If you’ve ever grappled with silent-but-deadly “brain farts” after hitting the drive-thru, you know all too well that what you eat impacts how well you think. Saturated fats, processed foods and refined sugars not only accelerate your brain’s aging process (which may up your risk of neurodegenerative diseases) but also zap your brain of energy, which can make it tough to focus.
However, brain-friendly superfoods supply nutrients you need to make new neural connections and, basically, feel pretty brilliant. Reach for one of these seven superfoods the next time you need a little brain boost — they give new meaning to “eat smart!”
The growing buzz around turmeric is well-deserved, and you can add “brain food” to the list of reasons to season your meals with this spice. Turmeric is packed with curcumin, a powerful antioxidant. Foods high in antioxidants are key for brain function, since oxidative damage -- the damage that antioxidants help prevent -- hits your brain hard (which, spoiler alert, is not so great for brain function!). Early research suggests that curcumin may help combat Alzheimer’s disease, and might even play a role in brain recovery after an injury.
Try one of these scrumptious turmeric recipes to bring a little more brain-boosting spice into your life.
Speaking of superfoods, salmon should have a permanent spot on your grocery list if you want to feel brilliant. It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are special fats that you need to get from your diet. Omega-3s help your brain form new “connections,” which allows you to learn and store new memories. These fats also help fight inflammation — an important benefit for staying sharp, since excess inflammation has been linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
Season your salmon liberally to boost your brainpower — spices and herbs are packed with beneficial antioxidants to protect your brain.
Nutrition in 2016 was all about the pulses, but lentils’ brain-boosting benefits are still pretty underrated. They’re high in several nutrients important for thinking and cognition, including folate for better memory, iron to support greater oxygen flow to your brain, and copper for combat cognitive decline. Lentils are also loaded with dietary fiber, which helps stabilize your blood sugar levels. By preventing blood sugar spikes (and crashes) lentils help provide consistent energy, so you won’t feel drained, tired and “fuzzy.”
Lentils are ultra-versatile in the kitchen, so keep a container of cooked lentils in your fridge. Add a handful of lentils to a serving of soup or salad, mix them with chickpeas for dips like hummus, or use lentils in place of rice as a base for stir fries. A fave of ours is this Red Thai Curry Lentil Recipe.
You probably don’t think of berries as typical brain food, but strawberries are among the best sources of vitamin C, a nutrient crucial for brainpower. It helps you make collagen (a structural protein that literally strengthens your brain tissue!) along with neurotransmitters, when are the chemicals your brain uses to send signals (and transmit thoughts). And because vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, it’ll protect against aging-related brain damage to keep your mind sharp as you age.
5. Dark Chocolate
Honestly, we’re on board with virtually any reason to eat more chocolate. But cacao — the cocoa solids abundant in dark chocolate — is seriously great for your brain. Cacao supplies polyphenol antioxidant compounds, so they protect your brain from damage, and dark chocolate is a great source of brain-boosting copper and iron, too. Chocolate also provides a (slight) jolt of caffeine, which can temporarily increase your alertness and mental ability.
Nuts have a well-deserved reputation as brain food, and hazelnuts might be the best option of all. They’re rich in copper to support thinking, learning and memory, and they’re also a fantastic source of folate to both support blood flow to your brain and help with nerve communication. Eat them with the skin on, and hazelnuts also supply lots of antioxidants to keep your mind healthy and strong.
Use hazelnuts in place of almonds in this recipe to whip up your own hazelnut butter — we recommend adding a spoonful of cocoa powder for extra antioxidants! You can also use hazelnuts in place of pine nuts to make delicious hazelnut pesto, which works well as a topping for pasta.
We’re betting you don’t think of mushrooms as an antioxidant powerhouse, but button mushrooms actually have more antioxidant capacity than pumpkin, tomatoes or green beans! That makes them a great way to protect your brain from aging-related cognitive decline. Mushrooms also supply copper to enhance your brainpower. And mushrooms grown under UV light also contain vitamin D, which has been shown to help retain your cognitive function as you age.
Try one of these yummy serving tips to include more mushrooms in your diet. You can also saute mushrooms in a little garlic, chili spice and olive oil to use in place of meat in fajitas, tacos or quesadillas. Or add to a breakfast omelet for a true power breakfast.