7 Brain-Boosting Foods

From Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS.

We all know that there are foods that are good for our heart, bones and digestion, but did you know that there are certain foods that can boost our brainpower? It’s true, and the secret to improving neurological function can be directly traced to the gut-brain connection.

In this exciting field of study, researchers have discovered that, in addition to housing around 80% of the body’s immune system, the gut also produces hormones that enter the brain and directly influence cognitive function. So, ultimately, the key to staying focused on a task a work, understanding and processing difficult information or even recognizing when you’ve had enough to eat, is ensuring that the gut is healthy and receiving the proper nutrients it needs to dictate the health of the rest of your body.

And the superfoods listed here won’t just keep your gut healthy. They will also provide energy and direct protection from brain-related disease, thanks to their high levels of antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. So if you’re interested in being good to both your body and your mind in the New Year, these seven foods will help you do just that.

Avocados

Avocados are known to improve cognitive function, especially memory and concentration. The fatty acids in avocadoes also play an important role in regulating central nervous system functions and cognitive processes because they help to balance hormones naturally. That means that eating avocados can actually improve our mood and relieve feelings of depression.

Additionally, avocados improve blood supply and actually oxygenate your brain, which helps to prevent nerve damage and oxidation that can lead to disease. And the phytonutrients present in avocados—particularly polyphenols and flavonoids—are important anti-inflammatory compounds that affect every part of the body, including the brain.

Blueberries

With high levels of vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and other antioxidants, blueberries are chock full of health benefits, including the ability to boost brain power. This distinction is due partly to the fact that blueberries are known for being one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world. They also contain a high amount of phenols, including gallic acid. Gallic acid serves as a neuroprotective agent, protecting our brains from degeneration, neurotoxicity and oxidative stress. Research shows that the consumption of berries is associated with reduced or delayed development of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ischemic diseases and aging effects.

Bone Broth

The amino acids found in bone broth promote the production of chemicals and hormones that help us to sleep more soundly, think clearly, stay motivated, remember information and make decisions. Glycine, one of the amino acids present in bone broth, is used as a therapeutic agent for improving sleep quality, and it helps to lower symptoms of anxiety, improve mental performance and enhance memory.

Protein powders made from bone broth also allow us to easily obtain important electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium and sodium, which help to boost our energy levels and cognitive function.  

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil works as a natural anti-inflammatory food by suppressing the cells responsible for overactive immune responses, including those in the brain. It can also help with memory loss as we age and effectively destroy harmful bacteria that inhabit our gut and can throw off the gut-brain connection.

In addition, the digestion of coconut oil and other medium-chained fatty acids by the liver creates ketones that serve as readily accessible energy for the brain. Ketones supply energy to the brain without the need for insulin to process glucose into energy. This is particularly important for people with Alzheimer’s disease, as they have lost the ability to create their own insulin, and the ketones from coconut oil create an alternative source of energy to help them repair brain function.

Wild-Caught Salmon

Salmon is one of the most nutritious, brain food-friendly foods out there. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon help to improve memory and keep the brains running smoothly.

Extensive research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, protect the brain against Parkinson’s disease. In fact, in North America, the average intake of DHA is between 60-80 milligrams per day, while experts recommend a daily minimum of 250 milligrams per day. By increasing our consumption of wild salmon, we are reducing the risk of developing serious cognitive diseases. The vitamin A, vitamin D and selenium in salmon also protect the nervous system from age-related damage and can even act as an antidepressant.

Walnuts

Walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids and support our memory and thought processing. Research shows that walnut consumption enhances neurotransmitter function and provides protection against brain damage. Walnuts are also high in antioxidants, vitamins (vitamin B6, folate and thiamine) and minerals, including manganese and magnesium, that improve mental alertness.

Dark Chocolate

Saving the most tasty brain food for last, dark chocolate is full of flavonoids that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The flavonoids present in healthy chocolate penetrate and accumulate in the brain regions involved in learning and memory, especially the hippocampus. And research shows that long-term flavanol consumption positively impacts neurocognition and behavior, including age- and disease-related cognitive decline.

Want more from Dr. Josh Axe? Read his guide to foods that make you feel crappy or check out the best foods for building muscle here.