12 Foods That Should Be On Your Brain-Health Shopping List - Men's Health Magazine Australia

12 Foods That Should Be On Your Brain-Health Shopping List

A cognitive psychologist reveals what to eat for optimum brain health.

The human brain is the most marvellous, complicated structure known in the universe. So marvellous it is believed to require up to 50% of the nutrients you eat daily to function and thrive. It is why I have focused on this in my clinic.

We only get one brain and every day that goes by that we ignore it; we do damage that may be irreparable. Most do not recognize that Alzheimer’s begins 30 years before the first symptoms become obvious and may well be preventable according to emerging research.

It is also the most neglected and ignored organ in the body and a reason I heavily focus on the brain, and ways to improve and prevent cognitive decline. So, treat it with respect and power it with the best possible fuel.

Every bit of food you eat is a significant choice that will either help or harm your brain.

Eating nutritionally impoverished, processed foods that contain sugar, simple carbs (refined flour products) and trans fats can leave you feeling mentally foggy, low in energy, depressed and even anxious.

However, the right foods particularly high in the nutrients needed to create, protect, and repair cells will help keep you mentally sharp, positive and your brain humming along smoothly.

The right foods are vital for brain-health and cell repair, and to supply the building blocks of neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that control how well you learn and remember, how happy and motivated you are, and how well you can relax and enjoy life. They can even help prevent and delay cognitive onset.

Here are the top 12 foods that should be on your brain-health shopping list:

Avocados a MUST: 75% monounsaturated fat, much like Olive Oil another brilliant addition, supports acetylcholine production that supports memory and learning. Containing multivitamins such as C, E, K and B Complex are also high in tyrosine, the amino precursor to dopamine that keeps your brain motivated and focused.

Berries the super antioxidant: berries of all kinds-blueberries, raspberries, blackberries are loaded with vitamins, fibre and phytonutrients that boost blood flow and reduce oxidative inflammation in the brain and promote the all-important BDNF protein needed to build nerve cells.

Coconut oil for instant brain energy. Although a saturated fat, the main reason coconut oil is considered a brain food is its high concentration of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are found in human breast milk and are added to baby formula since they’re essential for babies’ developing brains.

The brain’s usual source of fuel is glucose, but the MCTs in coconut oil get broken down into ketones which feed the brain directly, bypassing glucose metabolism. Neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, author of the bestseller Grain Brain, includes coconut oil as part of his “anti-Alzheimer’s trio,” along with avocados and omega-3-rich grass-fed beef. One study demonstrated that this oil can improve mild cognitive impairment improving memory recall within 90 minutes of a single MCT dose.

Dark chocolate is a rich source of tryptophan which is the precursor to serotonin. It also is one of the few dietary sources of anandamide, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter called the bliss molecule. Chocolate does contain caffeine which may also boost cognitive function but can impact on sleep so best to avoid this treat at night.

Whole eggs: Preferably a little runny are excellent for choline (good for memory) and have B complex nutrients.

Extra virgin olive oil. There is a reason this was always called the golden elixir. Nothing activates more genes than this monounsaturated fat known to improve memory and many other cognitive functions. It contains over 30 phenolic compounds that are potent antioxidants and free radical scavengers, raises BDNF and NGF (nerve growth factor) to enhance memory and learning. It also contains Oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory agent unique to olive oil that helps clear the brain of beta-amyloid proteins involved in Alzheimer’s.

Fermented foods: nourishing the second Brain. The microbiome, a community of microbes has a powerful and unexpected influence on the brain, which is why the intestinal tract is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” or the “backup brain. Gut bacteria make over 30 neurotransmitters including serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, and GABA. A dysfunctional microbiome can be the root cause of a multitude of brain-related conditions, including anxiety, autism, depression, carbohydrate cravings, and chronic inflammation and recently has also been found to have an impact on sleep and the development of dementia diseases like Alzheimer’s. But you can encourage a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria by adding fermented and prebiotic foods to your diet. Virtually all healthy traditional diets wisely incorporated some fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tamari, and miso.

Green leafy vegetables like Kale are extremely high in brain-protecting antioxidants including beta carotene, flavonoids, and polyphenols as well as much-needed Vit C, and Bs needed for neurotransmitter production.

Fatty oily fish for OMEGA 3: such as salmon (wild caught) are good for memory, brain cell integrity, anti-inflammatory and proven to support mood and memory.

Sea vegetables are a largely neglected food group but certainly some of the most nutrient-dense brain foods. B12 is vital for brain health and is typically not possible to get from a vegetarian diet. Nori is one to include rich in B12. Others include iodine which is missing from most diets yet vitally important for brain function and thyroid functioning which also impacts brain functioning. They also are rich in tyrosine for dopamine production, taurine for GABA production, choline, inositol, and the list goes on….

Turmeric (spice or tea) is anti-inflammatory and anti-Alzheimer’s. This spice has many quality research papers showing the benefits including working as a natural antidepressant, as well as Prozac. Anti-inflammatory, it also appears to boost neurotransmitters and neuronal genesis- growing new brain cells.

Walnuts: There is a reason it looks like a mini brain. These nuts are the best source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a plant form of Omega 3. Although converting to Omega 3 is believed to be quite minimal when obtaining ALA from plant or nut sources, the ALA itself is helpful. Walnut extracts have been shown to reduce Beta Amyloid found in Alzheimer’s disease. They reduce inflammation load on the brain and increase antioxidants.

The key is to not try and make the changes all at once, setting you up to fail. Try weekly to add or swap out foods on your usual shopping list until all you are buying are healthy, nutritiously dense brain foods.

It may also be wise to add a Brain boosting supplement while working to build these foods into your lifestyle. Yootropics have done all the hard work to incorporate many well-researched, backed by science nootropic compounds that boost blood flow, reduce neuro-inflammation, prevent cell damage, and promote neurotransmitter production thereby promoting better working memory, improved focus, and mood.

By Nikolina Ilic

Nikolina is the former Digital Editor at Men's Health Australia, responsible for all things social media and .com. A lover of boxing, she has written for Women's Health, esquire, GQ and Vogue magazine.

More From