There’s no magic bullet to ensure you ace every presentation or plow through your to-do list, but what you eat can certainly help. Though an overall adequate diet is recommended, certain nutrients, or brain foods, are especially important to optimal brain function.
Overall adequate dietary fat, fat that naturally occurs in food and is used by our bodies to promote our growth and development, is important to the health of our brains, as it is needed to build and maintain healthy brain cells.
Eating enough fat is also important in terms of helping the body absorb certain nutrients, such as fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Without the presence of fat, these and other vitamins are unable to dissolve and thus cannot be processed by the digestive system.
Some sources still emphasize unsaturated sources, such as fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds, but more recent studies have looked at the potential benefits of saturated fats in coconut oil, as well as those in full-fat dairy products.
Top 10 Brain Foods That Help Boost Performance
Eggs provide protein, omega-3s, choline, and vitamins A and D, a virtual treasure trove of needed nutrients.
Salmon is rich in omega-3s, protein, tryptophan, and vitamin B-12, which helps keep your body strong and resistant to disease.
Walnuts have omega-3s that are thought to help boost brain function, and the fiber and protein will help you stay full, preventing overeating and unhealthy weight gain.
Avocados provide monounsaturated fat and vitamin B-6, and are also high in potassium, which may help keep concentration-killing headaches at bay.
Blueberries, blackberries, and cherries are all rich in flavonoids that may promote good memory function. The antioxidants in berries are thought to help keep the mind sharp.
Coffee You don’t have to give up your morning cup! Caffeine increases dopamine in the brain in areas that relate to focus and perception of fatigue – just try to keep it under 3-4 cups of coffee per day, or 300-400 mg or caffeine. The flavonoids in coffee are also thought to have a protective effect on mental function.
Flax is a great vegetarian source of omega-3’s and also provides a lot of fiber. Try ground flax meal in oats or yogurt.
Kiwi is another plant-based source of omega-3’s, and it also happens to be packed with fiber and flavonoids
Kale is rich in folate, fiber, and flavonoids.
Quinoa is technically a seed but used as a whole grain. It’s rich in protein, fiber, iron, and B-vitamins.
Chocolate provides numerous antioxidants, along with a little caffeine. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the bigger boost you’ll get. Just keep portion in check – a few pieces are great but a few bars would be too much of a good thing!
Cheat if you feel you need it, stock up on brain supplements, though remember that they do the job but aren’t as healthy as these nutrients in their natural form.
Top Brain Supplements That Help Boost Performance
Omega-3 fatty acids (fats that are uniquely adept at improving bodily functions like blood clotting) are important for basic, overall cognitive function and the prevention of decline. Studies have also linked low omega-3s with depression and ADHD, which can put a damper on concentration and productivity. Find it in fish, flax and chia seeds, kiwi, and walnuts.
Folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 in particular, key brain supplements, play an important role in overall neurological function and have been tied to preservation of memory and cognition. When your mother talked to you about eating 'brain food' before a big exam, this is exactly what she was talking about!
Folate is found in many vegetables (especially in dark, leafy greens), fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy products, meat and poultry, eggs, seafood, and grains. Good sources of vitamin B6 include fish, poultry, organ meats, fruit, and potatoes, along with other starchy vegetables. Fortified cereals (General Mills and Kellogg's both produce several forms of it) are also a common source. Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal products like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as in marine vegetables like seaweed.
If you’re dealing with the effects of 'brain fog,' a little Vitamin D might clear things up a bit. This fat-soluble nutrient preserves cognitive function, improving your ability to concentrate and remember. You can find it in fatty fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified products – in fact, just being in direct, mid-day sunlight for ten minutes each day will help your body produce Vitamin D. If you’re looking to feel a bit brighter, perhaps the sun would be a good influence on you!
Vitamin E also helps improve cognitive function, as well as the health of your skin and hair – it’s hard to beat both beauty and brains. Good sources include asparagus, avocado, nuts, peanuts, olives, seeds, spinach, vegetable oil, and wheat germ.
Choline is a mineral involved in numerous body processes and has been studied for its potential to reduce memory impairment. Good food sources include egg yolks, chicken, veal, beef, and soy.
Adequate iron intake is needed to promote efficient red blood cell function, which helps keep you alert as well as healthy. Good sources include red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, and beans.
Flavonoids are plant-based compounds that have powerful antioxidant properties, and they’ve been studied for their role in the enhancement of brain function. They’re found in a lot of fruits and vegetables as well as in green tea, coffee, cocoa, wine, and dark chocolate.
Be sure to also eat carbohydrates – the body requires glucose to function, and carbs are the body’s preferred source. Just stick to slow-burning complex sources, such as beans, whole grain, and starchy veggies, all of which have more fiber than refined grains like white bread.
What To Eat Before A Big Day
Ideally, consume a balanced meal before a big exam, meeting, or presentation:
A combination of protein, fat, and complex carbs will break down slowly to keep your blood sugar, energy, and focus on an even keel for hours. An ideal meal might include fish for iron and protein, spinach for flavonoids and Vitamin E, and beans for carbohydrates and fat.
Start making small changes today and become the best version of you!