As we grow older, our cognitive functioning gradually declines. Many people choose nootropics for boosting their cognition. However, using these supplements alongside a diet that feeds your brain will lead to optimal results. If you’re searching for ways on how to improve memory, or want to know the best brain food, read our guide on how to eat for cognitive functioning.
Does Food Impact Your Brain?
Many foods you consume can feed your brain, resulting in cognitive enhancement. In many ways, feeding your brain is just like feeding the rest of your body. There are certain foods that are packed with brain nutrients to aid memory loss, cognition, alertness, focus, recall, and mood.
Additionally, brain impairment has been associated with oxidative stress. When oxidative stress occurs, molecules known as free radicals’ cause inflammation in the brain. This leads to brain aging and many neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
Oxidative stress is the result of an imbalance in the production of reactive oxygen and detoxification processes in the body. This leads to oxidative damage to molecules, proteins, and genes.
There are several ways to reduce oxidative stress, including consuming specific foods and vitamin E.1
Saturated Fat and The Brain
Foods with saturated fat result in elevated blood levels of low density lipoprotein cholesterol which clog your arteries and increase the risk of heart disease. Research has suggested that saturated fat may also be bad for your brain. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who ate more saturated fat performed worse in memory and thinking tests than women who ate less saturated fats.2
High cholesterol diets may enhance beta-amyloid plaque formation in the brain, leading to damage in brain cognition. Many people suffering from Alzheimer’s have increased amounts of these plaque clusters.
What to Avoid
Before we look at the best foods to eat for cognitive enhancement, let’s consider what you should avoid if you want cognitive enhancement.
The Best Foods for Cognitive Enhancement: How to Improve Memory, Recall, Focus, Alertness, and Mood
Spinach is packed with an antioxidant called lutein which protects the brain from free radical damage. Increasing your lutein levels helps to improve learning, memory and cognition. You can easily add spinach to salads, pasta dishes or smoothies. If you’re looking for additional lutein sources, try kale and egg yolks.
Cocoa is another brain food which is packed with antioxidants called flavanols. This type of antioxidant has been found to boost learning and memory, with one study suggesting that the combination of cocoa and exercise is particularly effective for improving cognition.3 Cocoa can be added to a hot drink, dessert or smoothie.
Turmeric is bursting with an antioxidant called curcumin. This antioxidant may prevent plaque formations developing in the brain. Additionally, curcumin boasts powerful anti-inflammatory effects to help prevent varying neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Curcumin may be able to improve memory as it can increase a growth hormone called BDNF which works in the brain.4 Turmeric can be easily added to meat dishes or vegetarian meals.
Avocado is packed with vitamin E, lutein, and monounsaturated fats. A study has shown that avocados may improve brain health in older adults.5 This research studied 40 adults aged 50 and over who consumed one avocado each day. The results demonstrated a significant increase in memory and problem solving. Avocado can be added to eggs on toast, salads, and hot meals.
Oily fish, such as salmon, contain omega 3 fats which have often been associated with cognitive enhancement and a reduced risk of suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.6 Additionally, you can gain omega 3 fats by eating flax or chia seeds as these are rich in alpha-linolenic acid which converts into omega 3 fatty acids in the body. These can simply be added to breakfasts, smoothies, and salads.
Eggs are rich in a vitamin B called choline. This has been associated with improving memory and overall cognition. Eggs also contain folate, as well as vitamin D. A study in Finland found that men who consumed, on average, one egg per day had a reduced risk of dementia and performed better in tests on cognition.7
Blueberries can protect the brain from oxidative stress to reduce the risk of suffering with a neurodegenerative disease. Blueberries have also been shown to improve learning and memory in older adults.8 Consume blueberries daily by adding a cup to your breakfast or smoothie.
Coffee may protect people against the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Coffee is packed with caffeine which improves cognition by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine which can decrease mental stamina. Additional research has also found that caffeine may hinder gene pathways linked to systemic inflammation.9 It’s best to drink coffee in the morning to avoid any sleep interference.
Wholegrains don’t directly affect the brain. However, wholegrains are excellent for boosting heart health to enhance blood flow. This means blood flow to the brain is improved for cognitive enhancement. Add wholegrains to your diet by eating brown rice, wholegrain bread and wholegrain cereal.
What About Consuming Cognitive Enhancement Drugs?
Cognitive enhancement drugs, also known as nootropics or ‘smart drugs’, are highly effective for cognitive enhancement, including improving memory loss, alertness, learning, and recall. Nootropics should ideally be consumed alongside a good diet for maximum cognitive enhancement. Both natural and synthetic nootropics can be used to improve your cognition, however, the one that you choose will depend on your preferences and needs. You can also ‘stack’ nootropics together (use more than one nootropic together) for significant results.
If you’re looking to prevent memory loss, boost learning or aid cognitive enhancement, try eating a diet rich in the ‘brain foods’ mentioned above. Eating these alongside the consumption of nootropics will significantly improve your cognitive functioning.
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