Your brain, just like the rest of your body, depends on a well-balanced supply of nutrients to work at peak efficiency. Diet has an enormous impact on your mood and cognitive abilities, reports "Psychology Today." For healthy brain functioning, choose foods that enhance your memory, mental clarity, thinking and learning.
Whole Grain Carbs
Your brain and nervous system need energy to function well, and carbs are the energy source of choice. Not all carbs are created equal, though. Choose whole grain carbs such as whole wheat pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole grain breads and cereals instead of the highly refined “white” varieties. Whole grains provide needed energy in the form of glucose slowly and steadily, giving your brain a constant supply of the energy it needs for concentration and focus. As an added benefit, whole grain foods are excellent sources of B-vitamins. Folate and vitamins B-6 and B-12, in particular, have been shown to have a significant impact on mood and overall cognition.
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and cod are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, known brain function enhancers. Omega-3s are an important component of brain cell membranes, contributing to nerve connectivity that plays a role in learning and memory. Because your body isn’t adept at making the most plentiful omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, it must be supplied in the diet. If you are not a fan of fish, add walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and canola oil to your diet for a healthy omega-3 dose. Fish oil supplements are another option, but research the brand you choose carefully -- not all contain the same level of active ingredients.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy green veggies like kale, spinach and Swiss chard are excellent sources of iron, a mineral essential for healthy brain development. "Eating Well" notes that even a slight deficiency of iron can cause memory, attention and learning difficulties. Other rich food sources of iron include liver, lean red meats, raisins and iron-fortified cereals.
To improve your memory and learning ability, blueberries can’t be beat. Why? Blueberries contain an abundance of flavonoids, antioxidants that help prevent your cognition from slipping as you age, reports "Scientific American." Other good sources of flavonoids include tofu, strawberries, cocoa, tea and wine.
Coffee – yes, coffee – contains caffeine, which has beneficial effects on brain function. Caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential for maintaining alertness. Dopamine has the reputation of being a “feel good” chemical, responsible for the pleasurable feelings experienced after eating, making love or exercise.
- British Broadcasting Corporation: 10 Foods to Boost Your Brain Power
- Psychology Today: What Is Good Brain Food?
- Nature Reviews Neuroscience: Brain Foods: The Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function
- The Discovery Health Journal: 5 Foods That Prevent Brain Deterioration
- Health Guidance: Natural Brain Food – What Food Is Good for the Brain?
- Understanding Nutrition: Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes
- Scientific American: Your Brain on Blueberries: Enhance Memory with the Right Foods [Preview]
Sue Roberts began writing in 1989. Her work has appeared in such publications as “Today’s Dietitian” and "Journal of Food Science." Roberts holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University, a Master of Public Health in nutrition from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Science in food science from Michigan State University. She is a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist.