7 Foods Scientifically Proven to Make You Smarter

By Christa Avampato on 30 January 2015 1 comment

It's well established that the brain uses more energy than any other organ, accounting for up to 20% of the body's total energy needs. Feed your hungry brain these foods to keep it buzzing along at its optimal speed. (See also: 6 Foods Science Says Are Actually Making You Dumber)

1. Avocado

This creamy fruit is a staple for many meatless dishes and for vegetarians and vegans who don't eat meat. It's unique among fruits because it is rich with high-quality protein and fats, compounds we typically associate with meat and dairy. It's good for the brain (and the body) because it aids blood circulation. Scramble it in eggs, mash it up to spread on toast, or slice it and sprinkle with a little salt, black pepper, and turmeric for a savory breakfast or snack.

2. Fresh or Frozen Blueberries

Blueberries prove that good things come in small packages. When it comes to brain health, research says they stave off a number of diseases such as Alzheimer's, enhance learning, and improve motor skills. They're very high in fiber, and though they have a touch of sweetness, they don't spike blood sugar. But make sure you use fresh or frozen blueberries. Dried blueberries often have sugar added and aren't as healthy. And since they have a fairly short growing season, substitute cranberries, pomegranates, cherries, grapes, and blackberries for many of the same health benefits.

3. Salmon

We know salmon makes our skin glow and it's very heart healthy. It's also highly beneficial for our brains because of its omega-3 fatty acids. This healthy fat has been found to enhance memory (and therefore fight memory-related diseases brought on by aging), elevate mood, and reduce depression. This makes it a winner of a meal any time of year, especially in the winter when the short days and long nights can cause us to to feel blue.

While farmed salmon is cheaper, I suggest opting for wild salmon whenever possible. You'll pay a bit more for it, but it has a much higher level of omega-3s than farmed salmon, so you don't need to eat as much to get all of the health benefits. If salmon isn't available or it's too expensive, tuna is a great alternative and it has vitamin B6, another vitamin important to brain health. Eggs are another option for vegetarians or for people who don't like fish.

4. Seeds and Nuts

Toss them in oatmeal or on top of salads, spread them on toast or fruit, and incorporate them into trail mix and baked goods. Seeds and nuts give us fiber like fruits and veggies, and protein like meat and dairy. This helps give our brains an energy boost and it keeps that boost going throughout the day. When it comes to brain health, the vitamin E and magnesium makes seeds and nuts especially valuable. Be careful to avoid sweetened nuts and nut spreads that are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar. Best bet for nut butters — make your own in a food processor or at the dry goods stations in grocery stores like Whole Foods. All nut, no additives.

5. Coffee and Tea

What? Your morning brew of coffee and tea makes you feel good and is good for you? You betcha! Along with that kick of caffeine that gives you a noticeable and often immediate charge, both beverages have fiber and antioxidants, and they've been shown to aid memory and stall aging in the brain.

But there are some dos and don'ts when it comes to coffee and tea. Do make it free-trade, organic, and fresh. Don't drown it in sugar and heavy dairy, and don't have more than two to four cups per day. To add a bit of sweetness and get an added health benefit, I like to sprinkle in a warming spice like cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg. You can also use a sweetener like stevia or agave nectar that is a much better alternative than granulated sugar because these alternatives don't spike, and then crash, your blood sugar. Spikes and crashes in blood sugar actually cause damage to your brain.

6. Oatmeal and Brown Rice

The high amount of fiber in oatmeal and brown rice keeps our hearts healthy and our blood pumping, and what's good for the heart is good for the brain. Oatmeal also has the added benefits of protein and omega-3, so it's an especially important food for vegans and vegetarians. Also, oatmeal lends itself to adding so many other brain-healthy foods like blueberries, seeds, and nuts, and it pairs perfectly with a steaming cup of coffee or tea.

7. Dark Leafy Greens

Whether you like kale, spinach, arugula, or romaine, get your greens every day. Blend them up in smoothies, make them a base for your salad, or chop them up in a stir-fry. They're an excellent fuel for your whole body, and what makes them so valuable for your brain is their high iron levels without the fat and calories that come from many kinds of iron-rich meat. When we're iron deficient, our thinking gets clouded and our memory dulled. Healthy iron levels enhance our learning abilities and give us the energy needed to get the most out of life.

Are you getting enough of these delicious brain foods?

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Guest's picture
Sue O'Kieffe

Agave is not a good substitute for sugar. It has a higher fructose content than high fructose corn syrup.