The human body is 65% water and over 37 trillion cells, while the brain itself is 73% water, and to function optimally, it's critical to provide this liquid body and brain with the nutrition it needs.

Much like a gardener growing food, the ecosystem of the body requires the right elements to thrive: water, sunlight, and nutrient-rich food. The food we choose to eat has a significant impact on our day-to-day cognitive performance, and similar to choosing 87, 89, or 91 octane fuel at the gas pump, the quality of the nutrition matters. There are many things we cannot control, but thankfully, this is not one of them.

This article will help provide you with some basic guidelines that are universally recognized by science to be beneficial for better cognitive performance. Diet trends pass through like the wind; however, several nutrition pillars stand firm with the test of time. Stay hydrated. Keep moving. And lastly, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Our plates are like a canvas, and the more color, the better!

basket of fruits and vegetables

Stable Energy Levels

The body operates at the highest level when blood sugar levels remain stable throughout the day without spiking and crashing, creating stable energy levels. The most significant indicator that your blood sugar levels are off is when you crash after eating or have frequent food cravings. If this is occurring, getting your levels stable again can significantly impact your productivity and energy levels.

Eat more frequently. The best way to ensure healthy blood sugar is to see that you are getting the proper nutrients while avoiding sugar and other food items with a high glycemic index (GI). Foods with low GI help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Consequently, a healthy diet will satiate the muscles, which need protein, the digestive system, which is most effective with fiber, and bones, which love vitamins and minerals from food.

Additionally, phytochemicals or the bioactive chemical compounds found in fruits and vegetables are nutrient compounds that provide various health benefits to the human body to reduce the risks of acquiring major chronic diseases. There are thousands of phytochemicals in any given fruit or vegetable which give the fruit/vegetable color. Examples include carotenes, lycopene, resveratrol, and anthocyanins. Each of these helps minimize free radicals and modulate gene expression to inhibit carcinogenesis or cancer formation.

farmers market

Supplements

Unfortunately, it is common for people to eat supplements like food and think they're getting the same nutrition. 52% of US adults report using at least one vitamin supplement daily; however, the problem is in the bioavailability or the proportion of the substance that enters the circulation and affects the body.

Eating poorly and supplementing only goes so far as studies have demonstrated that supplements cannot replicate real food due to the complex interaction and synergistic effect of the plant compounds working together. Because supplements extract and distill the nutrition into individual components, the body does not recognize them as "alive."

Despite evidence proving that natural fruits and vegetables are superior to artificial supplements, unfortunately, only 10% of the American population eats a minimum of 2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits daily. Most do not know that a diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, proteins, and healthy fats, while low in processed foods and refined carbohydrates, is an excellent baseline. 

Furthermore, the intake of 400-600 grams of fruits and vegetables daily is directly associated with a reduced incidence of many common forms of cancer. Most will agree that vegetables should be the staple of our diet, with fruits providing a sweet reward, so one of the easiest upgrades you can make is to start going to your local farmers market weekly to buy what is in season and find new recipes to work with what you've got.

Network efficiency

Network efficiency is the ability to access relevant information and complete a task in less time, and the performance of our neural networks is key to upgrading our cognitive performance.

Recently, in a study published in Neuroimage, scientists studied food and nutrition in a group of 100 people aged 65 using MRIs, blood markers, and cognitive tests to understand better the impact that diet has on brain performance.

Critical markers observed in the blood were omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, lycopene, folate, carotenoids, riboflavin, B12, and vitamin D; all staples found in the Meditteranean Diet. As for the MRIs, scientists looked explicitly at the efficiency of the neural networks, in addition to tests measuring cognition, memory, executive function, and overall intelligence.

The study concluded that network efficiency and cognitive performance are directly correlated with the levels of nutrients studied. MRIs demonstrated that high levels of omega-3s, omega-6s, and carotene were causal factors in increasing network efficiency. These results affirm the science backing that the Mediterranean Diet, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils, is key to optimal brain performance.

A Solid Foundation

With so much information on the internet regarding the best way to eat, it ultimately comes down to learning to trust your gut. Three universal principles of nutrition seem to work for most people. 

1. Avoid empty calories 

Food and beverages comprised primarily of sugar, fats, oils, or alcohol provide little nutritional value and bog the body down, often creating blood sugar problems over time.

2. Increase Omega-3s 

Essential fatty acid intake is one of the few things that science firmly supports in reducing inflammation, increasing cognitive performance, and increasing joint mobility. Balancing the Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio is crucial with the overconsumption of Omega-6s in the standard American diet.

3. Get nine cups of fruits and vegetables daily 

  • 3 cups (about one heaping plateful) of leafy green vegetables Ex. kale, collards, spinach
  • 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables Ex. cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms, asparagus 
  • 3 cups of colorful vegetables and fruits Ex. berries, peaches, citrus, beets, carrots

Eat leafy greens

Get your sulfur

Add more color

Brain Foods

The term "brain food" can be intimidating for some. Still, you can easily find foods that align with the three universal nutrition principles in the supermarket, at your local market, or even in your current pantry or fridge. Limitless author and Superbrain Coach Jim Kwik shares his list of easily accessible food items that can supply the brain with the energy it needs to function at an optimal state.

1. Avocados

Avocados are the only fruit with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, in addition to vitamins B, C, E, K, fiber, and folate. They are a versatile fruit you can eat by incorporating them into your breakfast toast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks. Anyone can whip up a tasty and fresh avocado smoothie or guacamole dip at home.

avocado

2. Blueberries

Research shows that the natural plant pigments in berries called "flavonoids" help improve memory. Consequently, a study conducted by Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital showed that participants who consumed more blueberries and strawberries per week had the slowest rate of cognitive decline, delaying it by up to two and a half years. Scientifically, blueberries have high antioxidant levels that help protect the DNA on a cellular level and fight against the premature aging of brain cells.

blueberries

3. Turmeric

You can also get antioxidants from your common spices and herbs. Turmeric is often used for its anti-inflammatory effects due to its curcuminoids and curcumin components. The latter is the active antioxidant and ingredient that fights free radicals in our bodies. It also has an anti-inflammatory capacity that matches over-the-counter drugs. Its compounds supercharge the brain by boosting the brain's oxygen flow, increasing the connections between neurons, and supporting neurogenesis itself.

turmeric

4. Broccoli

Broccoli has high levels of vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin K. The vitamin C in this brain food protects the immune system, whereas the antioxidants improve overall blood flow. The fiber enhances gut health, which has been directly linked to brain health. Lastly, vitamin K is a bioactive compound that protects brain tissues, boosts thinking, and slows down neural decline.

broccoli

5. Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, arugula, collards, and lettuce were proven in research to lower the risk of cognitive decline and conditions such as dementia.Leafy vegetables, in general, are rich in brain-healthy nutrients such as vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Try getting one to two servings daily to benefit your brain and overall health.

leafy greens

6. Dark Chocolate

Now here's a sweet treat! The cacao in dark chocolate has powerful antioxidants that improve the blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Dark chocolate is powerful brain food as long as it's at least 70% cacao.

dark chocolate

7. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein, in addition to B vitamins, zinc, calcium, and healthy fats. However, remember to eat eggs in moderation because they contain high cholesterol content. Choline helps in the building of cell membranes and signaling molecules. But in general, the brain nutrients in eggs are essential for mental focus, memory, and learning.

eggs

8. Walnuts

If you're not into fish, you can get your Omega fatty acids from nuts such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and soybeans. Walnuts, in particular, have the highest amount of Omega-3 ALA's (alpha-linolenic acid) that stimulate the creation of new brain cells. In addition, walnuts are also high in antioxidants that reduce brain and body inflammation. Studies also show that it can increase a person's overall mental capacity. A study by UCLA proved that walnuts positively correlate to increased memory capacity, as demonstrated by the improved cognitive test scores of the research subjects.

walnuts

9. Salmon

For optimal brain health, nutritionists highly suggest reducing red meat intake. Instead, salmon would make a good substitute for that portion. Salmon is not just a protein source, but it is also a source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which play a significant role in preventing neurodegenerative diseases, slowing down brain aging, improving learning and memory, and alleviating symptoms of depression.

salmon

10. Water

We have already established that the body and the brain are mostly water. Because of this, it makes sense that we need to regulate our water levels to maintain our cognitive function. Studies have shown that losing just 1% of water in the brain can impact brain functionality by up to 5%, ensuring that you complete the recommended 8-15 glasses of water a day, depending on your size and your activities for the day.

Nonetheless, it's not a bad thing to drink other beverages. For example, drinking wine in moderation can lower the risk of dementia. Taking in caffeine through a cup of coffee or tea can offer a boost in short-term concentration and mental function.

glass of water

Final Thoughts

You are not limited to try our other foods excluded from this list; however, it is best to keep this list in mind as you prepare your new diet plan. It might be most appropriate for special conditions to consult with a nutritionist to get the best diet plan for your brain health.

By increasing the amount of color in your diet, you can start getting the micronutrients your body needs to function optimally. Apply the three principles of nutrition. Start week by week to make the transition easier. As an example: for one week, try eating nine cups of fruits and vegetables daily and see how you feel. The more color, the better.

You can prepare them in the most convenient way for your lifestyle, such as juices, smoothies, stews, soups, and steaming. The less hassle, the better. Very few people get this amount of color in their diet. Differentiate and start feeling better.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

Mahatma Gandhi

References

Bauer, I., Hughes, M., Rowsell, R., Cockerell, R., Pipingas, A., Crewther, S., & Crewther, D. . (2014). Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults. Human psychopharmacology, 29(2), 133–144.
Beilharz, J. E., Maniam, J., & Morris, M. J. . (2015). Diet-Induced Cognitive Deficits: The Role of Fat and Sugar, Potential Mechanisms and Nutritional Interventions . Nutrients, 7(8), 6719–6738.
Bianconi, E., Piovesan, A., Facchin, F., Beraudi, A., Casadei, R., Frabetti, F., Vitale, L., Pelleri, M. C., Tassani, S., Piva, F., Perez-Amodio, S., Strippoli, P., & Canaider, S.. (2013). An estimation of the number of cells in the human body . Annals of human biology, 40(6), 463–471.
Cichon, N., Saluk-Bijak, J., Gorniak, L., Przyslo, L., & Bijak, M.. (2020). Flavonoids as a Natural Enhancer of Neuroplasticity-An Overview of the Mechanism of Neurorestorative Action.. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(11), 1035.
. (2020). 6 PIllars of Brain Health. Cleveland Clinic.
Firth, J., Gangwisch, J. E., Borisini, A., Wootton, R. E., & Mayer, E. A.. (2020). Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? . BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 369, m2382.
Gómez-Pinilla F. . (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578.
Kim, J. Y., & Kang, S. W. . (2017). Relationships between Dietary Intake and Cognitive Function in Healthy Korean Children and Adolescents. Journal of lifestyle medicine, 7(1), 10–17.
Kwik, J.. (2020). Feed Your Body, Fuel Your Brain. .
Liu R. H.. (2013). Dietary bioactive compounds and their health implications. Journal of food science, 78 Suppl 1, A18–A25.
Liu R. H. . (2013). Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet . Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 4(3), 384S–92S.
McEvoy, C. T., Guyer, H., Langa, K. M., & Yaffe, K. . (2017). Neuroprotective Diets Are Associated with Better Cognitive Function: The Health and Retirement Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 65(8), 1857–1862. .
Melse-Boonstra A.. (2020). Bioavailability of Micronutrients From Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruits . Frontiers in nutrition, 7, 101.
Mergenthaler, P., Lindauer, U., Dienel, G. A., & Meisel, A. . (2013). Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends in neurosciences, 36(10), 587–597.
Minich D.. (2019). A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow”. Journal of nutrition and metabolism 2019(2):1-19.
Slavin, J. L., & Lloyd, B. . (2012). Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 3(4), 506–516.
Smith, P. J., & Blumenthal, J. A. . (2016). Dietary Factors and Cognitive Decline. The journal of prevention of Alzheimer's disease, 3(1), 53–64.
Wahl, D., Cogger, V. C., Solon-Biet, S. M., Waern, R. V., Gokarn, R., Pulpitel, T., Cabo, R. d., Mattson, M. P., Raubenheimer, D., Simpson, S. J., & Le Couteur, D. G. . (2016). Nutritional strategies to optimise cognitive function in the aging brain. Aging research reviews, 31, 80–92. .
Wengreen, H. J., Neilson, C., Munger, R., & Corcoran, C. . (2009). Diet quality is associated with better cognitive test performance among aging men and women. The Journal of nutrition, 139(10), 1944–1949. .
. (2021). Improve brain health with the MIND diet. Mayo Clinic.
. (2021). Foods linked to Better Brainpower. Harvard Health Publishing.

🏆

This article has 17 comments viewable by members.