These brain power foods give the brain the nutrients it needs to work like it should. Add these brain foods to your diet for better cognitive and mental health.
A brain-healthy diet might not look much different than what you are eating now.
But as with many things in life, the devil is in the details.
Here are 7 simple ways to add brain power foods to your diet — turning it from one that is doing little for your brain to one that can really boost your memory, mood, and more.
Most of these changes require no extra time and only a little effort on your part, with no sacrifice in flavor.
Give Your Brain an Oil Change
We’ve been led to believe that seed-based cooking oils like canola, soy, safflower and sunflower are the healthiest oils for everyday use.
But in fact oils with long histories like coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil are much better for your brain and overall health.
Seed-based oils are a major source of omega-6 fatty acids which contribute to chronic inflammation which is bad news for your brain.
Coconut oil is a unique brain food due to its medium chain triglyerides (MCTs).
Coconut oil’s MCTs can bypass glucose metabolism, delivering energy straight to your brain cells.
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You can use coconut oil in the ways that you have previously used vegetable cooking oils — for sauteing, roasting, frying, or baking.
Coconut oil is one of the few foods that fluctuates between being solid and liquid at room temperature.
So don’t use it in cold foods like salads where it solidifies into lumps.
Here you can use extra virgin olive oil instead.
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You may have heard it’s not safe to cook with olive oil, but that’s a myth that’s been debunked by science.
One study heated olive oil at 180 degrees Celsius for a whopping 36 hours with no degradation in quality. (16)
Go Wild with Fish
Fish has a reputation as a brain power food, but not all fish are equally good for your brain.
The best fish for the brain are wild-caught, cold water, fatty fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel.
These are high in brain-essential omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the omega-3 fat DHA.
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For the first time in history, we now eat more farmed fish than wild-caught fish.
This has serious consequences for the health of our brains.
- Atlantic mackerel (US or Canada)
- Sardines (US, Japan, or Spain)
- Wild salmon (Alaska)
Much of the salmon sold in supermarkets and restaurants is labeled “Atlantic salmon” but don’t be fooled by this.
Salmon labeled “Atlantic” is always farmed salmon. (20)
Action Item: Switch from farmed fish to wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
Eat Naturally Raised Meat
At one time, all the meat we ate came from animals that spent their lives grazing on wild grasses and other natural omega-3 food sources.
But since World War II, most meat comes from animal factories where livestock are fed unnatural diets of mainly corn and soy.
In some of the worst case scenarios, these animals are fed roadkill, plastic, and even candy.
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Animals fed like this won’t have much, if any, omega-3 fatty acids in their meat.
Grass-fed beef and bison, pasture-fed pork and lamb, free range chicken and their eggs, and wild game contain significantly more omega-3s than their mass-produced counterparts. (22)
Action Item: Switch to grass-fed meat, pasture-raised pork and lamb, and free range poultry and eggs.
Eat Food Grown Close to Home
You might believe that organic, locally grown produce is more nutritious than what you pick up at the supermarket.
And you’d be right!
On average, your fruit and vegetables travel 1,500 miles from harvest to plate and a lot of nutrition is lost along the way. (23)
Today’s produce contains appreciably less vitamins and minerals than that grown 50 years ago. (24)
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According to 343 studies, organic produce contains more nutrients than commercially grown. (25)
Even super foods like kale and spinach lose half their nutrition within a few days after harvest. (26)
Any time you can grow or forage your own food, find locally grown food at a farmer’s market, or choose organically grown food, it will contain more nutrients.
And that’s good news for your nutrient-hungry brain.
Action Item: Eat organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables as much as possible.
Indulge in the Best Kinds of Chocolate
Don’t you love it when something so delicious is also good for you?
The more chocolate seniors eat, the lower their risk of dementia. (30)
Eating chocolate can make you happy!
It’s the main food source of anandamide, a neurotransmitter known as the “bliss molecule.” (31)
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If you already eat chocolate, try upping the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate you eat.
70% is a good place to start.
Both are significantly less processed than even the highest quality dark chocolate bars and contain no added sugar.
Action Item: Include dark chocolate, cocoa powder and cacao nibs in your diet as a brain-healthy snack.
Use More Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices not only make food interesting and delicious, they can have significant medicinal and therapeutic value.
Several are particularly beneficial for your brain.
Turmeric is a superstar as a brain power food.
Curcumin, turmeric’s main active ingredient, is a potent antioxidant that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier to protect your brain from free radical damage. (32)
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People who traditionally eat a lot of turmeric have the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s. (37)
It’s thought to ward off this disease by reducing brain inflammation and breaking up brain plaques. (38)
Other spices that improve brain function and protect the brain from aging include ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cloves, black pepper, curry, garlic, saffron, and vanilla.
The fragrant herb rosemary has been associated with memory ever since William Shakespeare wrote “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
Other herbs with significant brain boosting power include basil, chives, oregano, parsley, sage, and thyme.
Action Item: Include more brain-boosting herbs and spices in your diet.
Upgrade Your Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are toxic for your brain.
They are neurotoxins which, in excess, literally stimulate brain cells to death!
Dump artificial sweeteners completely if you care about your brain.
Processed sugars go by many names — white sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and more.
Eating a little sugar once in a while probably won’t do you much harm, but most of us consume way too much of it.
The average American eats over 150 pounds of various forms of refined sugar.
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Eating too much sugar causes brain fog, memory loss, and learning disorders.
It can alter attention span, short-term memory, and mood.
Continually elevated blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance in the brain which some experts think is the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s.
Sugar can even change your brainwave patterns, making it hard to think clearly. (43)
So what sweeteners are healthier?
My favorite sweetener is stevia.
It comes from the leaves of the stevia plant and gets its sweetness from a non-caloric protein.
It doesn’t raise blood sugar or create an insulin spike. (48)
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Be careful though when choosing stevia. Some brands contain things like sand or sugar.
Truvia, the most popular brand of stevia, contains other compounds and very little stevia. (49)
I use SweetLeaf brand stevia which tastes great and is all natural stevia.
I use stevia mainly for sweetening drinks, like homemade lemonade (with lemons from my tree).
When I make healthy desserts, I use brown rice syrup, unfiltered honey, or maple syrup in moderation.
Brown rice syrup is made from sprouted rice and contains no fructose.
You can find it at most health food stores.
Honey was used medicinally by ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and is used in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. (50)
It contains some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and is antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antiseptic. (51)
For the most health benefits, buy the raw, unfiltered, cloudy kind, not the clear stuff you’ll find at the grocery store.
Maple syrup is not much different from sugar, but it does contain some minerals and is surprisingly rich in antioxidants. (52)
Action Item: Ditch artificial sweeteners completely. Greatly reduce your consumption of refined sugars. Switch to stevia and use liquid sweeteners like honey sparingly.
For more information on diet and brain health, read our article 12 Brain Foods That Supercharge Your Memory, Focus & Mood.