Superfoods For Your Brain
Many of us take for granted just how much we depend upon the brain until something goes wrong… like the inability to focus, low energy, nervous system problems, or even early signs of dementia. So let’s start paying attention right now.
We can start by feeding our brain some superfoods.
Superfoods seem to be the health buzzword of the 21st century – but there’s a reason for it. Not all foods are equal. We intuitively know this to be true. An apple and a donut are not going to nourish your body in the same way.
But even in the realm of good foods, some are better than others. These are your superfoods, the best of the best when it comes to nutrition, health, and overall wellness.
Superfoods are nutrient dense – filled with macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids. They act medicinally and heal our bodies.
I’m going to introduce you to 8 brain-boosting superfoods. Nothing here is earth shatteringly new – I’m sure you’ve heard of/eaten most of these items before. But it is important to remember to come back to these superfoods time and time again. Your brain will thank you.
But First – Why the Brain?
Our brains are essentially the CEO of our entire bodies. It makes the decisions, tells everything else what to do, and troubleshoots when problems arrive.
When your brain isn’t happy, nothing’s happy. We have to treat it well. Eating these superfoods are one step we can take to boost our brain health, which includes things like:
- Higher energy
- Better focus
- Sharper memory
- Improved learning
- Increased cognitive abilities
- Reduced brain disorder risk
- Enhanced hormones
- Balanced moods
- Boosted overall health
- And much more
Let me be clear: 100% of the brain superfoods on our list help many other parts of our bodies too. Some are great for clearing inflammation; others are immune system boosters. The list goes on and on. That’s how powerful these superfoods are.
(Head’s up. You’re going to see a lot of fat on this list. This makes total sense when you know that the brain is about 60% fat. Gone are the fat-free and low-fat days. Rid yourself of that harmful way of thinking. Good, healthy fats are exactly what the brain and body need to thrive.)
Where We Sourced Our Superfoods List
We didn’t choose these superfoods out of thin air. The list I’m offering you below has been sourced from four of the top holistic health sources on the internet:
- Dr. Axe
- Dr. Mercola
- David Wolfe
- Mark Sisson
As you will see, I have also included information about how frequently each brain superfood appeared on one of these health expert’s lists.
Mentioned by 3 of the 4 experts
No surprise we’re starting with salmon – I’m sure everyone has heard what a source of health it really is. Outside of being high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, the real brain power of salmon comes in the form of its fat. Salmon is incredibly high in omega-3 fatty acids, one of the most important substances for your heart, brain, and immune system.
Our bodies are supposed to have a happy balance between omega-3s and omega-6s. Unfortunately, the Western diet greatly jacks up the omega-6s and deplete the omega-3s. This leaves most people with cellular inflammation and other health problems (1).
One of these fishy omega-3s is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It is essential for brain health. DHA makes up the membrane of your brain cells, which protects them from injury and inflammation. Membranes are important. They’re like a coat of armor.
DHA can also improve your mood and alleviate mental health disorders. If you avoid these DHA sources, your brain will never work the way it’s capable of (2).
Yet none of us make DHA on our own; we have to get it from food sources. As you age, your brain’s DHA decreases (one of the reasons old age is often equated with cognitive and memory disorders like Alzheimer’s and reduced brain volume) (3). Our already desperate need for DHA goes up even more.
The moral to this story: eat more salmon.
The key is to only buy wild-caught Alaskan salmon. If you purchased farmed salmon, you may actually do more harm than good due to increased toxins. Plus, the DHA levels are greatly reduced in the farmed or engineered options (4).
P.S. Don’t like salmon? Some other high-DHA fish include anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and tuna.
Mentioned by 3 of the 4 experts
Avocados have become quite trendy over the years, and thank goodness they have! These green fruits help us absorb nutrients better, aid in stopping inflammation, increase our potassium levels, and supply us with the healthy fat content many of us are missing: monounsaturated fats, which lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk (4).
Plus, they’re filling, creamy, and easy to incorporate into many dishes. Winning all around!
Bringing avocados back to our brain superfood perspective… they are a massive brain booster (5).
- Avocados improve brain cell membranes, protect brain cells, and improve signaling
- Avocados help with your brain’s blood supply and oxygenation, which can stop nerve damage and improve the prefrontal cortex
- Avocados reduce the chance of hypertension-induced stroke (thanks to their ability to lower cholesterol!)
- Avocados may be able to even reduce the number of seizures someone has
Interestingly enough, avocados are one of the safest conventional fruits around thanks to the thick skin that blocks the pesticides. (4). If you’re struggling to afford 100% organic food, this can be the one to let slide. Slice them up as a simple side.
3- Grassfed butter
Mentioned by 3 of the 4 experts
Not that many years ago during our society’s fat-free craze, butter was made out to be the enemy of all things. This mindset was wrong, plain and simple. Butter is good for you, but only the right kind of butter. The key is to use organic butter from grassfed cows.
Grassfed butter has higher nutrients and fatty acids, including linoleic acid which fights disease, and it’s not genetically modified like toxic margarines or popular GMO butters (6,7).
One of the biggest reasons to eat more (grassfed!) butter is to improve your heart health (ironically, one of the worst ways to harm your heart is to eat margarine – the substance we replaced butter with for so many years!) (8).
Then we get to our brains. Butter can (9,10,11,12):
- Decrease inflammation
- Increase your vitamin A consumption (essential for optimal cognitive function)
- Boost your energy
- Rebuild the brain
Your best option is to look for raw or unpasteurized organic, grassfed butter. This can be heard to find, but you may have luck at a farmer’s market. If not, pasteurized organic grassfed butter is the next best thing (4). Put it back into your cooking routine – even add some to a bowl of oatmeal or hot cup of superhuman coffee.
Mentioned by 3 of the 4 experts
It’s no secret that berries are major superfoods. They’re high in lots of different vitamins, fiber, minerals, and plenty of phytonutrients essential for optimal health (1).
They are also some of the lowest sugar fruits, so you don’t get that sugar spike after eating them like you could with a high sugar fruit (like a banana).
Now, when we talk about the power of berries, we often focus on their antioxidant benefits and how they improve our immunity. But antioxidants are powerful brain protectors too. Berry antioxidants can:
- Protect brain cells from damage
- Prevent brain inflammation
- Improve cognitive abilities
- Strengthen coordination and motor control
Plus, their bioactive compounds can actually reduce your risk of brain degeneration (4, 14).
Go nuts with your berries. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc. – they are all going to provide you with these same brain antioxidant benefits. I add them to my morning smoothie, enjoy a handful as a snack, and incorporate them into salads, healthy desserts, and even savory dinner dishes.
Mentioned by 2 of the 4 experts
Coconut oil is a miracle worker that does just about everything – from fighting heart disease to taking off your eye makeup at the end of a long day (my wife has used it many times for this!). As you can see, literally everything. No wonder it’s considered a superfood!
But we’re not stopping at coconut oil for this list. All sorts of coconut products including kefir, full-fat milk, and butter are a part of this brain boosting superfood group.
Outside of tasting amazing, these coconut products offer such diverse health benefits. They are antimicrobial and insulin stabilizing. They support the thyroid and provide antioxidants.
Coconut products can serve every single body system you have (14). Of course, this includes your brain. Coconut has been shown to (15):
- Reduce neurodegeneration
- Fuel healthy brain function
- Combat neurotoxins
- Create ketones as brain fuel
Side note: Science has shown that omega-3s (go back to that fatty fish!) are more effective when taken in conjunction with coconut oil!
The options are endless for incorporating coconut into your diet. I often like to drink coconut milk. Coconut milk and coconut kefir are fabulous in a smoothie, and coconut oil is actually really nice in your coffee.
Mentioned by 2 of the 4 experts
Eggs are obviously high in protein (the breakfast of bodybuilders!), but they are also high in fat, amino acids, iron, vitamins, carotenoids, and…
…choline, an incredible essential nutrient for the brain! Here’s why it’s great:
Choline produces acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that improves memory. In fact, research has shown that those with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of memory loss often have acetylcholine deficiencies (2)
Choline is also responsible for boosting mental health and happiness. Talking about superfoods for the brain would not be complete unless we touched on fetal brain development, and the choline egg yolks is once again a big help (15)!
And don’t be so worried about eggs elevating your cholesterol. Recent studies are showing they shouldn’t harm healthy adults. If you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about the appropriate use of eggs.
In order to call an egg a superfood, we have to be picky and choosy about the type of egg we use. Make sure you’re buying organic, free-range eggs. By the way, cage-free doesn’t always mean much of anything in the terms of marketing. So go organic/free-range each time (4).
Mentioned by 2 of the 4 experts
Almonds are one of the best little snacks you could ask for. Of course, they’re super high in healthy fats, but they are also a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and more (2).
Two almond nutrients in particular – riboflavin and L-carnitine – prevent a decline in cognition and improve neurological activity.
In fact, eating almonds is associated with a lowered risk for brain disorders that stem from inflammation – dementia being one of them (16). But there are plenty of other fatty nuts that support brain function as well:
- Walnuts: Reverses some brain deterioration associated with age, as well as increases the brain’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory capabilities
- Macadamia Nuts: Lowers blood pressure and helps prevent stroke – both of which can have far-reaching negative brain effects (Going back to fetal development, macadamia nuts have been shown to be good for early brain development and function too!)
- Pistachios: Prevents brain inflammation and keeps that helpful DHA at the right levels
I’m all about keeping my health and wellness journey simple whenever possible, as simplicity tends to keep me on track. Though there are tons of recipes to include these nuts into creative dishes, a good palmful for a mid-day snack is perfectly fine by me.
8- Bone Broth
(This is one of our own!)
Our final superfood is not one we sourced from a list, but one we believe in so whole-heartedly we couldn’t leave it out: bone broth.
First off, know bone broth is not stock. This superfood has been simmered long and slow from the actual bones – often marrow bones – of chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc. This is where all the goodness resides.
Bone broth is powerful for boosting immunity, improving gut health, detoxifying the body, promoting healthy metabolism, and much more.
And the nutrients we gain from simmering these bones improve learning abilities and sharpen memory (17). Here are a few specific ways bone broth is a brain superfood. I’ve broken it down by two ingredients found in the broth (18,19,20):
- Glycine: Prevents neurons from dying after a stroke; helps with fetal brain development
- Chondroitin sulfate: Regenerates the central nervous system
You can reap these benefits from whole food bone broth (which you can make yourself on the stove or in an the Vita Clay, which we love!) as well bone broth protein powder. The protein powder choice is a great way to soak up those benefits even when you don’t have a batch of homemade bone broth ready.
Getting More Superfoods for the Brain
When you treat your brain well, you’re treating your whole body well. Making great diet choices is actually one of the easiest ways to go about doing that. It’s far less stressful to have half of an avocado and organic egg for breakfast (instead of sugary cereal) than it is to seek medical care for poor brain function or brain disorders.
So let (super)foods be thy (brain) medicine!
Your turn to talk to me! How often are you eating these superfoods for your brain? One of the best ways to make sure you get these brain superfoods regularly is to incorporate them into simple and satisfying recipes. What are your favorite ways to eat these 8 superfoods? Share your thoughts and meal ideas with the community by leaving a comment below.
- Dr. Axe, (2018). Top 10 Superfoods: What’s in Your Diet? Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/top-10-superfoods-whats-in-your-diet%E2%80%A8/
- Sisson, Mark, (2007). Best Brain Foods. Retrieved from:
- ScienceLine, (2014). Why is salmon good for your brain? Retrieved from: http://scienceline.org/2014/03/why-is-salmon-good-for-your-brain/
- Dr. Mercola, (2017). Superfoods That Give You the Most Bang for Your Buck. Retrieved from: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/03/20/17-superfoods-cost-saving-nutrition-boosting-tips.aspx
- Roizman, Tracey, DC for SFGate, (2018). Avocado & Brain Function. Retrieved from: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/avocado-brain-function-6231.html
- La Terra, S., Marino, V. M., Manenti, M., Licitra, G., & Carpino, S. (2010). Increasing pasture intakes enhances polyunsaturated fatty acids and lipophilic antioxidants in plasma and milk of dairy cows fed total mix ration. Dairy Science & Technology, 90(6), 687-698.
- Dhiman, T. R., Anand, G. R., Satter, L. D., & Pariza, M. W. (1999). Conjugated Linoleic Acid Content of Milk from Cows Fed Different Diets1. Journal of dairy Science, 82(10), 2146-2156.
- Gillman, M. W., Cupples, L. A., Gagnon, D., Millen, B. E., Ellison, R. C., & Castelli, W. P. (1997). Margarine intake and subsequent coronary heart disease in men. Epidemiology, 144-149.
- Sabatino, A., Morera, R., Ciccocioppo, R., Cazzola, P., Gotti, S., Tinozzi, F. P., … & Corazza, G. R. (2005). Oral butyrate for mildly to moderately active Crohn’s disease. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 22(9), 789-794.
- Dr. Axe, (2018). 7 Benefits of Grass-Fed Butter Nutrition. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/grass-fed-butter-nutrition/
- Olson, Christopher R., Mellow, Claudio V., (2010) Significance of vitamin A to brain function, behavior and learning. Mol Nutr Food Res. 54(4): 489–495 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3169332/
- Northrup, Christiane, M.D., (2014). Eat Butter to Protect Your Brain. Retrieved from: https://www.drnorthrup.com/eat-butter-protect-your-brain/
- The Atlantic, (2012). The Benefits of Berries to the Brain. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/the-benefits-of-berries-to-the-brain/255262/
- Wolfe, D. (2010). Superfoods: the food and medicine of the future. North Atlantic Books. Full Text PDF: http://godnaturalcures.com/Superfoods.pdf
- Dr. Axe, (2018). 15 Brain Foods to Boost Focus and Memory. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/15-brain-foods-to-boost-focus-and-memory/
- Dr. Axe, (2018). 9 AmazingBenefits of Almonds Nutiriton. Retreivied from: https://draxe.com/almonds-nutrition/
- Kresser, C. (2017). The Bountiful Benefits of Bone Broth: a Comprehensive Guide. Retrieved from: https://chriskresser.com/the-bountiful-benefits-of-bone-broth-a-comprehensive-guide/
- Gusev, E. I., Skvortsova, V. I., Dambinova, S., Raevskiy, K. S., Alekseev, A. A., Bashkatova, V. G., & Yakovleva, E. V. (2000). Neuroprotective effects of glycine for therapy of acute ischaemic stroke. Cerebrovascular Diseases, 10(1), 49-60.
- Legendre, P. (2001). The glycinergic inhibitory synapse. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 58(5), 760-793.
- Galtrey, C. M., & Fawcett, J. W. (2007). The role of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans in regeneration and plasticity in the central nervous system. Brain research reviews, 54(1), 1-18.