Science Says Eat These 17 Brain Foods for More Focus and Memory

By Roy Krebs

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Your digestive system supplies your brain with all the nutrients to perform at its best.

Its also responsible for making neurotransmitters that determine the quality of your memory, focus, and overall cognitive function. [1]

Give it the nutrients it needs, and your brain can protect itself against symptoms of chronic inflammation such as brain fog and mental fatigue as well as disease and degeneration.

So what brain foods should you eat to keep your most essential organ performing at its best?

Read on to learn my top 17 foods to eat for a better working brain for life.

Brain-Foods-Quote-1

What types of nutrients does the brain need for power?

Your brain needs antioxidants, essential fatty acids (EFAs or omega-3's), and a range of vitamins and minerals.

  • Antioxidants protect brain cells from free radicals that come from stress, poor nutrition, and pollution.
  • Essential Fatty Acids support communication between nerve cells and improve concentration and memory.
  • Vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K and magnesium boost memory, improve brain function, and help prevent stress and anxiety. Many are used by the brain to create enzymes that help each of these processes function better.

By eating foods rich in brain-boosting nutrients we help ensure that our thinking is clearer, our memory is sharper, and our brain health is secured as we age.

The 17 Best Brain Foods

17 Brain Foods

Avocados

These fruits contain some of the healthiest monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) on the planet.

MUFAs help stabilize blood sugar, support healthy skin and promote blood flow to the brain and body.

Avocados also contain vitamin K and folate which help prevent blood clots in the brain and improve cognition. 

Avocados also contain the amino acid tyrosine, which is used to make dopamine, a brain chemical that is promotes feelings of motivation and confidence. [2, 3]

Related: Could You Have a Dopamine Imbalance?

Beets

Beets are a one of the highest sources of nitrate - a compound known to improve blood flow to the brain.

For example: one study found that drinking beetroot juice 3 times per week made the brains of older people perform better and more closely to a younger brain. [4]

Studies have also shown beets to be effective at lowering blood pressure, comparable to the ability of some prescription medications. [5]

Beets can also help increase physical endurance by increasing nitric oxide production.

Blueberries

Blueberries contain two very important compounds that are known to improve brain function:  anthocyanins and pterostilbene.

These antioxidants have strong neuroprotective effects, and have been shown to reduce behavioral deficits in people who suffer from age-related cognitive decline. [6, 7]

Blueberry concentrate has been shown to increase blood flow, brain activation, and working memory in adults compared to placebo [8].

Brain-Food-Blueberries

Related: 11 Proven Ways To Generate More Brain Cells Improve Memory, and Boost Mood

Bone broth

Bone broth is rich in amino acids proline and glycine.

These less common amino acids have been shown to boost immunity and support your memory.

Studies show that improvements in brain function have been reported due to high levels of glycine – an amino acid derived from collagen protein. [9]

Bone broth is also has powerful healing properties in the digestive system, joints, skin and your brain.

Broccoli

Broccoli is a rich source of vitamin K and choline, two nutrients that keep your memory functioning well. 

Broccoli is also high in glucosinolates which are compounds that slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for memory formation and mental processing.

Low levels of acetylcholine are linked with:

  • Poor concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Brain fog

Broccoli also contains a potent compound called sulforaphane that has been shown to:

  • Improve mood and alleviate depressive symptoms and reduce anxiety in animal studies.
  • Improve short term and spacial memory
  • Increase neuronal and synapse repair [10]

Chocolate

The flavanols in cacao powder have been shown to improve cognition in young adults and protect from cognitive decline in the elderly. [11]

Chocolate can also improve your mood!

Consuming dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa) has been linked to a better mood via an increase in “feel good” brain chemicals known as serotonin and dopamine. [12]

If you really want to maximize the benefits, go for 100% cocoa powder or add a tablespoon of raw cacao nibs to your next Total Brain Health Smoothie.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are processed differently than other types of fat.

MCTs break down into ketones, which the body and mind can use for immediate fuel. 

When the body relies on fat (ketones) for fuel instead of glucose, some research shows that this may have a potent neuroprotective effect, able to prevent or even reverse serious brain illness. [13]

Related: The Beginner's Guide To Low Carb High Fat Diets

Eggs

Egg yolks

Eggs are also good source of B-vitamins and folic acid which reduce the amount of homocysteine in the blood.

High levels of homocysteine have been linked to stroke, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s.

Egg yolks are also one of the best food sources of choline, the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which promotes faster mental processing and memory formation.

Related: Choline Deficiency: How Not Getting Enough Impacts Your Body and Mind

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects the brain from free radicals later in life, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disease.

Psychology Today reported that lycopene "regulates genes that influence inflammation and brain growth." [14]

Tomatoes are also linked with reduced risk of some cancers.

Fermented foods

Gut bacteria are responsible for the formation of over 30 neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, and GABA.

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tamari, and miso promote healthy levels of good bacteria in your gut.

If you don’t maintain healthy levels of good bacteria you may be prone to memory and focus problems as well as anxiety and depression.

I recommend taking a good prebiotic complex to help optimize gut bacteria.

Oily fish

Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are essential supporting healthy nerve cells and cell membranes. [15, 16]

EFAs also prevent chronic brain inflammation that can cause Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss as well as depression, anxiety, and brain fog.

Oily fish also contain vitamin-B12 which is essential for a healthy brain and nervous system. 

Choose wild-caught fish as this contains less mercury and fewer chemicals than farmed fish.

Brain-Foods-Fatty-Fish

Related: 5 Reasons Why Krill Oil is the #1 Omega 3 Supplement For Brain Health

Green leafy vegetables

I tell everyone that green leafy vegetables should be the foundation of everyone's diet.

Vegetables like spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, and romaine lettuce are rich in antioxidants and B vitamins that are important for brain development and help protect against brain degeneration. [17]

Kale is especially high in vitamin C and vitamin K which are key nutrients for brain function and memory. As an added benefit, kale is one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Eat your greens. Eat them often. Your brain will thank you.

Walnuts

A few walnuts a day is enough to make an improvement to your cognitive health.

They are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can also improve mental alertness. Vitamin E may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Walnuts are also high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is the plant version of omega-3 fatty acids.

In one study the inflammatory load on brain cells improved neuron signaling, neurogenesis, and more. [18]  

Related: Nuts and Seeds: Are They Really A Good Source of Protein?

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are rich in the mineral zinc, which has a range of anti-inflammatory properties, and is beneficial for energy production, cognition, and sleep.

Zinc also helps regulate dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that gives you mental drive and motivation.

Coffee

Coffee is one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Among the 1,000+ different compounds in a single cup, coffee contains chlorogenic acid which plays a vital role in brain cell protection.

One study revealed that long-term coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk for age-related cognitive decline. [19]  

Additionally, caffeine is a known neuroprotective compound and stimulant.

Try pairing caffeine with l-theanine for an added nootropic effect.

Turmeric

This yellow root contains one of the most versatile anti-inflammatories in the world: curcumin.

Older Indians who consumed curcumin throughout their lifetime had better cognitive performance and lower risk of Alzheimer's disease than people in the Western world. [20]

And a recent study published in the The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that taking curcumin daily not only helped prevent memory decline, but supplementation improved memory over time. [21]

Curcumin is also effective in treating mild depression, comparable to certain well-known antidepressant medications [22]

Related: Curcumin: Everything You Need To Know About Turmeric Extract

Green Tea

Daily consumption of green tea has been associated with a 50% reduced risk of cognitive decline and 86% lower risk in people genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's disease. [23] 

We're not quite sure how exactly green tea protects the brain, but we think it's because of the wide variety of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds like catechins, theaflavins, l-theanine, and EGCG.

Recent research found that Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) offers neuroprotective properties that may help reverse memory impairment resulting from a high fat, high sugar diet. [24]

How The Food You Eat Affects Your Brain

The foods you eat have a direct impact on the structure of your brain, the balance of your neurotransmitters, and the entire makeup of your neurochemistry.

You just learned about my top 17 favorite brain foods, and to bring it all together, I wanted to share this great video (less than 5 mins) that explains how the foods you eat affect your brain on a broader level.

 

The Best Brain Supplements

It can be difficult to consume all the nutrients we need to keep our brains functioning well from diet alone. These are some of the best brain food supplements.

  • Krill Oil: Fish oils are a source of Essential Fatty Acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) They are associated with improved cognition, memory, and focus and are a key component in cell health.
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine: This amino acid can help boost memory and slow down memory loss in seniors. It can also make you feel more alert.
  • Creatine: Optimizes brain power, including mental energy and neuroprotection.
  • Dopamine Brain Food™: This formula contains the amino acids L-Phenylalanine and L-Tyrosine, two essential building blocks for the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine increases focus, concentration and motivation.
  • Vitamin B6: Also supports the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine as we as the mood-boosting neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin.
  • Magnesium: Supports cognitive function and brain health and may lead to improved memory and cognitive functions. Also reduces stress and promotes healthy sleep.
  • Vitamin C: Converts dopamine into norepinephrine which increases alertness and attention. Protects cells from damage.
  • Yerba Mate extract: Enhances alertness and mental performance.
  • Curcumin: The natural compound found in turmeric, curcumin supports healthy brain function and reduces the effect of cognitive aging.
  • Caffeine: We know too much caffeine is bad for us, but a small amount can boost focus and energy and make us feel more alert.

Adding Brain Foods To Your Diet

To optimize the gut-brain connection you need to eat brain foods that contain the essential nutrients required for good cell health and the formation of neurotransmitters.

These nutrients will also enable our brains to fight the effects of inflammation, disease, and degeneration.

By eating a diet that contains essential fatty acids, antioxidants and a range of vitamins and minerals, we are supplying our brains with the fuel it needs for optimized focus and memory.

What are your favorite brain foods? Tell us in the comments!

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  2. Zerouga M, Jenski LJ. Comparison of phosphatidylcholines containing one or two docosahexaenoic acyl chains on properties of phospholipid monolayers and bilayers. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1995 Jun 14;1236(2):266-72.
  3. Litman BJ, Niu SL. The role of docosahexaenoic acid containing phospholipids in modulating G protein-coupled signaling pathways: visual transduction. J Mol Neurosci. 2001 Apr;16(2-3):237-42.
  4. Petrie, Meredith, et al. "Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain." Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biomedical Sciences and Medical Sciences 72.9 (2016): 1284-1289.
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  14. Astrid Nehlig. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Mar; 75(3): 716–727.
  15. Przybelski RJ, Binkley NC. Is vitamin D important for preserving cognition? A positive correlation of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration with cognitive function. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2007;460:202–205.
  16. Small, Gary W., et al. "Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial." The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2017).
  17. Marta K. Zamroziewicz, Erick J. Paul, Chris E. Zwilling, Aron K. Barbey. Determinants of fluid intelligence in healthy aging: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid status and frontoparietal cortex structure. Nutritional Neuroscience, 2017.
  18. Sanmukhani, Jayesh, et al. "Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial." Phytotherapy research 28.4 (2014): 579-585.
  19. Justine Chouet, Guylaine Ferland. Dietary Vitamin K Intake Is Associated with Cognition and Behaviour among Geriatric Patients: The CLIP Study. Nutrients. 2015 Aug; 7(8): 6739–6750.
  20. Sujatha Rajaram, Cinta Valls-Pedret. The Walnuts and Healthy Aging Study (WAHA): Protocol for a Nutritional Intervention Trial with Walnuts on Brain Aging. Front Aging Neurosci. 2016; 8: 333.
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  22. L. Feng, M. -S. Chong, W. -S. Lim, Q. Gao, M. S. Z. Nyunt, T. -S. Lee, S. L. Collinson, T. Tsoi, E. -H. Kua, T. -P. Ng. Tea consumption reduces the incidence of neurocognitive disorders: Findings from the Singapore longitudinal aging study. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 2016; 20 (10): 1002 DOI: 10.1007/s12603-016-0687-0
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