Eat better. Think better.


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 its highest level when blood sugar levels remain stable throughout the day without spiking and crashing, creating stable energy levels and the most obvious sign that your blood sugar levels are out of whack is when you crash after eating or have frequent food cravings. If this is the case, getting your levels back to normal can have a big impact on your productivity and energy levels.

The best way to maintain healthy blood sugar leve is to eat high protein foods more frequenty thoroughout the day and consume adequate nutrients while avoiding sugar and other foods with a high glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. 

As a result, a healthy diet will satisfy the muscles, which require protein, the digestive system, which functions best with fiber, and the bones, which require 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 and reduce the risks of developing major chronic diseases. 

Each fruit or vegetable contains thousands of phytochemicals, which give the fruit or vegetable its color. Carotenes, lycopene, resveratrol, and anthocyanins are a few examples, e ach reducing free radicals and modifying gene expression to prevent carcinogenesis, or cancer formation.

woman holding basket of fruits and vegetables at farmers market

Supplements

Unfortunately, it is common for people to consume supplements as if they were food, believing that they are receiving the same nutrition. 52 percent of US adults say they take at least one vitamin supplement every day. The issue, however, is with bioavailability, or the proportion of the substance that enters the circulation and affects the body.

Because of the complex interaction and synergistic effect of plant compounds working together, studies have shown that supplements cannot replicate real food. The body does not recognize supplements as "alive" because they extract and distill nutrition into individual components.

Despite evidence demonstrating that natural fruits and vegetables outperform artificial supplements, only 10% of the American population consumes a minimum of 2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily. Most people are unaware that a diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, proteins, and healthy fats, while low in processed foods and refined carbohydrates, serves as an excellent foundation.

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 people will agree that vegetables should be a staple of our diet, with fruits serving as a sweet treat, so one of the simplest changes 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

The ability to access relevant information and complete a task in less time is referred to as network efficiency, and the performance of our neural networks is critical to improving our cognitive performance.

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

Important blood markers included omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, lycopene, folate, carotenoids, riboflavin, B12, and vitamin D, all of which are found in the Mediterranean diet. In terms of MRIs, scientists focused on the efficiency of neural networks as well as tests of cognition, memory, executive function, and general intelligence.

The study concluded that nutrient levels are directly related to network efficiency and cognitive performance. High levels of omega-3s, omega-6s, and carotene were found to be causal factors in increasing network efficiency, according to MRIs. These findings support the scientifically supported view that the Mediterranean Diet, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils, is essential for 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 consuming 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 your omega-3 intake

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. Nine cups of fruits & vegetables daily

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

Eat leafy greens

Get your sulfur

Add more color

Brain Foods

Some people are put off by the term "brain food." Nonetheless, you can easily find foods that adhere to the three universal nutrition principles in the supermarket, at your local market, or even in your current pantry or refrigerator. 

Jim Kwik, author of Limitless and Superbrain Coach, shares his list of easily accessible food items that can provide the brain with the energy it requires to function optimally.

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

Antioxidants can also be obtained from common spices and herbs. Turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties are attributed to its curcuminoids and curcumin components. It also has anti-inflammatory properties comparable to over-the-counter medications, in addition to compounds that supercharge the brain by increasing oxygen flow, strengthening neural connections, and promoting neurogenesis.

turmeric

4. Broccoli

Broccoli contains a high concentration of vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin K. This brain food contains vitamin C, which protects the immune system, and antioxidants, which improve overall blood flow. The fiber improves gut health, which has been linked directly to brain health. Finally, vitamin K is a bioactive compound that protects brain tissues, improves cognition, and slows the aging process.

broccoli

5. Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, arugula, collards, and lettuce, have been shown in studies to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and conditions like dementia. In general, leafy vegetables are high in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. To benefit your brain and overall health, aim for one to two servings per day.

leafy greens

6. Dark Chocolate

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

dark chocolate

7. Eggs

Eggs are high in protein, as well as B vitamins, zinc, calcium, and healthy fats. However, keep in mind that eggs are high in cholesterol and should be consumed in moderation. Brain nutrients in eggs, including choline, are essential for mental focus, memory, and learning.

eggs

8. Walnuts

If you don't like fish, you can get Omega-3 fatty acids from nuts like walnuts, flaxseeds, and soybeans. Walnuts, in particular, have the highest concentration of Omega-3 ALA's (alpha-linolenic acid), which promote the formation of new brain cells. Furthermore, they're high in antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation in the brain and body. A UCLA study found that walnuts positively correlate with increased memory capacity, as evidenced by the research subjects' improved cognitive test scores.

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've already established that the human body and brain are mostly made of water. As a result, it stands to reason that we must regulate our water levels in order to maintain cognitive function. According to studies, losing just 1% of the water in the brain can reduce brain functionality by up to 5%, so make sure you drink the recommended 8-15 glasses of water per day, depending on your size and activities for the day.

glass of water

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.

You can start getting the micronutrients your body requires by increasing the amount of color in your diet. Use the three nutritional principles. Begin week by week to ease the transition. As an example, try eating nine cups of fruits and vegetables per day for one week and see how you feel. The more color there is, the better.

You can prepare them in whatever way is most convenient for your lifestyle, such as juices, smoothies, stews, soups, or steaming. The less complication, the better. This amount of color is only found in a small percentage of people's diets. Distinguish yourself and you will begin to feel 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.

I am so happy you placed water. Water is life! I know some people swear by their electrolyte drinks after a casual game or workout, I just personally enjoy water. Its refreshing, it doesn't cost much and it has been consumed by humans well, ever since.. you know what I mean?

You are what you eat. Mcdonalds might be a quick meal along the way home but it doesn't make you feel as great as a mix and match of proteins and leafy greens. I know this because I personally tried this out! I always felt better with the latter.

I love the spring time because that’s when the farmers market comes for us.  It’s nice to pick all the seasonal and colorful fruits and vegetables. I especially love my greens.  It’s a shame that organic is pricier, that you literally have to pay to not have chemicals on your food, and that farmer markets aren’t accessible to everyone.  Yes, vitamins do not replace actual fruits and veggies, so eat up if you can.  

Amazing how much input we can have into our health. Not always easy, but always worth it.

It's amazing to me how much diet plays a large role in your overall health and even cognitive abilities. It was a bit shocking to see exactly how many cups of fruits and vegetables are needed per day for a healthy adult. I did a bit of reflecting and to be honest, I'm not sure I'm getting quite that amount daily. This is something I want to focus on and set goals with to veer my diet toward optimizing my health. I really liked that point about avoiding empty calories - once you start thinking about it there's a TON of foods that we all enjoy that have little to no nutritional value other than calories at the end of the day.

Eating healthy or as I like to call it a daily struggle. I thought I might have more interest if this year we started our own garden. I knew if I invested my time energy and money into our garden I would make sure that I didn’t waste any of the benefits or the vegetables. It was fun when my son got to pick out things we don’t usually eat like eggplant and kohlrabi. I’m excited to see how everything grows and to start harvesting some of our vegetables here pretty soon in the next month. Since we’ve been eating at home a lot it’s definitely got easier!

Wow, fascinating article! So many foods have a significant impact on our day-to-day cognitive performance. When I was in school, I always tried to eat rich foods and a steady diet. Junk foods always made me feel slow, tired, and weak, so I rarely ate them. This article seems to suggest that is a normal feeling.

I totally agree with the mind/body connection. The food we eat reflects back on so much of our physical and mental health

Such a great article. I recently just started to research different types of food that would give me more energy and focus. This article is filled with so much great information to help me on my new food journey. I'm struggling because I'm single, I'm not a cook and my full time job is unpredictable. I eat when I can and it's usually something that I can grab quickly. Now, I know I need more leafy greens and fruit. I also struggle with water Intake..... Wish me luck!

I think diet and nutrition is a fascinating topic because it seems to be a universal(ish) struggle, at least in the States. Almost everyone I know has a pretty weird relationship with food. I really like the idea of a veggie based diet like you outlined, but I sometimes find it difficult to make the time (I know you can eat raw veggies, but even then, lots of chopping!).

Thank you for sharing this article. I've been on a diet for the past 3 1/2 months, and I've lost quite a bit of weight. I joined a weight loss clinic and a lot of the things my diet coach told me are backed up by this article. The secrets to my weight loss success include no fried foods or fast food; no sugar, no junk food, low carbs, LOTS of water, no empty calories. Also, more exercise, eat more fresh vegetables and lean meats every day, low salt. No bread, no pasta. In my line of work, buying fast food is often a habit, due to the demands of my career. Since I started this diet, I've learned to cook at home more, as I've invested in cookbooks and groceries, and cooked more at home. I cook a variety of healthy dishes to keep things from getting boring...and they taste MUCH better than anything in a restaurant. A variety of healthy foods help not only physically, but mentally as well.

Like so many others one of my goals was to start exercising more often and eating healthier and implementing fruits and vegetables into my diet for the new year. It’s definitely easier said than done though because making sure you have fruits and vegetables in your home is something you really have to work for. They go bad fast and you have to do a little prep before eating them like washing them off. We have been trying to make sure there’s at least one side of fruit and vegetables with each meal and we do not buy canned it’s either fresh or frozen. My husband loves to eat meat with his meals so we try to do things like stirfry or soup. Since my son is older he likes to get in on the meal action and cutting up the vegetables I love that we’re getting them involved and my daughter actually is willing to try a lot of the new vegetables like the peppers and picking different fruits to go with our meals. Another thing we try to do is don’t buy anything that’s not good for you and then you won’t have a temptation later to pick something sweet and sugary as an option to snack on instead of fruits and vegetables.

I recently began my journey of an alkaline diet and I completely agree with a lot of this article. You cannot substitute pills for a meal and expect to see better results over night. I have been on my journey for a littler over a week now and I have also been taking root herbs instead of dietary supplements and my body feels the happiest it has ever felt. Everyone should consider sustaining a healthier lifestyle instead of their cognitive dissonance hinder their quality of life!

The first and most obvious role of nutrition is to support the physical body itself! 👍🏼

Great article! 🙌 REAL, LIVE, NON-PESTICIDE, COLORFUL FOOD! Seems like common sense, but unfortunately we are bombarded with marketing and ads that lead many to believe differently. That "organic" is just a hoax. While I do agree, "organic" is often used as a marketing ploy, eating chemicals cannot be good. Regarding the supplement thing, food is always better. I personally know a fair amount of people that swear by their 10 vitamins daily, but seems more placebo than anything.