Have you ever wished you could be more productive without even trying? Is your brain stuck in a thick fog that feels like it’s holding you back from greater success and productivity?
Lack of focus and mental clarity, along with poor memory, mood, and concentration can turn your usual responsibilities into daunting tasks.
Fix it with food! We’re not just talking about blueberries, walnuts, fatty fish, and greens, either— although these foods are definitely important for cognitive function.
We went on a mission to find some true superfoods with a long history of boosting brain health. Take a look and maybe you’ll find something helpful for when you’re feeling foggy, down, forgetful, or unable to concentrate.
6 Superfoods to Boost Your Brain Power
Next time you visit a coffee shop and see “golden milk” on the menu, consider ordering this warm traditional Indian drink instead of your usual cappuccino. Why? Because golden milk is loaded with the powerful brain-boosting spice, turmeric.
Actually, it’s the active ingredient in turmeric called curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory compound, that’s responsible for the brain-boosting power.
Curcumin helps reduce chronic systemic inflammation, which is a key factor linked to difficulty thinking, mental fog, depression, and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. (1)
The benefits of curcumin for improving memory were studied in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted by UCLA researchers. The study was done on 40 adults aged 50-90 who all had memory complaints.
The study showed those who received 180 milligrams of curcumin per day for 18 months noted an improvement in mood and attention abilities, and showed fewer disease markers in the amygdala and hypothalamus— the areas of the brain that control memory and emotion. Those who received the placebo did not experience these results. (2)
More food for thought: seniors in India (where turmeric is a staple ingredient) have a lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease and better cognitive function. (2)
How to Take it:
You can make homemade golden milk in under five minutes.
Simply warm up your favorite unsweetened nut or plant milk in a saucepan. Add fresh or powdered turmeric, maple syrup or honey, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and coconut oil. Stir until ingredients are well blended, and pour into your favorite mug.
Not only is golden milk a delicious treat, but it’s the perfect way to wind down and prepare your mind for some restorative, healing sleep.
You can also add turmeric liberally to dishes like curry, pasta, and soup, as well as your morning green juices, tea, and smoothies. Next time you’re making scrambled eggs or an omelet, try sprinkling a little bit of turmeric into the beaten eggs before cooking them. Yum!
Note that turmeric does have a pungent, bitter flavor, so when adding to smoothies, you may want to combine with sweeter fruits to balance the taste, like pineapple or banana.
Consuming turmeric with freshly ground black pepper can be helpful for making it more absorbable by your body, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Research also shows that turmeric is best absorbed when combined with fats and oils. (3)
Chlorella is a single celled green algae that’s over a billion years old. It is one of the oldest known living superfoods here on earth.
We’re pretty happy about the fact that Universal intelligence planted it so long ago, since chlorella contains a unique nutrient for brain and body function, called Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF).
CGF is entirely unique to chlorella, and can’t be found in any other food. It contains the nucleic acids, RNA and DNA, which help create the proteins that control every function in the body, including how you feel, interact, and think.
Your body naturally produces RNA and DNA, but as you age, you start producing less— which is why it’s important to get it from food sources, like chlorella.
Chlorella is also known to be a powerful detoxifier and may help further support brain function by binding to, and helping the body eliminate heavy metals. This is a natural process called chelation. (9)
Do you remember the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, who got his name from mercury poisoning? Heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium are found in our air, food supply, water, pharmaceuticals, and dental fillings. In large amounts, they negatively affect the entire central nervous system. (10)
If you experience panic attacks, anxiety, depression, frequent headaches, and mood swings that seem to come out of nowhere, it may be a good idea to get your heavy metals tested to see if it’s a root cause. In the meantime, you can eat foods like chlorella that promote safe and gentle detoxification.
How to Take it:
You can add chlorella powder to your smoothies, juices, and smoothie bowls. If the taste of algae doesn’t sit well with you, capsules and tablets are also available.
3. Goji Berries
A handful of goji berries a day to keep the brain fog away?
Known as the ultimate “brain tonic” in Asia, goji berries are an antioxidant powerhouse and contain even higher levels of vitamin C than oranges.
With that, we know goji berries can help reduce systemic inflammation, improve cellular health, fight the free radicals that damage brain cells, and provide general “brain maintenance”. However, the benefits of goji berries for cognitive health go even further.
Goji berries contain betaine, which is converted to choline— a nutrient grouped with B vitamins. Choline supports the healthy function of neurotransmitters, which regulate sleep and mood, and increase memory, and learning. (12)
It’s typically necessary to get choline through food sources since inadequate amounts are produced in the liver. (13)
Chinese medicine practitioners have also used goji berries for thousands of years to treat depression. And while more research is needed, it’s suggested in mice studies that a phytochemical in goji berries called Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LCB’s) can help fight symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases. (12)
Research suggests this group of polysaccharides may also be helpful for preventing strokes and lessen the brain damage done from having a stroke. (14) Food really is medicine!
How to Take Them:
Soak goji berries in water overnight, then drain, rinse, and steep in hot water with your favorite herbs to make a homemade goji berry tea. You can also add goji berries to oatmeal, smoothie bowls, and trail mix or energy bars.
Get the kettle started! The compounds in tea can enhance your brain function quickly, and in a number of ways, you might not expect.
All varieties of tea— black, white, and green teas— are loaded with polyphenols, a group of antioxidants that fight chronic inflammation.
As we mentioned above, anti-inflammatory nutrients are key for supporting overall cognitive function, especially as you age. For this reason alone, you can never have too much tea.
Tea polyphenols may also improve mood, focus, and concentration over time by supporting gut health. Yes, there is a direct connection between the gut and the nervous system, also called the gut-brain axis. Keeping your gut health top of mind is crucial to boosting brain function.
The fact that approximately 90% of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter, serotonin, is produced in your gut is one powerful way to illustrate how the state of your gut health affects the brain. (4)
Tea polyphenols have also been shown to restore balance to the gut by replenishing healthy gut bacteria and fighting harmful gut pathogens, such as E.coli. (5)
Emerging research explains why compromised gut health has been named a root cause of impaired cognitive abilities and learning disabilities, ADHD, depression, anxiety, brain fog, and mental illness. (6)(7)
For a more immediate brain-boosting effect, consider increasing your intake of green tea, specifically.
There’s a good reason why monks drink matcha before long periods of meditation. Green tea boasts a laundry list of brain benefits, thanks to the combination of L-theanine and caffeine.
Think of the energy from caffeine and the calming effects of L-theanine as a powerful duo, like Batman and Robin.
When combined, these two ingredients have a positive synergistic effect on the brain and body: No jitters, increased focus, concentration, alertness, and even enhanced creativity. This is because L-theanine increases alpha waves in the brain. (8) Who couldn’t use some of that?
Now you know what to sip on during your next project, before your next yoga class, and when you feel stressed out or anxious. Heck, why not adopt drinking tea as your daily ritual for a calm and focused mind!?
5. North American Ginseng
When your brain is in a million places at once and you start to become forgetful and overwhelmed, this funny looking root is just the thing to help you remain calm and focused.
Ginseng has the ability to calm and stimulate the nervous system at the same time, which is why it’s almost like a “one-stop shop” for improved mental performance. It boosts energy while also reducing mental fatigue and anxiety.
Here’s something pretty astounding. The National Safety Council conducted a survey, and found that a whopping 43% of Americans said they were too tired to function at work! (15)
If you’re among those 43%, you might be interested in clinical studies on people with unexplained chronic fatigue. They’ve shown that supplementing with ginseng was effective at reducing that chronic fatigue in 56% of cases. (16)
Ginseng is the root of the Panax plant species, and you’ll find it available for purchase as Asian, Korean, Chinese or North American varieties, depending on where it’s grown. Both American and Asian varieties are said to help boost cognitive function.
Note: Although they sound similar, be sure not to confuse Siberian ginseng or eleuthero with Panax or North American ginseng. They are not related and will have different health benefits. (20)
How to Take it:
In North America, ginseng is taken most commonly in supplement form or as a tincture. In Asian countries, the root is commonly eaten steamed, raw or in a soup, and steeped in tea with lemon.
6. Fermented Foods
“Gut bacteria are the master puppeteers of your brain.” – Dr. Cryan, 2014 TEDMED Talk
Studies done on mice have shown that strains of probiotic bacteria found in the GI tract can directly affect brain chemistry. In particular, Lactobacillus rhamnosus contains GABA, the same neurotransmitter found in tea that improves brain activity and induces a calm state. (11)
Other research shows that improving healthy gut bacteria may even help treat neurodevelopmental disorders, such as hyperactivity and autism. (11)
The best way to increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut is to eat probiotic rich fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, tempeh, natto, beet kvass, or any cultured vegetables.
You can also take a probiotic supplement in a therapeutic dose, which may be necessary if you eat foods that deplete healthy bacteria and damage the gut lining, such as refined sugar, fried foods, and carbohydrates, as well as antibiotics.
Foods to Avoid for Good Brain Health
While we recommend adding these 6 foods to your diet for a fit and healthy brain, you’ll want to also be sure to limit the foods that sabotage your efforts. For example, those that cause inflammation and deplete healthy gut bacteria like refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and deep fried foods.
If you consume refined sugar more than once a week, challenge yourself to remove it from your diet for just one week and notice how your brain fog disappears.
Have you started to notice any signs of decreased cognitive function? Not only can it affect your quality of life and put limits on what you achieve, but it could also be a sign of something deeper going on with your brain health!
The best long-term solution for boosting your brain health is to eat a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods— focusing on fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, organic or grass-fed meats, and always staying hydrated with tea and water.
We know that changing your dietary habits can take time. By adding any of these six superfoods to your diet, you can still expect to experience the rewards of a sharper memory, improved concentration, creativity, and calm focus.