- Written by Dr. Stephanie Shelburne Dr. Stephanie Shelburne
Back in the day (whenever that was) it was common to think that foods shaped like particular organs or body parts would help keep the actual corresponding body part healthy and well.
As sciencific thought began to work its way to the forefront, those ideas were treated like wive's tales or folklore. So in today's world we can rely on science to point the way towards foods that contribute to optimal cognitive function and we no longer have to spend our time foraging for mini brain replicas...aka walnuts.
“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.” ~ J.E
Which incidentally, do, according to research boost your brain function. So maybe there's something to be said for those wive's tales...with a healthy blend of scientific support. Which is what follows her... a list of Brain foods to boost your memory, help you focus, and just generally make you smarter:
The Genius Shopping List
Cold, Oily Fish
That's right just 10 ounces of oily cold water fish helps pack a multidimensional healthy punch. Not only does it contribute to brain health, but carries a multitude of other health benefits. Cold water fish are packed with Essential Fatty Acids like Omega-3 which help your body function optimally. Sardines , Kippers, and Mackeral a couple times a week will do the trick and keep you from consuming too many other toxins. The smaller the fish the smaller the toxic impact. You can also try Cod and Salmon.
Word of caution: If you go for Salmon you will want to be sure to choose Wild Caught Salmon. Many people think they are doing the planet a favor when they choose farmed Salmon, however, research demonstrates that farmed Salmon have a much higher level of Persistent Organic Pollutants (otherwise known as POPS). POPS are strongly correlated with higher levels of inflammation, heart disease, colon disease, and various cancers.
If the idea of eating fish a couple times a week just doesn't sit well with you (sadly) you can think about taking supplements, although, again you want to be very sure you are getting a 'clean' product. Personally, I always opt for the food route before supplementation. Other options are trying fermented Cod Liver Oil. *Note that I specify fermented cod liver oil. There is a big difference between typical cod liver oil and fermented cod liver oil. Some factors involved are the viability of the nutrients and the decrease in toxins.
Blueberries are packed with antioxidants like Flavonols, as well as Vitamin K, and copper. In addition to promoting brain health; they also help regulate blood sugar and provide a nice pick me up to cardiovascular health. One study demonstrated that individuals who consumed 1 cup of blueberries daily for 12 weeks experienced increased memory, overall cognitive functioning, decreased oxidative stress and healthier cholesterol levels. What's not to love about that? Blueberries are native to America so I typically buy them in bulk when they are in season and freeze them so I have them all year round.
Walnuts are getting more and more critical acclaim. They are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and also in copper and manganese.Not to mention they are a good source of fiber and help balance blood sugar with their lower glycemic load. Just 1/4 cup a day can work wonders for your brain and body.
The days of the egg white only breakfast are hopefully long gone. Pasture-raised and/or organic eggs are the best bet, not only because they are helpful to the planet but because the stress level of the hen has a HUGE impact on what happens in the egg. Conventional eggs contain higher levels of corticosterones which are basically stress chemicals that contribute to inflammation and disease in your body. Happy chickens, mean happy eggs, which means a happier body for you. Eggs eaten in tact with the egg yolk are an amazing source of B vitamins and Essential Fatty Acid's not to mention a great source of protein. Protein and fat help your brain focus and feel strong.
Ode to the Avocado
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
In a smoothie, on a sandwich, in a salad, as pudding, straight out of your shiny little jacket...YUM!
In all seriousness, avocados are probably one of my favorite foods. Nutritious and delicious and my main go to for a wide variety of fun and functional recipes. Avocados are serious brain and body food. They have amazing anti-inflammatoryproperties and are high in carotenoids (which are lovely little phytonutrients that help with just about all things good in your body and brain). Eat them every day if you can.
Broccoli and the cruciferous clan
Broccoli and its pals are packed with phytonutrients like vitamin K, C, A and not only increase your brain health significantly but also decrease the potential for inflammation and oxidative stress. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower... they're all related. Invite them to breakfast lunch and/or dinner.
That's right...coffee. But before you rush off to Starbucks let us clear up some confusion. First of all, we're talking straight coffee here; not a triple double decker sugar laden latte. Coffee is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. It also can help detox the body and in moderate amounts seems to help moderate liver function in people who have Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (a silent epidemic). Coffee is also mildly stimulating and can help focus and attention, research also suggests that it can enhance sexual function for men and women (who needs viagra when you can go to starbucks???). All of that being said... what's the catch? Well, a little thing called acrylamide is toxic and potentially cancer causing. It is a naturally occuring process when coffee is roasted. The lighter the roast the less the acrylamide and vice versa. So, if you are going to drink coffee for your health, do so in moderation and with consideration to the roast. One other little tidbit of interesting research lest you think I am against the lovely milk laden options for coffee consumption: several studies have demonstrated that drinking a little bit of whole milk or cream in your coffee or tea decreases the potential for throat issues; including cancers. So pull out the grass-fed A2 milk and dress up that cup of coffee.
Last but most definitely not least, chocolate. Real chocolate, 80% dark chocolate, is an amazing source of antioxidants and phytonutrients. It also contains theobromine which helps you focus and is slightly stimulating. Chocolate also helps balance your mood due to phenylethylamine, which acts similarly to dopamine and also helps increase serotonin levels. The caveat? Make sure it is quality dark chocolate with minimal sugar.
So the next time you need to Focus, Focus, Focus...Reach for some Brain Food!
Tip: If you need to be on your game and ready to focus (perhaps you have a quiz or an interview), be sure you eat a quality protein rich breakfast, with some good healthy fats and avoid things like cereal or bagels. Research demonstrates that consuming a meal that is roughly 56% protein and 30% quality fat contributed to higher levels of cognitive function, alert focus, and feelings of well being....especially for women!