When we consider our brains, we tend to think of self-contained organs that sit inside our skulls, responsible for thinking and logical deduction. It’s natural to do that, because we tend to use a sort of shorthand when it comes to discussion of brain function. We make up our minds, we use our noggins and we scratch our heads.
While our brains certainly are the center of our deductive reason, they are less akin to organs like the heart and liver, and more like a supercomputer, responsible for controlling every function our bodies perform.
How the Brain Works
The human brain is an amazingly complex organ. It controls our breathing, blood flow and body temperature. It coordinates our physical movements and makes sensory perception possible. And of course, it is what allows us to think, feel, and reason. It is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells, contained in a solid mass approximately the size of a head of cauliflower. Each neuron is specialized – for example, neurons in the auditory cortex are fine-tuned to pick up particular pitches and rhythms, which our brains then coalesce into single experience: music.
The brain’s primary energy source is glucose, the sugar your digestive system extracts from carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, grains and dairy. The brain requires glucose to do what it does, which is why ultra-low-carbohydrate diets are not very good for you. The brain makes up only about 2% of your body weight, but it uses approximately 20% of the glucose you take in.
When your body doesn’t get enough carbohydrates your brain can’t function properly. You may experience fuzziness, memory loss and difficulty concentrating. It is very important to give your brain the fuel it needs. Interestingly, the same is true when your blood sugar is too high. Excess glucose in the bloodstream can cause oxidative damage to your neurons. In other words, your brain is a like a car – you can’t put unleaded fuel in a diesel engine and expect it to run.
While glucose is the primary source of the brain’s energy, there are other foods that help to boost your brain’s ability to function at a high level. Getting enough of these foods on a regular basis will ensure that your brain stays healthy.
The 15 Foods That Will Boost Your Brain Power
Oily fishes like salmon, tuna and mackerel contain a high level of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are necessary for healthy brain function, as well as for healthy joints. The Omega-3 in fish comes from EPA and DHA – low levels of DHA have been linked to an increased chance of both general memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are a source of ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are produced by the body and provide an alternate energy source when glucose is low. They also have been shown to restore and repair neurons that have been damaged.
Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants, which help to protect the brain against oxidative stress – damage caused by free radicals which can lead to decreased brain function and Alzheimer’s disease. Blueberries also contain flavonoids, which improve communication between neurons and boost verbal communication, reasoning and decision making.
Broccoli is a source of several important vitamins, including the B vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. It also includes calcium, iron and fiber. These nutrients work together to protect the brain against oxidative damage. Broccoli also includes choline, a form of B vitamin that specifically protects against age-related memory loss.
In addition to being delicious, avocados are a source of potassium, Vitamin E and monounsaturated fat, as well as Omega-3. The Omega-3 and monounsaturated fats help improve circulation and blood flow to the brain, and lower cholesterol. Meanwhile, Vitamin E protects against oxidative stress, and Vitamin K can help reduce the risk of stroke.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Indian cooking – it’s what gives curry powder its distinctive color. Turmeric contains a very powerful antioxidant called curcumin, which can boost memory and stimulate neurogenesis – the production of new brain cells.
Celery is a good source of a plant compound called luteolin, which can decrease inflammation in the brain – a primary cause of the degeneration of brain cells. Luteolin also slowed the development of age-related memory loss in mice.
Walnuts are a source of plant-based Omega-3 and phytosterols, plant compounds that can help to reduce cholesterol levels. Eating walnuts may also your brain’s inferential reasoning ability.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, another powerful antioxidant that may help the brain against oxidative stress.
Whole grains are one of the best sources of carbohydrates. Because they contain fiber, they take longer to digest than things like processed sugars and white flour. That means that they help keep your blood glucose levels steady, which in turn, boosts your brain’s ability to function.
Beans and legumes are another great way to get the carbohydrates your body needs without spiking your blood sugar. Because they contain fiber, they are digested slowly. Beans and legumes are also a healthy source of Omega-3.
Zinc is important for enhancing memory and improving your ability to think. One of the best sources of zinc is pumpkin seeds – which also make a great snack.
Sage essential oil has long been used as a folk remedy for memory loss. Adding fresh sage to your diet can have a similar effect.
Bone broth is basically homemade stock made from animal bones. Bone broth contains a large amount of collagen – one of the building blocks of the human brain. It also contains glycine, an amino acid that helps improve sleep and memory.
Dark chocolate is an incredibly powerful antioxidant. It also contains fiber, iron and magnesium, all of which can improve brain function and stimulate blood flow. It is important to note that in order to reap the benefits of eating chocolate, you must choose a dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.
It is more important to pay attention to the quality of the food you are eating than to focus on calories alone. Many of us get so caught up in losing weight that we forget to give our bodies the fuel they need – and our brains need a lot of fuel. Add these 15 foods to your diet today, and you will reap the benefits for the rest of your life.