Brain Health: 11 foods that will make you smart AF!
You've probably seen some millennial walking down the street, holding a notorious PSL (the Pumpkin Spice Latte, of course) and wearing a T-shirt that says, "But first...coffee!"
Hey, maybe we're just describing you on a Monday morning.
So, why do we love coffee so much? Those who do, feel pretty strongly about it (oh yes, pun intended). It's a triple whammy of indulging routine, scintillating, warm morning smell, perhaps the dreamy way the cream dissolves into its dark depths and the fact that, after such a satisfying experience of preparing it, the only thing that trumps that is actually drinking it.
But there's one more reason we might not be aware of: Coffee is one of those brain foods. Sure, it contains caffeine, but it also contains plenty of antioxidants. Like red wine's positive effects on the heart, studies have shown that a cup of coffee a day keeps the brain awash in plenty of antioxidants, which reduces the risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and depression.
If you're interested in promoting brain health through diet, the good news is that there are a whole range of easily accessible, natural and whole grain foods you can choose to incorporate right away. These 11 foods will not just boost your immune and neurological functions, they'll make you smart AF!
Hint: You're probably already having many of these — but if you're not, stick a ring on it and learn to commit.
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B12, in particular, part of the family of B vitamins, are deeply involved in the functioning of the brain, nerve cells and myelin sheaths, which are the protective layers that cover the nerve and blood cells.
Proper use and intake of Vitamin B12 have been linked to a reduction in Alzheimer's, can help to boost your mood and energy levels, can help treat memory loss and can improve poor concentration.
B-Vitamins like B-Complex are incredibly important for the body, especially working on the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release cortisol, which is connected to the brain's "flight or fight" stress response and they also have a great deal of effect on the production of dopamine and serotonin. In addition to all of that, B-Complex is closely related to the development and onset of depression, Alzheimer's and memory loss.
Supplementing your body with B-Complex, then, gives it the opportunity to remain calm and relaxed, thoughtful and unstressed in situations of high pressure. It also helps regulate cortisol and the distribution of energy through the day, since unstable levels of dopamine and serotonin could cause us to experience those "high" highs and "low" lows associated with spikes and crashes in energy.
Iron has a deep impact on the brain's functioning. You may have experienced it before. New mothers definitely do: They call it "mom brain". It's essentially a state of brain fog, that brings on symptoms like fatigue, restlessness, forgetfulness, an ability to focus or concentrate and can even result in anxiety, depression and increased irritability.
Research shows that, as a heavy metal, too much iron is not a good thing to have in the brain. But the right amount and dosage can make a huge difference to day-to-day brain function, improving memory, perception, and focus. It can also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders (long-term).
As far as brain supplements go, astaxanthin is one of the best. It has a whole host of other truly beneficial effects for the total body, improving cardiovascular function, bone and muscle strength and stamina, and even affecting memory. It comes from naturally occurring organisms like salmon and lobster.
Astaxanthin is essentially a vital antioxidant that reduces inflammation and combats free radicals, which are some of the leading causes of cancer. In terms of brain health, crosses the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to saturate and protect brain tissue and is known as a "general", natural brain food.
Brain supplements like Omega 3 can be found in fatty fish. If you can consume salmon, for example, you'll have a great source of both astaxanthin and Omega-3s. Wild Atlantic salmon, trout, sardines and even your favorite tuna tartare are all excellent sources of Omega-3s.
Not only are you supplying your fatty brain with the kind of fat it requires to keep its daily functioning sharp, but you're also providing the building blocks for the creating of nerve cells, which slow down the shrinking of the brain, ward off memory loss and improve learning impairments.
Okay, "krill" is not quite a fish -- it's quite separate from fish oil. But it has the same kinds of benefits and effects on the brain as fish oil. It's another kind of Omega-3 fatty acid that the brain needs to function. It also promotes the uptake of plasma, platelets, and red blood cells, as well as improve overall cardiovascular function.
As a marine oil extracted from tiny little crustaceans called "krill", krill oil simply adds the benefits of fish oil, suggesting that the two can and should be taken in conjunction. For its part, krill oil is excellent for neuroprotection, improved cardiovascular health, addressing issues like diabetes, controlling obesity, healing metabolic syndromes, and even reducing the onset of osteoporosis and arthritis.
Walnuts are absolutely essential for the brain. They have a significantly high amount of DHA, which is essential for early development of the brain, and certainly helps to improve cognitive performance in adults. It also helps to reduce cognitive, age-related brain decline. They're such potent sources of DHA, in fact, that just a quarter cup has been shown to give nearly 100% of your required daily intake.
As far as smart brain foods go, blueberries are the key to eliminating the corrosive effects of oxidative stress on the nervous system. In the way that organs and muscles can experience inflammation due to oxidative stress, the areas of the brain related to intelligence are the first to come under pressure when exposed to oxidative stress.
Studies show that the antioxidants in blueberries can contribute to several improvements in the brain's functions, aiding in preventative care as well as protecting it from aging. How?
- Blueberries target aging neurons, crucial for cell signaling.
- After 12 weeks of consuming blueberry juice every day, nine adults with mild cognitive impairment were shown to experience improvement in information-processing and memory.
- Both blueberries and strawberries have been shown to be linked to a delay in mental aging by 2.5 years.
- Eating blueberries reduce DNA damage, which guards against issues like cancer since the free radicals that blueberries contain neutralize this damage.
Like all nuts, almonds have an impact on the brain. First and foremost, like the fatty acids from fish oil, nuts and seeds contain healthy fats that support the development of a healthy brain, coating cells with a protective, fatty membrane.
Almonds in particular, however, are considered "brain food" because they have high levels of Vitamin E. Now you may know this as a nice cure for scars and stretch marks but, when ingested and processed in the body, vitamin E is linked to all sorts of perks, including:
- Reducing cognitive decline.
- Boosting mental alertness and acuity.
- Preserving memory for longer periods of time.
Almonds also contain 17% of your daily intake of B2 and, as we know, B vitamins are crucial for the body's conversion of energy for everyday functioning.
With yolks rich in choline, eggs are very important to the brain's overall health. Choline acts much like a B-vitamin, and your brain relies on it to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter connected to memory and communication across the nerve cell network.
While yolks have received a bad rap for boosting cholesterol, but researchers at the University of Eastern Finland have found the correlation to be mostly based in the repetition of unsubstantiated facts. "No association was found in persons carrying the APOE4 gene variant that affects cholesterol metabolism," concludes the study.
Researchers did find, however, that, of 2,500 men studied for up to 22 years, those who had an equivalent of one egg a day performed better on certain cognitive tests in later life, while experiencing no elevated risk for Alzheimer's and dementia.
All in a day's yolk!
It's called the "spice of life" for a reason. Golden as sunflower, curcumin, the active ingredient within turmeric, is what gives this spice — and those who include it in smoothies, shakes and cooking — its advantage.
From ALS to Huntington's, MS to Alzheimer's, curcumin has been linked, through various studies, as a substance that not only promotes stem cell proliferation in the brain, it actually goes beyond by helping these stem cells turn into neurons, a "major goal in regenerative medicine," says Adele Rueger, the lead study author and a researcher at the University Hospital of Cologne, Germany.
In fact, turmeric gives the brain something unique: the power to increase its self-repair and recovery process by up to 80%.
We Are What We Eat, After All
Brain health is something that should never flag. With these 12 brain foods, it never will. You can ensure that you're getting everything you need through a combination of brain supplements as well as sources of these important vitamins and antioxidants from your meals.
Remember, however, that without a concerted effort toward incorporating these foods, you can't be conscious and intentional with your supplementation. So make sure to either keep a log or plan your meals in advance, incorporating plenty of these foods throughout the week.