Coffee is a well-known concentration aid — many drink it to stay awake and encourage focus. The caffeine in coffee blocks a substance in the brain called adenosine, which makes a person feel sleepy.
Beyond boosting alertness, a 2018 study suggests that caffeine may also increase the brain's capacity for processing information. The researchers found that caffeine causes an increase in brain entropy, which refers to complex and variable brain activity. When entropy is high, the brain can process more information, so drink up!