We all know that our brains needs to be kept happy so they can run our bodies properly, but did you know that there are brain boosting foods that may help improve memory, focus and concentration?
We’re told that having a balanced diet, eating breakfast, drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly are all key to keeping your brain and body in a happy state of equilibrium.
But there are some magical ingredients that can increase our chances of maintaining healthy cognitive function later in life, thanks to their brain boosting food combinations of minerals and nutrients.
Brain boosting foods – 7 foods to try
We grilled Rob Hobson, a registered nutritionist and head of Healthspan Nutrition, to find seven of the best for getting more mental mileage.
Like the rest of your body, your brain needs energy to function. To be able to focus, the central organ of our human nervous system requires glucose, which our body converts into energy in the blood. So how do we obtain it? Primarily, by breaking down carbohydrates.
However, not all carbs are made equal: there are the simple carbohydrates that come in the form of sweets, cakes and everything your dentist told you not to eat, and then there are carbohydrates rich in fibre like wholegrains. It’s the latter that are true brain boosting foods.
Hobson explains: “Wholegrains not only add essential nutrients to the diet, but they support the regulation of insulin and lessen the promotion of inflammation and oxidative stress that studies have shown may impair brain function.” Your brain is running a marathon, not a sprint, so opt for wholemeal bread, brown rice and pasta, legumes, nuts and oats (carbs that release energy slowly) to keep your brain running consistently.
2. Oily fish
Oily fish contains essential fatty acids (ETA), a source of brain brilliance that isn’t found naturally in the body. Hobson explains, “Over half of the brain is made up of fat and about half of that is omega-3. The richest source of these fatty acids is derived from oily fish and they help to build brain and nerve cells, which are essential for memory and learning.” Oily fish can include salmon, sardines, trout, herring and mackerel. For vegetarians, omega-3 can be found in plant based foods such as flax seeds, chia seeds and soybeans, but not to the same quality or quantity as found in oily fish – so you may want to consider a supplement.
Scrambled, fried, poached, boiled; served with spinach, sausages, baked beans or toasted Marmite soldiers to dip into your runny egg – the options are endless for an egg-based breakfast. As well as being delicious, Hobson notes that eggs contain an all-important component in the form of choline: “This micronutrient is used by the body to make acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate memory.”
Recommended: How to make Tom Kerridge’s Shakshuka breakfast eggs.
Nuts have a lot going for them; they’re packed with protein, fibre, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and monounsaturated fats and are ideal brain boosting foods. Experts suggest you plump for the wise walnut and the astute almond, both packed with brain boosting goodness, with walnuts also being a valuable source of omega-3. They both contain vitamin E, which Hobson says can “shield cell membranes from free radical damage, which may help to slow mental decline.”
5. Pumpkin seeds
Not only do pumpkin seeds contain the fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, they’re also a rich source of magnesium and zinc. Zinc has many benefits to the body, including proper functioning of the immune and digestive systems, and it’s also linked to improved learning and memory in the brain.
6. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate, or particularly cocoa, contains antioxidant plant compounds called flavonoids, which Hobson says “gather in the areas of the brain that influence learning and memory.” So next time you’re cramming in the library or trying to fight your post-lunch slump, reach for the sweet stuff – it’s one of the nicest tasting brain boosting foods!
The blueberry, often referred to as a superfood, has been researched for its potential brain health benefits. Hobson notes, “These vibrant fruits contain anthocyanin’s, which act as antioxidants, protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation.” They are also a good source of vitamin C , which is always desired in the brain headquarters.
Recommended: Blueberry health benefits – how to eat more blueberries to lower blood pressure.
So next time you need an extra boost to power you through a Monday morning meeting – dig in.