Your brain is hungry. This 3 pound organ uses 20% of all the calories you consume and 25% of all the oxygen you breathe. It needs antioxidants to ward of free radical damage, amino acids to create neurotransmitters, good fats to manufacture healthy brain cell membranes, and more.
Your brain acts as your “canary in a coal mine”. It lets you know when its needs aren’t being met. Brain issues like memory loss, brain fog, indecision, anxiety, insomnia, stress, food cravings, or addictions are all signs that your brain is not getting its needs met. While food isn’t the only thing your brain needs, meeting its nutritional requirements can go a long way to keeping you happy, mentally clear, motivated, and resilient to handle what life throws your way.
Any “real” food brings its own unique set of nutrients to the table, so picking the top brain foods wasn’t easy, but I’ve narrowed the list down to these top picks for six different food categories.
Top Pick Fruit: Blueberries
Most fruits are reasonable sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients but berries of all kinds, especially blueberries, are widely considered to be the best for the brain.
Compounds in blueberries have been attributed to improved memory, learning, reasoning skills, decision making, verbal comprehension, and numerical ability.
Blueberries may provide protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (1)
Top Pick Vegetable: Kale
All green leafy vegetables are excellent brain foods but there is so much good to say about kale that an book has been devoted to this one “green leafy”! It’s high in all B vitamins. Folic acid, B6 and B12 are especially important for memory and brain function. A recent Oxford University study found that when these 3 vitamins are taken together they can halt and even reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms. (2) See brain scan images of the vitamin B group versus the control group here.
Kale is a member of the cruciferous family, all which contain brain-protecting carotenoids and sulforaphane, a sulphur-based phytonutrient that can heal brain inflammation.
Kale is a good source of the amino acid l-tyrosine, which is needed to form certain neurotransmitters. L-tyrosine can improve your mood and increase your ability to learn, solve problems, and remember.
It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, which also holds some promise for treating Alzheimer’s.
One caveat about kale – it should only be eaten cooked. Raw kale is high in oxalic acid which can lead to muscle weakness, kidney stones, gout, and low thyroid function. So steam kale for a few minutes before adding it to smoothie or salad.
Any green leafy vegetable or member of the cruciferous family will provide similar benefits so don’t feel obliged to stick with kale!
Top Pick Oil: Coconut Oil
The two best vegetable oils to stock in your brain-healthy kitchen are olive oil and coconut oil. Most health experts are aware of the health benefits of olive oil, but only more forward-thinking doctors and nutritionists will agree with the top pick here — coconut oil. Coconut oil acquired a bad reputation because it is a saturated fat, but that’s what makes it so stable for cooking.
Most energy supplied to brain cells is from glucose. People with Alzheimer’s exhibit insulin resistance of the brain, so some experts are calling this disease type 3 diabetes. Coconut oil’s medium chain fats bypass this mechanism and provide energy directly to the brain in the form of ketones.
Some people have had great success with stabilizing and even reversing Alzheimer’s symptoms by taking coconut oil in therapeutic doses. Dr. Mary Newton wrote of her husband’s positive experience with coconut oil for his early-onset Alzheimer’s in her book Alzheimer’s Disease — What If There Was a Cure? If you or someone you love is trying to halt Alzheimer’s, this is a “must read”.
Currently, the University of South Florida is running a clinical trial using coconut oil for treating Alzheimer’s so a year from now the proof may exist for this protocol to become more widely accepted.
There are many other delicious ways to add more coconut to your diet. Try shredded coconut, coconut flour, and coconut milk (unsweetened, please). And if you haven’t tried coconut cream you are in for a delightful surprise! It is decadently creamy and makes a fantastic dessert base. It is naturally sweet even with no added sweeteners.
Top Pick Protein: Wild-Caught Salmon
You undoubtedly have heard that fish, especially salmon, is a top brain food. The media has really overplayed this one, lulling people into believing if they eat salmon twice a week that is all they have to do for their brain. But this is wrong!
Salmon is one of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, probably the single most important nutrient for your brain, but only if it’s wild-caught! Wild salmon get their omega-3s from their natural food sources — wild plankton and small crustaceans. Farmed salmon contains minimal omega-3s, the main health reason you are eating it.
Farm-raised seafood is frequently mislabeled in stores and at restaurants, so you really need to know your source. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends eating only Alaskan wild salmon — either fresh or canned. (3)
If you don’t like fish or don’t have access to good salmon, grass-fed beef or bison, walnuts, and flax seeds are other dietary sources of this brain-essential fatty acid or consider taking a high quality omega-3 supplement.
Top Pick Beverage: Green Tea
Green tea has so many benefits for your brain that it truly can be called a brain tonic. It contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that help regulate blood sugar levels to keep your brain running smoothly on a steady supply of glucose.
It increases levels of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. It’s been found to prevent plaque buildup in the brain, which is suspected of contributing to Alzheimer’s. It’s a good source of l-theanine, an amino acid that releases neurotransmitters that can improve memory recall, learning, and positive mood.
Drink at least 2 cups per day for real brain benefits.
Black tea, white tea, and coffee all have brain health benefits too, so feel free to mix things up a bit.
Top Pick Dessert: Dark Chocolate
I’ve always considered dessert an essential food group, don’t you?
Chocolate is the dessert darling of any superfoods list and is particularly good for the brain. Chocolate increases blood flow to the brain. It’s loaded with antioxidants to protect brain cells from free radical damage. Several studies have found that chocolate consumption reduces risk of dementia and enhances performance on tests of cognitive function. (4)
It’s also the number one food that people crave. It contains a number of compounds that boost your mood. It’s said to stimulate the same feelings as being in love.
It may be these mood-altering substances that make it mildly addictive or, it could be craved for its high magnesium content, an essential mineral which is largely lacking in the modern diet.
When buying chocolate, aim for the highest percentage of dark chocolate that you like. I intentionally buy my chocolate slightly darker than I prefer. That helps keeps my chocolate consumption in check!
So there you have a perfect sextet of brain-healthy foods. But please don’t eat a dinner of kale and salmon with blueberries and chocolate for dessert every night. Just as your brain thrives on variety for mental stimulation, it also thrives on a variety of healthy foods.
Your brain was meant to last a lifetime, … but the assaults of modern life are aging our brains before their time. Brain fog, lack of focus, indecision, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and feeling overwhelmed can all be signs that your brain is not aging as well as it should.
Learn how to easily avoid the three most common brain mistakes that contribute to brain aging. Almost everyone makes these mistakes, no matter how healthy their lifestyle is!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deane Alban is co-founder of BeBrainFit.com, where you can learn how to keep your brain young, healthy, and fit for life. Sign up for her newsletter Brain Builder and claim your FREE Special Bonus Report – “5 Causes of Brain Aging“.