No matter how often we may neglect our own better judgment, most of us know that what we put into our bodies has a direct impact on how we feel. But what about how we think? Are there brain stimulating foods that can turn us into Einstein the way spinach transformed Popeye into a Herculean beast?
The truth, though perhaps not quite as extreme, is a resounding yes. The mind-body is a single, flowing mechanism, so it only makes sense that what influences the body will also influence the mind.
The typical diet is a reflection of the typical lifestyle: one more situated in convenience and immediate satisfaction rather than health and long-term investment. But if we’re to perform at an elite level, both physically and mentally, we must also adopt an elite diet.
So, what are some ways we can do this? Where do we start?
Roll up your sleeves and prepare to dig in because the answer is both delicious and enticing.
Brain Stimulating Foods That Work
Fancy Your Fats: Amazing Omega-3’s
According to research, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our brain health for a number of reasons. One study in particular found that people who do not consume adequate levels of omega-3’s in their diets actually have a smaller brain volume and perform considerably lower on IQ tests as compared to those who do.
This is because approximately 8% of the brain’s total weight is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids, the storehouse for an estimated 100 billion neurons. People who love their omega-3’s quite literally have larger and higher-functioning brains.
Omega-3 fats have also been shown to strengthen neural connections in our brain resulting in a more efficient flow of information. Also boasting antidepressant and neuroprotective properties, adding more omega-3’s into your life should be a no-brainer.
Numerous studies have linked low levels of EPA and DHA (two types of omega-3’s) to depression and even suicide. Patients with deficient levels of omega-3’s in their red blood cell membranes have been shown to have a reduction in the mechanism which transports serotonin (the “happy neurotransmitter”) at nerve cell junctions.
In fact, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to stand up to head-to-head comparison with fluoxetine (more popularly known as Prozac) in the selective reuptake of serotonin.
Supplementing with a high-quality fish oil or cod liver oil can do wonders, but we want to make sure we’re getting a good amount of our omega-3’s from our everyday diet.
Omega 3’s can be found in foods high in polyunsaturated fats. Some of these include fresh fish (especially sardines and salmon), chia seeds, flaxseed, nuts, and egg yolks among others. I’d like to point out that the walnut also bears an uncanny resemblance to the human brain.
Coincidence? I think not.
Get Your Green On
What if I told you that researchers tracked 950 adults over a 5-year period only to find that the ones who consumed higher amounts of spinach and kale had an incredibly slower rate of cognitive decline?
Well, believe it.
In fact, those who ate one to two servings per day of these dark, leafy greens actually displayed the mental sharpness of a person 11 years younger. It turns out that all the amazing minerals found in green leafy vegetables not only work wonders for the body, but also for the mind.
Who would have thought? Maybe you, if you’d been eating your veggies.
Our leafy greens are also gracious enough to offer us three particular vitamins: B6, B12, and folic acid, which happen to be essential vitamins for the brain. According to an Oxford University study, these three vitamins work synergistically to improve mental function, reduce brain atrophy, and dramatically reduce brain shrinkage in the area most affected by Alzheimer’s.
The powerful antioxidants found in our dark and delightful greens combat free radicals (unstable molecules which cause disease) in the brain much like they do in the rest of the body. In the brain, however, they have an especially potent neurodegenerative effect.
Not much of a salad connoisseur? No worries. Homemade green smoothies can be an excellent alternative to fork-and-knifing it. I’ve written an extensive A-Z article with everything you need to know about green smoothies. Click the link below and give it a read if you’d like to get started on some green drinks of your own.
So, as it unfolds decades later, if your mother told you to eat your veggies, she was probably right.
Your Brain on Berries
Berries display some amazing properties for overall health, but you may not be aware of how brightly they shine when it comes to upping your mental mastery. The powerful antioxidants found in berries do much more than just fight off free radicals.
Studies have shown that consuming a moderate amount of blueberries dramatically slows memory and motor coordination impairments that accompany natural aging.
What’s more, berries (and blueberries in particular) also work to slow general cognitive decline and improve brain health. The phytonutrients contained in berries have been shown to improve communication between cells making you sharper, quicker, and more mentally powerful.
Though blueberries are often put in the spotlight when it comes to wellness, strawberries, blackberries, and other berry fruits are amazing as well.
So do yourself a favor and eat a variety for the best results.
Also Check out Thrive Cuisine’s article on berries for more in-depth information on the science and nutritional values of including berries in your diet.
Your Brain Loves Water
Our level of brain function and our hydration habits are directly linked. Not only does dehydration cause problems with focus, memory, sleep, anger, depression, and more, but keeping ourselves hydration plays a huge role in our overall health.
The typical diet acts to dehydrate us more than anything, and most people are not drinking nearly enough water. The fact that our bodies are over 70% water should lend the notion that maybe we should be taking our dehydration epidemic a little more seriously.
The brain itself is approximately 85% water, and water is essential for the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. In the simplest terms, when your brain has a full reserve of water, you will think faster, be more focused, and experience much greater creativity and mental clarity.
As critical as H2O is to our think machines, our brains have no way to actually store water. This is why it’s essential to keep ourselves hydrated and replenished on a regular basis.
Want a couple tips to keep yourself optimally hydrated? Drink a couple glasses of water as soon as you wake up in the mornings. Not only is it essential to get your body (and brain) hydrated early in the day, but doing so will help set up the momentum to continue quenching your thirst all day.
Keep in mind, water quality is just as important as water quantity. Investing in a good filter or filtered pitcher can go a long way. Fill up your pitcher, then pour the filtered water into a large jug or container. This way you’ve got an abundance of fresh, clean water at your fingertips all day long.
Bonus Tip: Intermittent Fasting
You’ve learned which foods can be great for transforming you into a high-octane genius, but what about your eating patterns? You may have heard of intermittent fasting before, so what exactly is it and what can it do?
In short, intermittent fasting involves eating your meals within an 8-hour window (for example, between noon and 8:00PM), then fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day. This practice stems from the idea that our bodies are biologically designed to eat in unpredictable cycles of feast or fast, long before modern refrigeration and food preservation.
Intermittent fasting improves many metabolic functions important for brain health and performance including a reduction in oxidative stress, reducing inflammation, and a reduction in insulin resistance.
It also increases the production of a hormone known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Decreases in BDNF levels are linked to depression and a variety of other brain-related problems.
We must also recognize that digestion takes a huge toll on our body’s processes. In fact, digestion and mental processing are two of the biggest energy-draining processes in our bodies.
If less energy and less blood is being used for the digestion of food, more resources can be allocated to our brain for optimal functioning.
So, skip breakfast and opt for some water and tea instead. You might just thank me later.