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Nutrition for Cognition – Foods that Feed Your Brain

The foods we choose to eat can have a significant impact on our overall health, including our rate of aging and the state of our cognition. Numerous studies have shown that the consumption of certain types of foods on a regular basis can also greatly support short and long-term brain function.

Let’s take a look at some of the best brain-boosting foods and some of the science behind them:

  1. THE SMASH FISH (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines & herring)

The SMASH fish - salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring - are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids (O3FA), a category of essential fat your body struggles to produce naturally that yields numerous health benefits, including:

  • Enhanced Cardiovascular Function
  • Reduced Inflammation
  • Stronger Bones and Joints
  • Lower Risk of Developing Autoimmune Diseases
  • Enhanced Brain Function

This last benefit is one of O3FA’s most prominent and well-researched, receiving tremendous attention from the scientific community in recent years.

According to well-referenced studies detailed by the National Library of Medicine, American Heart Association, Cleveland Clinic and more, SMASH fish, also known as “Marine Omega-3s,” can provide your brain with several incredible benefits, including:

  • Reduced Risk of Certain Mental Health Disorders (including ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder and depression)
  • Lower Anxiety Levels
  • Improved Stress Responses
  • Enhanced Cognitive Function
  • Slower Rates of Cognitive Decline

With just a single serving of SMASH fish per day, you can easily reach your recommended daily amount (RDA) of omega-3 fatty acids - 200-500 mg - and take an active, nutritious step toward boosting your brain. 

If you’re looking for other reliable sources of O3FA in addition to SMASH fish, you can also try:

  • Flaxseed Oil
  • Chia Seeds
  • Cod liver Oil
  • Walnuts

Pro Tip: Check out Living Proof’s “5 Reasons to Eat SMASH Fish” for more on these excellent marine sources of omega-3 fatty acids and their benefits to your brain, heart, immune system, etc. 

2. VEGETABLES

Unsurprisingly, vegetables represent another category of brain-boosting superfoods.

According to findings published by Harvard Medical School, Premium Neurology and the National Library of Medicine, leafy green vegetables like broccoli, collards, spinach and kale can consistently boost brain function in the short and long term.

In addition to providing sustenance and many other essential vitamins/nutrients that benefit the rest of your body, these veggies are dense in a cognition-enhancing combination of beta carotene, lutein, folate and vitamin K.

These vitamins and nutrients specifically target numerous facets of brain function and development. As part of a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle, they can yield cognitive benefits like:

As part of your recommended daily amount (RDA) of 2-4 cups of veggies per day, these leafy greens are sure to become some of your brain’s best friends.

3. AVOCADOS

Avocado might be THE most-underrated food ally in your pursuit of a stronger, sharper mind.

This fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit!) is an excellent, healthy source of unsaturated fat that can help you take your brain to the next level.

According to scientific findings published in Medical News Today, the National Library of Medicine and WebMD, avocados primarily assist brain function by promoting healthy, natural blood flow and lowering blood pressure to ideal levels.

On top of these positives, avocados are also a solid source of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, potassium, phytonutrient polyphenols, flavonoids and vitamin K, which work together to further support ideal brain function.

In concert with one another, these remarkable nutritious properties help the avocado provide your brain with some superb benefits, including:

  • Slower Rates of Cognitive Decline
  • Lower Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Protection Against Strokes

While avocado is admittedly a calorie-dense food, eating up to ½ an avocado daily can be a reliable way to support your brain in the present and future.

4. NUTS AND SEEDS

Nuts and seeds are versatile, delicious and easy to eat. They also do wonders for your mind!

Nuts like walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews and pecans are highly nutritious and chock-full of vitamins and minerals that can help you get the most out of your brain.

According to published findings by Healthline, the National Library of Medicine and the Institute for Functional Health, these nuts enrich your body with fantastic mixes of proteins, healthy fats, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, A/B/E vitamins and more.

Particularly when eaten in raw, unflavored styles, these nuts provide cognitive-enhancing benefits such as:

  • Sharper Cognition
  • Boosted Memory
  • Slower Rates of Cognitive Decline (particularly in the elderly)
  • Increased Mood Stability

Seeds like flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds are also among your brain’s favorite sources of sustenance.

As detailed in BBC Good Food, Healthline and Harvard Medical School reports, flax seeds are high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, pumpkin seeds are rich in essential micronutrients like copper, magnesium, iron and zinc, sunflower seeds are chock-full of the B vitamin thiamine and chia seeds are also loaded with O3FA. 

When prominently featured in daily meal plans, these seeds can strengthen your mind with benefits like:

  • Boosted Memory
  • Increased Mood Stability
  • Improved Sleep
  • Sharper Cognition
  • Lower Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases

5. DARK CHOCOLATE

Dark chocolate is a sweet and bitter snack that may enhance your brain function.

As featured by Forbes, Healthline and Harvard Medical School, some studies show a link between the consumption of this beloved cocoa treat and improved cognitive function.

Substances within standard dark chocolate like caffeine and theobromine can stimulate the brain for short-term boosts in cognition, while high flavonol varieties of dark chocolate can enhance blood flow to the brain in the long term. Similarly, the antioxidants found in most dark chocolates can also improve neuroplasticity.

Taken together, these positive attributes of dark chocolate can yield many benefits to the brain, such as:

  • Boosted Memory
  • Faster Reaction Time
  • Slower Rates of Cognitive Decline

When enjoyed in moderation, this type of confectionery may be your new secret weapon in the battle for a sharper, clearer mind. 

6. BERRIES

Last but not least, berries like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and mulberries are fantastic for the mind.

According to research published by Rutgers University and Medical News Today  - among many other sources - berries are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin and quercetin that directly benefit cognitive function.

As part of your recommended daily amount (1 ½ - 2 cups) of fruit per day, these berries boost your brain with benefits like:

  • Reduced Brain Inflammation
  • Increased Neuroplasticity
  • Slower Rates of Cognitive Decline
  1. Bonus: “The Mediterranean Diet”

Last but not least, Living Proof would like to give a shout out to the Mediterranean Diet, a daily meal plan that treats your mind and body right.

Centered around a healthy balance of fruits, veggies, fish, nuts,  seeds and whole grains with a further emphasis on monounsaturated fats, this diet prioritizes superfoods that can boost cognitive function and help you reach your peak physical condition. 

For more on the Mediterranean Diet, including its positive impacts on life expectancy, we encourage you to read research from Harvard Medical School, the National Library of Medicine and Healthline.

For any questions about nutrition, self-care or other healthy living protocols, feel free to contact us at any time.

About the Author: Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee is a New York State Certified Dietician-Nutritionist, who has been counseling individuals on sustainable weight management and disease prevention for over 20 years. Her mission is to empower individuals to obtain healthy food relationships and to clearly understand the concept of food as medicine. Lisa chose to create a functional nutrition practice where what, why and how we eat are all part of the conversation. There is no One-Size-Fits-All dietary approach, but Ms Jubilee has experienced great success utilizing specific dietary protocols such as intermittent fasting, time restricted eating, low carb/ketogenic dietary regimens and AIP (autoimmune protocol) in her practice.

In 2005, Lisa co-created Living Proof Nutrition Strength Pilates, a private nutrition, HIST (high intensity strength training) and Pilates studio, located in midtown Manhattan. The inspiration behind Living Proof was to create a private fitness and wellness space, where the importance of nutrition and functional movement are emphasized in tandem.

As of March 2020, in order to continue to service her clients and the public at large during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Jubilee is offering all of her nutrition counseling and support services remotely. Feel free to contact Lisa with any questions: Lisa@livingproofnyc.com