Food can do a lot of wonderful things – it can help give you energy, it can help comfort you when you’re not feeling well, and it can even be a great excuse for a social gathering. But food also does something else that not many people talk about: it powers up your brain.
Nutrients in food are important for preventing disease and managing weight, but they also have an effect on your mood, your focus, and your overall brain functioning.
“Foods high in omega-three fats and antioxidants are the best brain-boosting and brain-healing foods,” says Sara Ansari, RD. Foods high in antioxidants and other nutrients that help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation are beneficial for overall brain health, but the opposite holds true for foods high in sugar and other unhealthy chemicals.
“Junk foods have a negative effect on our brain health,” says Beth Warren, RD. “An intake of a lot of simple sugar at one time floods the bloodstream, crosses over into the brain, and leads to that temporary, ‘sugar rush,’ she says. “It is short-lived and then leads to a ‘sugar crash,’ leaving us fatigued with low energy.
You’ll be impressing everyone with your smarts in no time by eating (and drinking) more of these foods.
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Wild-caught salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat for brain health. “Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and help with cell membrane communication,” says Ansari. These nutrients can act as antidepressants, improve memory, and prevent cognitive decline.
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Blueberries are filled with antioxidants and phytochemicals that fight off oxidative stress that could affect the brain as you age. “Blueberries have been shown to help with diseases that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia,” says Ansari. Studies have found that the berry’s natural chemicals help fight off brain-cell death, which can help improve your memory as well as motor coordination.
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Like salmon, walnuts are another source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they are also full of other important vitamins and nutrients that help fight brain aging. “Walnuts have more antioxidants than any other nut,” says Ansari. Studies have shown that walnuts can help improve your memory, fight off depression, and increase your focus.
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This heart-healthy fruit not only tastes delicious, but it contains a variety of nutrients such as folate, monounsaturated fat, and potassium that all work to improve brain functioning. Avocados can help lower blood pressure, protect nerve cells in the brain, and improve areas in the brain related to planning and critical thinking.
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This cruciferous vegetable is high in choline, vitamin K, and folic acid, three nutrients that play a critical role in memory, cognition, and mood. Eating broccoli can help boost your focus, improve your episodic memory, and fight off negative emotions.
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Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that not only gives the fruit its red hue, but is responsible for improved mood, better memory, and a decline in aging. Cherry tomatoes are your best bet when it comes to brain benefits, as they contain the most lycopene in their skin.
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Chocolate is not only good for the soul, but it’s also good for the brain! Eating dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa and higher improves blood flow to the brain, helping in areas such as memory, verbal fluency, and improved mood.
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Ever drink a cup of coffee and felt like you could conquer the world? The caffeine in coffee not only helps with focus, but it can improve thinking skills and memory. A cup of joe can also help fight off degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. “One study showed that those who drank 3-5 cups of coffee per day reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 65 percent compared to those who drank less than 2 cups,” says Warren.
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9. Whole Grains
“Foods that have fiber hold onto the sugar molecules longer, so they don’t flood into the bloodstream,” says Warren. “They fuel the brain at a more steady pace.” Whole grain carbohydrates also help boost your serotonin levels, keeping your mood upbeat and steady.
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