The best foods for your brain – to improve memory and focus

9 minutes reading time

Taking good care of your brain should be an important part of your healthy lifestyle strategy. In today’s creative society, smart is the new sexy.

Your brain has enormous potential to create, innovate, analyze, learn, and perform different respected, well-cherished and paid intellectual tasks. That’s why you want to squeeze the maximum potential out of your brain, even with the diet.

Your IQ might be more or less fixed, but there are so many ways how you can get more out of your brains:

  1. By mastering learning skills you can become dramatically more productive student
  2. By optimizing your working memory you can be more creative and work with more pieces of information at the same time
  3. With constantly learning new things you have a chance to develop greater crystalized intelligence
  4. By repeatedly performing specific intellectual tasks (playing chess, practicing IQ tests etc.) you get really good at that tasks
  5. And then we have the good old diet…

Now, eating brain foods won’t double your smarts, but it might fine-tune your mental performance just a little bit. Most of all, you will have more energy to perform mental tasks during the day.

Imagine your brain like a high-end car that needs the best gas and oil. Your brain deserves the best, like you do with all the other things in life.

Taking good care of anything in life (computer, home, body, brain, relationships etc.) increases its longevity and makes it work better. That is one of the best practical advice ever – take good care of things in your possession.

Taking good care of your brain with proper foods will increase the chances of your brain staying healthy with aging, it will prevent cognitive decline and you will make sure its performance is maximized.

The great news is that foods which benefit your brain are also good for your health in general. That means you should eat them anyway.

In addition to a healthy diet and brain foods, there is one more thing that will greatly benefit your brain, and your general health– exercise. So don’t forget to exercise and make sure that the foods listed below are on your platter daily. Your brain and body will be super happy.

The best foods for your brain

The big picture of why certain foods are good for your brain

Before we go to specific foods, let’s look at the big picture of why a certain food brings benefits to your brain. The foods good for your brain more or less consist of either:

  1. Many healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon), since the brain is your fattest organ (and for ketones).
  2. Antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (blueberries, olive oil, green veggies) that have an anti‑inflammatory effect and help the brain to get rid of different toxins.
  3. Complex carbs that are transformed into glucose and provide fuel for your brains (oats, legumes).
  4. Gentle stimulants that boosts your focus (dark chocolate, green tea).
  5. Many best foods for your brain combine several of these nutritional ingredients mentioned above.

Knowing that, there are several things you want to achieve by eating brain foods:

  • Provide a steady flow of fuel for focus and concentration, without any major sugar spikes.
  • Make sure the brain gets all the macro- and micronutrients to create, protect and repair brain cells.
  • Add micronutrients that might help slow down cognitive decline with age.
  • Keep proper blood circulation that supports the brain’s nutritional, hydration and oxygen needs.
  • Stay healthy in general, as this also leads to a healthy brain.

Although you should eat brain foods every day, you should also be careful not to eat too much of them. Everything becomes toxic in excess, even the healthiest things.

Healthy fats are packed with calories (being in caloric surplus will make you fat), some fruits with sugars (you will get energy crashes or carvings) and you can get quickly addicted to any stimulants (caffeine, sugars – you won’t be able to function without them). So please keep moderation in mind.

It’s not like you’ll become twice as smart if you eat more of these foods. Have a few (3 – 5) moderate portions (a piece of fruit, a palm of nuts etc.) of any food from the list daily as part of your meal plan, and you will be well off.

In every meal, include one of the brain foods, that’s it. There are no real additional benefits beyond that.

The 10+ best foods for your brain that you must eat daily

And now, here they are. The 10+ best foods for your brain that you must eat daily in order to stay super smart and to maximize your intellectual potential:

Nuts and seeds

Nuts & seeds

If you look at a walnut, what does it remind you of? Brains, exactly. That’s because nuts and seeds are an awesome food for your brain, especially due to high levels of healthy fats and Vitamin E that prevents cognitive decline.

No wonder that a big pack of nuts is also called student’s food (at least in many European countries). There are so many different types of nuts to choose from and they taste delicious. The only downside is that nuts are filled with calories.

Here is a simple rule to follow. Eat one palm (10 – 15) nuts per day. They can be walnuts, almonds, pistachios, brazil nuts, cashews, it doesn’t matter. Peanuts (they are technically legumes, not nuts) aren’t as good as other types of nuts so make sure you don’t eat only them.

Go for variety. Also, make sure that nuts you eat are organic, raw and unsalted. You want to eat food that’s processed as little as possible.

Besides nuts, seeds are also great for your brain. They don’t come as handy as nuts, but there is one very practical and tasty way to consume seeds – add them to your salad. You can buy a seed salad mixture made of sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds and other seeds.

They will make your salad super tasty (and you should eat a salad every day anyway). Oh, and flax seeds or chia seeds are a great option for you to mix in your green smoothie.

Blueberries super healthy

Blueberries – you can call them brainberries

Research shows that blueberries are packed with antioxidants (flavonoids) that protect your brain from oxidative stress. They contain a lot of fiber as well as vitamins A, K and C.

Besides that, they taste delicious and are packed with a low amount of sugar (which is rare for such delicious food). It’s best to go for fresh blueberries, but you can also use frozen ones.

A study (unfortunately done only on rats) has shown that blueberries slow down the decrease of learning capacity and motor skills that comes with age. Another study showed that blueberries may reverse memory loss. Make nuts and berries your favorite snacks for a super healthy brain.

Broccoli is good for brains

Broccoli & Green Leafy Veggies

Broccoli is my favorite food. Like walnuts, broccoli kind of looks like a brain, just in green. Broccoli is full of vitamins A, C, K, choline, folate, fiber and antioxidants – all good for your thinking organ.

But here’s the main thing, broccoli has high amounts of glucosinolates and acetylcholine, which make the nervous system work properly by preventing neurodegenerative diseases.

While broccoli is my number one green food, we must not forget about other green foods packed with vitamins A, K, folate, lutein and other antioxidants. Spinach, kale, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, they are all super beneficial to your health and your brains.

Once again, nature gave you a hint – Brussels sprouts look like small brains that will superpower your brain. A single serving of leafy green vegetables each day may help keep dementia away.

Salmon - Healthy fats

Wild salmon and other oily fish

Wild salmon is a premium source of healthy fatsOmega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are essential for a healthy brain. Firstly, your brain consists 75 % of water and then your brain is made 60 % of fat.

Omega-3 fats are a structural part of brain cell membranes and nerve cells. They work anti‑inflammatory and are linked to high alertness, improved cognition and memory, and improved mood. Besides that, wild salmon has high amounts of magnesium, vitamins B and D, choline and zinc.

You only have to make sure that the salmon is really wild and not farmed. The best way is to eat it steamed or lightly grilled, to preserve as many healthy fats as possible.

As a good alternative to salmon, you can also go for sardines, trout or mackerels. When you’re choosing, just make sure you choose the wild ones with low mercury levels.

Avocado - The ultimate superfruit

Avocados – the green powerhouse

The number one superfood are avocados. Some scientists claim that the avocado is the most perfect food. Same as nuts, they are filled with health fats (and low sugar amounts) that make the blood run smoothly and consequently lower your blood pressure.

Better blood circulation means healthier brains, of course. They are also good for your eyesight, so you will be able to read more even in the old age. Avocados are rich in vitamins A, B, C and K and folate, all good for your health.

Avocados are a great core ingredient for a green smoothie, but you can also add them to a salad, make guacamole or eat them au naturel if you like the taste.

One downside is that avocados are packed with calories, so make sure you eat them in moderation. It can also be quite hard to find a perfectly ripe avocado. Nevertheless, make sure avocados have an important place in your diet.

Complex carbs

Complex carbs – oats and beans

Your brain runs on glucose or ketones, depending on your diet. If you aren’t on the keto diet, you need a steady flow of glucose to your brain.

The best way to do that is to eat complex carbs filled with fiber and with a low GI/GL (Glycemic Index and Load). That makes sure you don’t have any insulin spikes and energy crashes.

Besides a well-functioning brain, complex carbs will provide you with steady levels of energy in general, good digestion and metabolism, you will feel fuller for a longer time than when eating simple carbs (white bread, sweets, etc.) and your nervous system will be calmer, since sugar makes you anxious and hyperactive.

Examples of healthy complex carbs are:

  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Beans, lentils and peas
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Chestnuts

Berries and chocolate

Green tea & dark chocolate

Green tea is a beverage filled with antioxidants that flush away all the toxins that are very harmful to your brain and body. A cup of green tea also has a small amount of caffeine and theine that boost focus and mood when you need to get the most out of your brain.

You should just make sure you don’t get addicted to the stimulants and abuse green tea (or coffee for that matter). Also make sure you drink green tea between the meals, not with them, since green tea prevents absorption of some micronutrients like iron.

Limit green tea consumption to one or two cups per day, just before you start working on the mentally most demanding task of the day. Also, don’t drink green tea too late if it messes with your sleeping pattern.

Adding a piece of dark chocolate can further boost your brain performance. Dark chocolate is full of flavonols, which are antioxidants and work anti-inflammatory. But make sure you go for dark chocolate, not the regular one. The darker the chocolate is, the more health benefits you will enjoy.

Other healthy foods for your brain

Here are a few other healthy foods for your brain that you can add to your meal plan:

Olive & Coconut oil: Make sure you use olive oil when you make yourself a salad. Olive oil improves memory and helps prevent cognitive decline. It’s a great source of healthy fats, vitamins K and E, and many other antioxidants. Coconut oil is also great for your brain (creating ketones), besides helping you burn fat.

Beets & Carrots: They both contain high levels of luteolin, which could reduce age-related cognitive decline. Beets improve the blood flow, which is essential for a healthy brain (everything that helps heart and blood circulation also helps the brain). And carrots will help you with sharp eyesight, which you especially need for long reading hours.

Celery & Rosemary: Celery contains more than 20 anti-inflammatory compounds that help the brain function properly. And rosemary has a great reputation for boosting memory, because it improves the blood flow to the brain.

Eggs: Eggs are packed with healthy fats, protein, vitamin B12, minerals and choline. Choline has an important role in keeping the memory strong. Eggs have a bad reputation because of the cholesterol, but your brain needs it to function properly. Just make sure you eat free-range eggs. By eating two to six eggs per week, you will enjoy all the health benefits eggs provide.

Drink enough water

Drink enough water

The last advice for keeping your brain healthy and your attention span strong with a proper diet is – drink plenty of water. 75 % of your brain consists of water, so being hydrated is extremely important for your brain to work properly.

Dehydration causes a decline in attention span, reasoning ability and overall cognitive function. Drinking enough water will also flush toxins out of your body. Drink plenty of water, a cup of green tea every day, and forget about sodas, fruit juices and other sugary foods and drinks.

Now you know what to eat to keep your brain healthy, focused and fresh.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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