What foods might make you smarter? Truth be told, there are a lot of foods that may improve learning, understanding and memory. Intelligence, memory and learning rely on many factors, including physical activity, sleep and food.
I’ve listed 7 foods that may strengthen your brain function today, and promote long-term brain health for tomorrow. While the brain-boosting properties associated with these food elements may strengthen your brain function, they have not been proven to do so in controlled studies. Nevertheless, all of these foods add healthy nutritional components to your diet.
Take note of your food allergens and discard them from your personal list of brain-boosting foods—but read about them, because I’ve made a point to list some alternative foods.
Flavonoids, the health promoting pigments in plants that give them their color, may help improve memory, learning and general thinking, while slowing down the age-related decreases in mental ability and memory. Blueberries are chock full of flavonoids.
Quick Tip: Blueberries are incredibly convenient and versatile. Include them on cereal, mixed in salads, quick breads, pancakes, and yogurt parfaits, or just grab a handful. Any form will do: fresh, frozen, dried, or freeze-dried.
Eating olives regularly may lead to less brain deterioration over time. This is due to the mono-unsaturated fat contained in olives. These healthy fats are incorporated into all cells and may promote the transportation of more oxygen to the brain. Saturated fats (from meats, dairy sources, and fried foods), on the other hand, may stiffen cell membranes.
Quick Tip: Use olives as a snack food, as a side dish in lunch boxes, or as a pre-dinner appetizer. Include them in casseroles, Mexican fare, salads, atop pizza and more!
If you aren’t allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, eating nuts may help preserve your brain function. Why? Because nuts are a source of mono-unsaturated fat and vitamin E, both of which may protect the brain from degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. How do they do it? They squelch those brain cell-damaging elements called free radicals.
Quick Tip: A little goes a long way! Make sure to pay attention to portion sizes when eating nuts. You can include nuts as a cereal or yogurt topper, as a stand-alone snack, or on top of salad or cooked veggies. If you are allergic to nuts, try using seeds instead. They may offer similar brain benefits.
Another common food allergen, fish may be off limits for some individuals, but for those who can eat fish, fish may have some incredible brain benefits. For one, eating fish regularly seems to have an effect on brain size (mass). Regular consumption of fish may also slow the brain aging process. Last, the oils (omega-3 fatty acids) present in fatty fish may help enhance problem solving, concentration, and memory.
Quick Tip: If you aren’t allergic to fish, get the fish habit started and work toward the ideal amount of fish consumption, which is equal to 2 servings per week of fatty fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel, trout). Even eating 1 serving per week is better than none at all! Limit the consumption of mercury-containing tuna to 6 ounces per week. If you’re allergic to fish, try these foods instead: olives, olive oil, avocado and nuts.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? This may be the best news you’ll hear all day: dark chocolate may increase blood flow to the brain, and improve thinking and mood. Why? Those cocoa flavanols (phytonutrients naturally found in the cocoa bean) and caffeine do the trick.
Quick Tip: Be choosey about sweets—if you’re eating them, choose sweets such as dark chocolate that add to your overall health.
Turns out that guacamole isn’t so bad for you after all! Avocadoes are naturally rich in healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), which may improve blood flow to the brain. More blood to the brain may mean enhanced brain ability.
Quick Tip: Mash avocado on sandwiches in lieu of mayonnaise, chop it into cubes as a finger food, or serve a halved avocado with a spoon and a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt. You can also use avocado in your baking, such as in avocado-based brownies.
Choline is an important nutrient in the development of the memory center, which is a process that occurs during the first 6 years of life. One egg yolk has about 200 milligrams of choline, which meets or nearly meets the needs of children up to 8 years. Men need 550 mg choline per day, while women need 425 mg choline per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. Eggs are one of the richest sources of choline in the diet, in addition to an array of other nutrients.
Quick Tip: Chicken liver, sockeye salmon and quinoa are alternative sources of choline should you need to avoid eggs.
Joneja JV. The Health Professional’s Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances.