Have you ever wondered why your brain sometimes works at full speed, you feel smart and almost limitless while some other times you feel totally sluggish and with brain fog?
That’s because you are what you eat. Eat poorly and you will perform poorly.
The brain is the most important organ in our body and our performance in life (academic, job related, social, etc.) depends on how we “treat” it.
Feed your brain with the wrong “fuel” and get ready for a recipe for disaster.
If you think that you just need to eat for energy, think again. Food is not only energy but also medicine.
In this post we will see how food and nutrition affect your brain and what foods that improve memory, focus, and concentration you can start adding to your diet right away to boost your brain and cognitive performance.
Let's talk about brain food!
BONUS: Download the brain food checklist and always know what to eat to boost your mental performance. (Click to download)
What Does Food To Your Brain
This section might be pretty heavy and boring for some of you.
- If you want to jump at the brain food list with recipes and grocery shopping list, click here.
To get the most out of your cognitive functions or to even increase them, you need to provide food to your brain that accomplishes several things:
- GIVE ENERGY TO THE BRAIN. The brain is the most metabolically active organ in your body. It requires an impressive 20% of your total energy expenditure, even though it represents only 2% of your total body weight. To perform at your best, your brain needs to be running at full gear. This means not only that you should supply the correct fuel (be it glucose or ketone bodies) but also that all the enzymes involved in dealing with this “fuel” are running smoothly and at the best of their capacity. Therefore a key role is played by vitamins and minerals that are used by enzymes that can metabolize glucose and ketone bodies. These are the B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and manganese.
- KEEP THE NUTRIENTS DELIVERY EFFICIENT. The brain food that you eat is digested in your digestive system. Here the nutrients for the brain are extracted and delivered through your blood supply to your brain. If your blood supply is faulted, the delivery of important brain nutrients will be sub-optimal with consequently sub-optimal brain performance. Keeping systemic inflammation low through low inflammatory foods is going to be your priority.
- GET THE PROPER BUILDING BLOCKS. Your brain works by producing and releasing molecules called neurotransmitters. These are signaling molecule that tell the other systems in your body what to do. For instance, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is responsible for contracting your muscles therefore moving, talking, walking, etc. The neurotransmitters are: acetylcholine, GABA, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin, glutamate, aspartate, histamine and glycine. In order to synthesize them efficiently, all the enzymes involved in the process must be functioning promptly and swiftly. For this to happen they require B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and choline that you need to acquire from brain foods.
- TOP-SPEED NERVOUS IMPULSES. When the neurotransmitters bind on the receiving neurons, a nervous impulse is propagated through the length of the neurons so that, at the other end, it can release other neurotransmitters to accomplish the necessary task. The rapidity of the propagation of the signal depends on the status of the myelin layer surrounding the neuron. Neurons are like wires, covered by an insulating sheet of myelin that makes the transmission of the signal faster. Keeping this myelin cover healthy, will assure that your neurons will fire fast and efficiently. For this you will need B vitamins and iron. Also keeping low oxidation and inflammation are very important.
We have seen how nutrition affects the brain so you understand now that you need to have several components working together to have high mental performance. This is how food affects your brain and in the next section we will see what is brain food together with a list of the best brain foods.
What Is Brain Food: Definition
Brain food is food that can improve your mental and cognitive performance by increasing levels of certain micronutrients, by increasing antioxidative systems in the brain or by lowering inflammation.
Many studies have been performed on people with Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment. These people have serious and dramatic lowering of their cognitive abilities which is the condition that we want to avoid. By studying the interventions devised for these people we can extrapolate the best nutrition for brain health and cognitive performance.
The best brain foods that improve memory and concentration have the following characteristics:
- Rich in vitamins and minerals (preferably in B vitamins, vitamin C, and zinc)
- Rich in antioxidants
- Rich in anti-inflammatory compounds
FUNCTION OF BRAIN FOOD
The effect of brain food is to:
- Increase memory power and concentration
- Help you staying focused
- Increase your general well-being
- Promote relaxation
In these conditions you will be working at full mental capacity and your performance will be top notch. Whether you are studying for an exam or you have to produce creative work, brain food will put “good fuel” in your brain so that it can perform at its best.
What foods are healthy for the brain?
List of Brain Food (Scientifically Proven)
Given the theoretic premises so far, let’s have a look now at a list of brain foods that conforms to the features indicated above. Here is the list of memory foods (brain food that helps with memory) and brain food to stay focused, being productive and perform at your best. In this list there are only foods that have shown a direct correlation with decreased cognitive decline or increased cognitive functions in scientific studies. Later on you will find a list of putative brain foods.
Fish (Especially the Fatty Ones)
When you mention brain food, a popular one would be fish. Everyone knows that fish is good for your brain. But why is fish called brain food?
If you check the above criteria for a brain food, you’d notice that fish scores high for all of the three points indicated. Not only fish is a brain food, it actually is a superfood that doesn’t get enough credit as it should.
Fish, and in particular fatty fish (mackerel, herring, sardines, salmon, tuna) not only are very rich in vitamins B and D and minerals such as selenium but also contain important anti-inflammatory and antioxidant molecules. Worth of note are the presence of omega-3s and posphatidylserine.
Fatty fish and seafood are rich in omega-3s. Omega-3s have a plethora of health benefits and they are especially good for your brains. Omega-3s can improve your vascular system (better delivery of nutrients to the brain) and protects neurons by reducing inflammation and oxidation (study).
via Dr. Axe
Do you know that people who eat a diet poor of omega-3s have an increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia? Furthermore, a diet rich in omega-3s lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Fish, and especially the Atlantic Mackerel is also rich in phosphatidylserine. This molecule can help cognitive performance by increasing memory, attention, and learning while at the same time reducing stress and fatigue.
And you don’t need to eat fish every day to reap the brain boosting benefits of fish! One study shows that at least one serving of fish per day might just do it. To err on the safe side, try to have fish at least twice per week to keep your brain and memory healthy and active.
Bottom line: Fish is the best brain food you can eat. Rich in vitamin B12, vitamin D, minerals, omega 3s and phosphatidylserine, eating fish will protect your brain from oxidative damages and inflammation keeping you sharp and with a top mental performance.
Could have mother nature created a better superfood than berries? Not only berries are delicious, beautiful to see, low in calories but also contain an incredible amount of nutrients that make them a brain food.
Rich in flavonoids, berries (and blueberries in particular) will boost your cognition, memory, and coordination.
Eating berries frequently seems to be correlated to better outcomes of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, improved immune system and reduced risk of urinary tract infections.
When it comes to the effect on the brain, berries have a direct effect on enhancing communication between neurons, can increase the development of new neurons and protect neurons from stress and inflammation (study).
Are blueberries brain food? Sure they are!
Bottom line: Blueberries are the only fruit with proven brain boosting effect thanks to their specific flavonoids. Eat them daily for a boost in cognition, memory, and coordination.
Another brain foods that taste great are walnuts. Studies both in rats and humans are unequivocal: walnuts can increase your brain performance. In particular, walnuts seem to be a memory food since they can increase working memory. And they can even reduce LDL cholesterol!
Here is what makes walnuts a brain food:
- Walnuts are a rich source of tryptophan, which is the precursor for serotonin. Increasing brain serotonin might protect against depression and anxiety, as well as enhance memory functions.
- Walnuts contain vitamin E, folate, melatonin, alpha-linolenic acid and numerous polyphenolic components. These have the effect of protecting neurons from oxidation and inflammation.
Some in vitro studies, showed that walnuts can counteract oxidative damage and cell death as observed in patients with Alzheimer disease making these nuts a potent brain food capable to slow down cognitive decline and boost memory.
Bottom line: Walnuts are the ultimate memory food. Thanks to a certain content of micronutrients, they can protect neurons and boost working memory performance.
Did you know that in India there is the lowest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease of the world? Scientists believe that this is due to the high consumption of curcumin, a molecule present in turmeric which is used to make curry.
Curcumin is an outstanding antioxidant for the brain. It can protect the brain from peroxidation of lipids. This means that curcumin might be able not only to protect the membranes of the neurons but even the myelin surrounding them. This assures that your neurons can fire up super fast.
Curcumin is another memory food, in fact it has been shown to reduce memory deficits in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and brain trauma (study).
Since it is difficult to absorb in the blood stream, whenever you use turmeric, pair it with black pepper. The piperine in black pepper will facilitate its absorption so that curcumin can function in your whole body and not just in your bowel.
Bottom line: Curcumin in curry is a very potent antioxidant that prevents damages to your neurons so that can fire faster therefore boosting your memory and cognition. Use it with black pepper to enhance its effects.
Thinking of olive oil as a brain food sounds weird, right? Yet, a high consumption of this staple of the Mediterranean diet is correlated with better memory function (study) thanks to the anti-oxidant power of its polyphenols.
Furthermore, a study in the elderly supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil for 6.5 years found that the supplemented group had better cognitive performance and were less likely to become demented (study).
If you want to improve your learning and increase your memory, think about replacing crappy oils with this special brain superfood!
Bottom line: Thanks to its rich content of antioxidants, olive oil protects neurons from oxidative damage. This will ensure a better memory.
Your mom was right. Eat your veggies.
A study from Prof. Morris at the Rush University on 954 people for 4.5 years showed that consumption of vegetables rich in folate, vitamin K, lutein, and beta-carotene was associated with slower cognitive decline.
So, which veggies are brain food? Instead of having you check which veggies are the richest in these nutrients, I did that for you and here is a list of brain boosting veggies:
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Too many to choose? Go for spinach! Spinach ranks pretty high for all the micronutrients!.
Bottom line: Veggies and in particular leafy greens slow down cognitive decline thanks to the high amount of anti-oxidants. Spinach might offer the best bang for the bucks in terms of effectiveness on brain boosting capabilities.
List of Potential Brain Food
Here you will find a list of food that has a very high chance to boost your brain power, given the micronutrients they contain.
I decided to separate these two lists for scientific integrity. I am a scientist and I want to give you only true information and not deceive you.
The foods in this list have components that, taken in isolation, can potentially boost your brain power but no actual study has been performed to check whether they can increase cognition or not. The takeaway here is: use your judgement and try for yourself. Surely you are not going to harm yourself since this is just “normal” food. If it can boost your brain capacity, even better!
Liver (and other Organs)
Organ meat sounds gross. You are right. But wait to see the nutritional content of this meat to change your mind.
Muscle meat (the meat we normally eat) is nutritionally useless when compared to organ meat. The nutrient density of organ meat is far superior to muscle meat that makes you understand why animals, in the wild, prefer to eat organs instead of muscles of their kills.
The king of nutritional density, among organ meats, goes to beef liver.
Beef liver is a true powerhouse of good nutrients. Beef liver is very rich in vitamins B especially B12 (100g of beef liver will deliver 988% the daily recommended intake of vitamin B12), riboflavin, folate, niacin, B6. Also, the amount of vitamin A is pretty astonishing: 100g will deliver 338% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A. Besides these, what makes liver a food that increases memory and focus are also high amounts of pantothenic acid, copper, iron, selenium, and very high levels of choline.
All these nutrients are implicated in improving memory and cognition.
To avoid hypervitaminosis A, don't exaggerate with your portions and eat max 100g of beef liver per week.
But don’t stop at beef liver! Also other offals are worth exploring.
Kidney, heart, tongue, and from different animals too. For instance chicken heart is very rich in phosphatidylserine having almost the same amount of the atlantic mackerel described above. The heart contains also coenzyme Q10, pivotal to produce energy and prevent oxidative stress.
If there is one superfood from this list of brain foods, make sure it to be beef liver!
Bottom line: In terms of micronutrients for your brain, organ meats are way superior to muscle meat. Beef liver is a very potent powerhouse of brain food rich in vitamin B12, vitamin A, and other important nutrients for your brain. Consider also other organ meats if you don't like beef liver, they are good for your brain too!
Forget increases in cholesterol and all that nonsense that characterized the ‘90s. Dietary cholesterol doesn’t correlate to cholesterol levels in your blood.
Eggs can be brain food and you should eat more of them. Rich in riboflavin and vitamin B12, they are also high in choline which has the effect of boosting your memory and cognitive performances. Not as rich in brain boosting nutrients as beef liver or dairy, yet eggs can be a complement brain food that is perfect for instance for your healthy brain food breakfast!
Two to five medium sized eggs should provide between 200 and 500 mg of choline.
It took me quite a while to start appreciating avocados. That texture and flavor needs some time getting used to. If you can pass that, beside how beautiful the avocado looks like, its nutrients content is pretty interesting and worth checking out for its potential brain boosting properties.
Avocados are rich in vitamin K, folate, potassium, vitamin B5, B6, vitamin C, and vitamin E. To make it even better, they are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.
For the most gluttonous among you, this sounds like a wet dream. Eating chocolate and getting smarter?! Almost.
One study found that consumption of cocoa powder could improve cognition as well as a a supplement of caffeine and theobromine (constituent of cocoa) could. Another study found that cocoa per se doesn’t improve cognition but increases cerebral blood flow.
It is also worth mentioning that cocoa and chocolate induce calmness and increase the sensation of well being. These, by themselves, can be good excuse to eat chocolate, especially when going to face a test or an exam.
Ah, and you want to use dark chocolate (at least 75%) since it will be richer in cocoa. Milk chocolate and white chocolate won’t cut it.
Bottom line: Research gives contrasting results on whether cocoa is a brain food. Surely it induces calmness, relaxation, and makes you feel good. Isn't that an excuse to have some chocolate?
MCT Oil (Coconut Oil)
There is actual research that shows that MCT oil (which is a refined version of medium chain triglycerides present in coconut oil) given to people with Alzheimer’s disease improved dramatically their memory.
So why is MCT oil in this list and not in the one of proven brain foods?
Because this study was done on people with a disease in which neurons cannot use (or can use very poorly) glucose for functioning. MCT oil increases the level of ketone bodies which can alternatively be used by the brain for energy. It makes sense then that people with Alzheimer’s disease would see an improvement using MCT oil.
What about healthy people? There are no studies unfortunately testing whether MCT oil or exogenous ketones would boost cognitive performance acutely on healthy people.
In my opinion, you can check the ketogenic diet if you want to reap the mental benefits of running on ketones.
Bottom line: While it is proven that MCT oil can increase cognitive performance of Alzheimer's patients, no studies have been done so far on healthy people so no conclusions can be drawn in this regard.
Nuts and Seeds
We previously saw that walnuts are brain food, but what about other nuts?
Are almonds brain food? Are peanuts brain food?
While any study has been set so far to investigate whether these nuts could directly potentiate your brain power, looking at their composition of micronutrients, we can make some educated guess.
Nuts and seeds are rich in a lot of nutrients that are good for your brain.
Namely, vitamin E (almonds are incredibly rich in this vitamin), some of the vitamins B, manganese, copper, magnesium and zinc.
If I had to choose a few among nuts and seeds to add to your brain food cookbook, I’d choose: walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds.
Don’t over do though (I could have said, “don’t go nuts”, I just realized) because nuts are very rich in calories!
Bottom line: Nuts are rich in micronutrients that are potentially good for your brain. Choose walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds to get the best of the whole bunch!
Even if not to boost your brain power, ginger is an incredible superfood that should be included in your diet regardless.
It has an incredible plethora of health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory food, anti nausea, reducing cancer risk and lowering cholesterol.
But is ginger brain food? In one study, ginger has been shown to improve memory in middle-aged healthy women. So currently we don’t know if the same would be true for young people. My guess is that it might, given its very strong anti-inflammatory properties and who know what else we haven’t discovered yet in this incredible superfood.
I would say, add it to your diet, it won’t hurt.
Bottom line: Ginger is an incredible superfood. It has been shown to improve memory in middle-aged women but no study has been done on young people. Anyway, given its very potent health benefits, it wouldn't hurt to include it in your diet.
We discussed already about the “magic” properties of organ meat. But what if you really can’t stomach the taste of beef liver or chicken heart? No worries, the good-old-fashion beef steak might also be considered a brain food.
Let’s see what we get when we eat a beef steak:
- Creatine: increases the energy reservoir of your neurons so that your cognitive performace is boosted.
- Zinc: necessary for many brain enzymes.
- B vitamins: necessary for many brain enzymes.
- Selenium: antioxidant, can protect your neurons.
- Choline: beef has one of the highest concentration of choline. Choline is the precursor of acetylcholine which is the learning neurotransmitter.
- L-carnitine: in particular N-acetyl-L-carnitine which supports neurons increasing increases focus, concentration, and alertness.
- Carnosine: antioxidant only found in meat able to protect the neurons from oxidative damage.
Bottom line: There is no study showing improved memory or brain function due to eating beef. Given its micronutrient composition we can speculate that beef might really be a brain food.
Where I grew up, in the South of Italy, we had pomegranate trees everywhere. I remember, every September, sneaking on some trees and grabbing volleyball size pomegranates full of juicy red seeds. Pomegranate seeds and juice are rich in molecules with a very strange name: punicalagins.
These are potent anti-oxidant and might confer protection to your neurons. I included pomegranates in the brain food list because an in vitro study showed that pomegranate extract is able to inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase.
Acetylcholinesterase is responsible for degrading acetylcholine which is the “learning neurotransmitter” associated with memory. Therefore eating pomegranate might keep more acetylcholine in your brain, reinforcing your memory during learning and studying.
Bottom line: Pomegranate not only are loaded with anti-oxidants which might protect your neurons but also might be able to inhibit the enzyme responsible to degrade acetylcholine. More acetylcholine might give you an increase in memory retention.
Brain Food Or Brain Diet?
Talking about “brain food” is sort of an oversimplification.
Say that your diet is KFC foods. Eating blueberries once in awhile (or even every day, for what that matters) won’t certainly make your smarter and surely you will have bigger problems to deal with.
The brain foods described in this article can give you an extra brain boost but if your diet choices are poor, there is a limit to how much brain power you can enhance through the use of these brain foods.
So, before anything else, make sure that you are eating as little processed food as possible and that you eat whole food and tons of vegetables.
Furthermore, it’s worth mention that exercise is very important for an healthy brain. Countless of scientific papers show how exercise not only is healthy for your body (decreased insulin resistance, better glucose metabolism, weight loss, increased mood, etc.) but it is healthy for your mind too. In fact exercise can boost your memory and make learning easier:
A large body of research in humans has demonstrated that consistent aerobic exercise (e.g., 30 minutes every day) induces persistent improvements in certain cognitive functions, healthy alterations in gene expression in the brain, and beneficial forms of neuroplasticity and behavioral plasticity; some of these long-term effects include: increased neuron growth, increased neurological activity (e.g., c-Fos and BDNF signaling), improved stress coping, enhanced cognitive control of behavior, improved declarative, spatial, and working memory, and structural and functional improvements in brain structures and pathways associated with cognitive control and memory. The effects of exercise on cognition have important implications for improving academic performance in children and college students, improving adult productivity, preserving cognitive function in old age, preventing or treating certain neurological disorders, and improving overall quality of life.
Established that your overall diet and level of activity is important for your brain function, let’s have a look at the best brain diets that have been shown to increase brain function and performance: the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet, and the ketogenic diet.
The Mediterranean Diet
Most likely the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets on the planet. And the most delicious, in my opinion, but I’m Italian so I’m sort of biased 🙂
The Mediterranean diet is a concept that emerged in the 70’s after the publication of the book How to eat well and stay well the Mediterranean way by the American biologist Ancel Keys and chemist Margaret Keys which described a common eating pattern of the people living around the Mediterranean basin: Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s.
COMPONENTS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
The Mediterranean diet is characterized by:
- Olive oil as the main culinary fat
- High intake of plant-based foods (fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes and minimally processed cereals)
- Moderate-to-high consumption of fish and seafood
- Low-to moderate intake of dairy products and low intake of meat or meat products.
- It also included regular but moderate intake of alcohol in the form of red wine during meals.
This diet provides plenty of brain foods as we described above: fruits and vegetables, fish, monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil), polyunsaturated fatty acids (fish and nuts). All these foods might protect against cognitive decline.
Several studies showed that adherence to a Mediterranean diet not only is associated with better memory function and better global cognition but also lowered the risk of developing dementia and stroke (study, study, study). Interestingly, even one of the herbs highly used is the Mediterranean cuisine, rosemary, has been shown in animal models to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease (study).
What to Eat on a Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating and not a specific diet with rules and strict limitations. Despite this, there are certain characteristics of the Mediterranean diet that you can implement in your way of eating.
These are the basics of what to eat on the Mediterranean diet:
- Plant-based foods (grains, fruits, and vegetables) – EVERYDAY
- Olive oil – EVERYDAY (main cooking oil and serving oil)
- Fish and seafood – OFTEN (at least twice per week)
- Poultry, eggs, and dairy – MODERATE CONSUMPTION (daily to weekly)
- Wine – MODERATE AMOUNTS (they go with the meal, 1 to 2 glasses a day)
- Red meats and sweets – RARELY (monthly or more frequently but in very small amounts)
via Cleveland Clinic
Mediterranean Diet Grocery Shopping List
The MIND Diet
Take the field leader in Alzheimer’s disease research and make her create a diet to prevent the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The MIND diet is how this diet would look like.
Prof. Martha Clare Morris from Rush University devised a diet which is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet with the purpose of creating a strong diet that can prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
MIND DIET: DEFINITION
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet) is a diet rich in brain foods and removes potentially unhealthy foods for your brain.
What To Eat on the MIND Diet?
The MIND diet is sort of a Mediterranean diet “on steroids”. It takes the best of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet and fine-tunes it to boost mental performance.
Specifically, the MIND diet it is made of 15 food groups: 10 brain foods you should eat plenty of and 5 unhealthy foods for your brain you should avoid or limit.
Brain Healthy Foods List
- Whole grains: three or more servings per day
- Green leafy vegetables: kale, collards, greens; spinach; lettuce/tossed salad – at least six servings per week
- Other vegetables: green/red peppers, squash, cooked carrots, raw carrots, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas or lima beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, string beans, beets, corn, zucchini/summer squash/eggplant, coleslaw, potato salad – at least one serving per day
- Berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries – at least two servings per week
- Nuts: at least five servings per week
- Beans: beans, lentils, soybeans more than three servings per week
- Fish: at least once a week
- Poultry: chicken, turkey – at least two times a week
- Olive oil: use as main and only cooking oil
- Wine: one glass per day
Unhealthy Foods for your Brain List
- Red meats: less than four servings per week
- Butter and stick margarine: less than a tablespoon daily
- Cheese: less than one serving per week
- Pastries and sweets: biscuit/roll, poptarts, cake, snack cakes/twinkies, Danish/sweet rolls/pastry, donuts, cookies, brownies, pie, candy bars, other candy, ice cream, pudding, and milkshakes/frappes – less than five servings a week
- Fried or fast food: less than one serving a week
MIND Diet Meal Plan Example
Here a very simple meal plan example for the MIND diet that you can start trying right away.
How the MIND Diet Differs from the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet?
The Mediterranean and the DASH diet place a big emphasis on plant-based foods while limiting intake of meat and foods rich in saturated fat. The MIND diet does the same but places an emphasis on the consumption of brain foods such as berries and green leafy vegetables. Furthermore, the MIND diet doesn’t recommend a high fruit consumption as in the other two diets. This is due to the fact that previous studies showed that green leafy vegetables and blueberries offered the biggest protection against cognitive decline, but not other fruits. A reduced intake of dairy, potato, and fish is reduced compared to the other diets. To be honest I personally find strange the higher intake of poultry over fish.
≥6/wk (especially leafy greens)
≥2/wk (only berries)
in red the most striking differences between the two diets
(adapted from "MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease")
Does the MIND Diet Work?
One study followed 923 participants (58 to 98 years old) for about 4.5 years and found out that people that followed more strictly the MIND diet had a 53% reduction of the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Even if people didn’t follow the diet as strictly, still, a 35% reduction of the risk was produced. This is pretty impressive if you consider that, to date, there is no way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease!
I’m young, who cares about Alzheimer’s disease!
If you are young and you just want to have a brain and memory boost, you might don’t care at all about the results the MIND diet has on developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Luckily for you, the same researchers showed that the MIND diet is able to slow down cognitive decline. The brain of a person on the MIND diet looks on average 7.5 younger than the brain of a person of the same age on a regular diet (study).
This means that people on the MIND diet had better memory and brain power compared to who follows a regular diet.
Bottom line: The MIND diet is a slight variation of the Mediterranean diet which focuses on brain food. The MIND diet showed an impressive 53% reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, the MIND diet can slow down cognitive decline giving you a better memory and brain power.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is a diet in which intake of carbohydrates is severely restricted to 20-50 g/day. On this diet, the bulk of your energy comes from fat while keeping a moderate protein intake.
The diet has been proven to improve memory in patients with Alzheimer’s disease but at the moment there are no studies on the brain boosting effects of the ketogenic diet on healthy people.
On the other hand, there are plenty of reports from people gaining an incredible mental clarity on the ketogenic diet. In my opinion this is due to the fact that the brain becomes independent from carbohydrates therefore its functions are not influenced by the swings of glucose in your blood so that you can be full focused and attentive all the time.
I wrote an extensive guide on the ketogenic diet if you want to check out this potential brain boosting diet.
>> Read more: The Ketogenic diet – The Most Epic Guide on the Internet
Brain Food Diet Plan and Brain Boosting Recipes
Let’s now put everything together and devise a brain food meal plan that gives you mental energy, focus, and attention throughout the day, so that you can perform at the best of your capabilities.
If you want to feel unstoppable and limitless, consider removing processed foods from your diet and eating some of the brain foods in this post and in this meal plan.
Here you will also find brain boosting recipes that could help you keep focused and memorize faster and better. Most of these recipes are perfectly fine on the MIND diet.
Brain Food Breakfast Healthy Recipe Ideas
Brain Power Smoothie Recipe (Blueberry Avocado Smoothie Recipe)
- 2 cups blueberries
- 1 cup pomegranate juice (or any berry juice)
- 1 cup ice cubes
- 1 Tbsp. chia seeds
- 1 ripe banana, peeled
- half of an avocado, peeled and pitted
- Add all ingredients to a blender
- Pulse until combined and smooth.
- If the smoothie is too thick, add more juice. If the smoothie is too thin, add more ice.
Blueberry Walnut Memory Smoothie Recipe
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/3 cup blueberries
- 1/4 cup walnut halves and pieces
- 1/4 cup rolled oats (optional)
- 1 scoop Vanilla IdealLean Protein (optional)
- Ice as desired (optional)
- Add all ingredients to a blender.
- Blend until smooth consistency.
Brain-Boosting Breakfast Trail Mix Recipe
- 2 cups Ancient Grains + Multi Grain Cheerios (Alex note: substitute with oats or almonds)
- ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup dried blueberries
- ¼ cup dark chocolate covered coffee beans
- Mix all ingredients together so they are evenly distributed
- Serve with milk, yogurt, or all on its own.
Brain Food Lunch Healthy Recipe Ideas
Brain Power Salad Recipe (Spinach Salad With Salmon, Avocado and Blueberries)
- 8 ounces smoked salmon, roughly chopped
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
- 4 cups baby spinach (or mixed greens)
- 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/4 cup feta or blue cheese crumbles
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- half a red onion, thinly sliced
- honey chia seed vinaigrette (ingredients below)
Honey Chia Seed Vinaigrette Ingredients
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. chia seeds
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- TO MAKE THE SALAD: Toss all ingredients together until combined. Drizzle or toss with vinaigrette.
- TO MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE: Whisk all ingredients together until combined and emulsified.
Avocado Strawberry Spinach Salad With Poppyseed Dressing Recipe
- 6 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1 avocado, diced (or you can double this to 2 avocados!)
- 4 ounces crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- half a small red onion, thinly sliced
- poppyseed dressing (recipe below)
Poppyseed Dressing Ingredients
- 1/2 cup avocado oil (or any oil, such as olive oil)
- 3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. honey1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
- pinch of ground dry mustard (optional)
- salt and pepper
- TO MAKE THE SALAD: Toss all ingredients together with your desired amount of dressing until combined. Serve immediately.
- TO MAKE THE POPPYSEED DRESSING: Whisk all ingredients together until combined.
Greek Salad with Sardines Recipe
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 3 medium tomatoes, cut into large chunks
- 1 large English cucumber, cut into large chunks
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 2 tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives
- 2 4-ounce cans sardines with bones, packed in olive oil or water, drained
- Whisk lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano and pepper in a large bowl until well combined.
- Add tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, feta, onion and olives.
- Gently toss to combine.
- Divide the salad among 4 plates and top with sardines.
Brain Food Snacks Healthy Recipe Ideas (Brain Boosting Snacks)
Frozen Blueberry Yogurt Bites Recipe
- 1 pint container blueberries (about 125 blueberries)
- 1 cup vanilla, nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon stevia (or your favorite sugar substitute)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat® mat, and set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the yogurt and sweetener.
- Working in 2 batches, gently fold in the blueberries to coat in the yogurt. Scoop them up with a fork and tap the excess yogurt off.
- Place the blueberries on the baking sheet, being careful not to have them touch.
- Freeze the baking sheet until the blueberries are completely frozen, about 1 hour.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer.
Skinny Blueberry and Almond Trail Mix Recipe
- 1 cup almonds (or walnuts)
- ¼ cup dried blueberries
- ¼ cup dried cherries
- ¼ cup dried banana chips
- ¼ cup dried peaches
- Pour all ingredients into a bowl.
- Mix together and serve!
Chocolate Avocado Pudding Recipe
- 4 ripe avocados
- 1/4 cup light coconut milk
- 4 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 ounces of dark chocolate (72% or higher), melted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Remove avocados from the skin (and pit) and place in a food processor.
- Blend until combined and creamy.
- Add in all remaining ingredients, blending until pureed, scraping down the sides when needed to combine.
- Taste and season/sweetened additionally if desired.
- Blend for a good 1-2 minutes until completely creamy, then serve with desired toppings.
Brain Food Dinner Healthy Recipe Ideas
Roasted Garlic and Asparagus Recipe
- 1 Pound of Asparagus Trimmed
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- dash of salt
- 1/4 tsp of pepper
- Olive oil
- 1/4 Cup of Parmesan Cheese
- Boil a pot of water – add asparagus – remember it cooks pretty fast under 10 minutes – you know it is done when it becomes brighter green and floats to the top.
- While the asparagus is cooking in a skillet add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil – heat over medium heat.
- Add garlic — make sure to reduce the heat to medium – low. Keep stirring so the garlic doesn't burn.
- Once the asparagus is done – add to the skillet with garlic. You can add an extra drizzle of oil at this point.
- Add pepper, salt, and parmesan cheese to the asparagus.
- Heat for a couple more minutes and serve.
Lemon Rosemary Salmon Recipe
- 1 lb salmon fillet
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as a Sauvignon Blanc)
- 1/8 cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- salt, pepper
- lemon slices and rosemary to garnish
- Cut the salmon fillet into the serving sized pieces.
- Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, and brush the top with olive oil.
- Heat up a large, non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add the salmon to the pan skin side up, cover with lid, and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
- After 4 minutes, flip the salmon and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the salmon from the pan and set aside.
- To the same pan add wine, lemon juice, honey and rosemary. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of water (about 3 tbsp) and add to the sauce. Cook for another minute and add the salmon to the pan skin side up. Turn off the heat, cover the dish with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes.
- Flip the salmon before serving and garnish with lemon slices and fresh rosemary.
Shrimp, Arugula, White Bean, Cherry Tomato Salad Recipe
- 1 pound 16-20 count shelled and deveined shrimp
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 15-ounce cans cannellini white beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
- 3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 3 handfuls baby arugula leaves
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle on high heat. Add 2 Tbsp of olive oil and wait until its hot.
- Working in batches of half of the shrimp at a time, add the shrimp and sauté a minute on each side to sear. (You can also grill the shrimp if you prefer.)
- When the shrimp are barely cooked through, remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl add the drained beans, cut cherry tomatoes, diced onion, lemon zest, arugula leaves, and the shrimps.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to make the dressing.
- Gently fold the dressing into the salad and serve!
The Easiest Chopped Chickpea Greek Salad Recipe
- 1 (15 oz) can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 small red onion, chopped
- 15 grape tomatoes, halved (about 1 cup)
- 1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 1 medium cucumber, sliced and quartered
- 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled or cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 tablespon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
- Place all salad ingredients into a large bowl and toss to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano. Pour onto salad and toss again to well combine.
- Taste and add salt and pepper as you'd like.
- Place in refrigerator for 1 hour to marinate, or serve immediately. Salad is best enjoyed within 2-3 days after making.
- Serves 4 for a meal, or 6 as a side salad.
Brain Food and Brain Supplements for Vegans and Vegetarians
As vegetarian and even more as a vegan you should be aware that certain micronutrients are available only through consumption of animal products. Supplementation of certain vitamins is mandatory while other supplements are optional but can boost your mental performance significantly.
One study found that 92% of vegans and 47% of lacto-ovo vegetarians were deficient in vitamin B12. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause irreversible damages to your brain. And even having levels slightly lower than normal will cause a degradation of memory, fatigue and depression.
- Eat food fortified with vitamin B12 or supplement with it if you want to not lose your cognitive functions.
The most favorite supplements of bodybuilders worldwide you might wonder what does it have to do with the brain. Even though the muscles use 95% of the creatine in the body, the brain uses it too.
Creatine increases the energy reservoir of your brain.
Studies showed that vegetarians supplementing with creatine improve their cognitive ability indicating that they are deficient in this nutrient (study, study).
Even though your liver makes it by itself, its production is not efficient therefore you either get it by eating meat or you supplement it. It will also increase your athletic performance.
- Consider using creatine monohydrate (the cheapest and the most effective form of creatine).
Cod liver oil and fatty fishes are the only food with a significant amount of vitamin D3 which is the most active form of vitamin D. Being deficient in vitamin D (which is very common among people worldwide nowadays) is linked to several diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, depression and cognitive impairment.
- Being vegan or vegetarian you are probably not getting enough vitamin D3, therefore, consider supplementing with it.
Carnosine is a potent antioxidant found in meat. It protects neurons from oxidative damage and in fact its levels are very low in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (study) .
- Since you are not getting any meat, consider supplementing with carnosine to protect your brain from cognitive decline or worse.
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
We discussed above the importance of omega-3s in the diet. These essential fatty acids need to be taken from the diet since we can’t produce them ourselves. DHA is the most important of these omega-3s and it’s critical for human brain development.
If you are taking flax seeds to supplement omega-3s, you should know that these contain ALA, whose conversion to DHA in our body is very slow and inefficient.
- If you are not eating fatty fish, consider supplementing with fish oil or with algal oil.
By now you should know even more than your doctor about which foods to eat to boost your brain power and memory. To be a top performer and always have the focus and attention you need, don't forget to include brain foods in your daily menu!
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