Want to hear something that a few people out there find sort of hard to believe? Your brain, much like your stomach, actually likes to eat! And the higher quality the fuel is that you give your brain (quality fats, antioxidants and small, steady amounts of the best carbs), the better it will function.
Obviously. Or maybe it isn’t as obvious as I think it is, and people then really need to read this post (and others like it) so that they are kept in the loop about the easiest way to boost your brainpower. In a day and age where our brain training tends to get pushed aside, it’s the least we can do to provide our brains (and bodies) with as much good fuel as we can. Right??
So how to do this? It’s easy! Opt for something on the following list of healthy and beneficial snacks. What a lot of people fail to realize is that the road to a bigger, better brain is packed full of simple ingredients such as fiber, antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. If you eat these foods on a daily or weekly basis, you will be giving your brain a kick start on the road to success!
1) Avocado: by doing something as simple as starting off your day with a mix of beneficial fats and high-quality protein, you will have the basics you need to have a fully energized day. Eating something like avocado with scrambled eggs provides both. What’s more, the monounsaturated fat helps blood circulate better, which is essential for optimal brain function[i]. The best part? Don’t even worry about buying organic – conventional avocados are just fine. Just try to make sure that whichever supplementary protein you choose is free-range, cage-free or organic
2) Blueberries: did you know that blueberries are one of the very best foods for you, nutritionally speaking? Turns that that they are just as good for your brain as well! These delicious berries are high in fibre and low on the glycemic index scale, meaning that they will not spike your blood sugar. They have been linked to benefits ranging from reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, improving motor skills and learning ability, and they are one of the most powerful anti-stress foods that you can consume. Try and avoid the dried, sweetened berries though, as these have usually been soaked in sugar. Be mindful of the seasons for the best in quality. When blueberries are out of season, instead try going for grapes, cranberries, goji berries, blackberries or cherries to get that boost for your brain
3) Coffee: believe it or not, that little extra caffeinated boost that so many people crave in the mornings may not be that bad for you after all! This is because coffee actually contains fibre, which is going to help your cardiovascular system. That wonderful boost of energy for your body isn’t so bad either! The key though is not drinking too much. Scientists say that the average bear can consume two to four cups safely per day. Personally, I think that may be a bit excessive and so I can usually get by with just one cup in the morning. Espresso beans make a delicious and phenomenally healthy snack as well though!
4) Brown rice: this low-glycemic complex carbohydrate is amazing for people who are sensitive to gluten but who still want to work on their cardiovascular health. The obvious truth about this food is that the better your circulation is, the sharper your brain. Brown rice has benefits in all areas that a solid grain should have
5) Oysters: research has shown that people who ate oysters reported significantly improved mood and cognitive skills. It’s no wonder though – they are rich in protein, selenium, magnesium and several other nutrients that are vital for brain health. Remember though – not all shellfish are good for you! But oysters are pretty much a sure thing. They are even one of the most eco-friendly seafood options as well
6) Tuna: tuna (especially yellowfin) has the highest level of vitamin B6 of any food out there, plus it is packed with Omega-3s on top of that. Vitamin B6 is directly linked to memory, cognitive health and long-term brain health. All B vitamins are great for balancing out your mood too (especially during these long winter months). Try and opt for tuna only from sustainable fisheries
7) Wild salmon: wild salmon is another key source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It may also be linked to improved cognition and alertness, reduced risk of degenerative mental disease (such as dementia), improved memory, improved mood, and reduced depression, anxiety and hyperactivity[ii]. Wild salmon is always preferable, but make sure not to eat more than two small portions per week
8) Oatmeal: oatmeal is absolutely packed with fibre, protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids. It is a fantastic grain to kick-start your day so that you can avoid energy crashes throughout the morning and afternoon. The healthiest option is always steel-cut oats. Watch out for all things pre-packaged though! Instant oatmeal manufacturers tend to add a ton of sugar and other garbage to an otherwise perfectly healthy breakfast
9) Tea: by brewing a pot of fresh tea from tea leaves, you will benefit from all sorts of catechins (antioxidants) contained within the delicious liquid. Watch out for the caffeine content though – try not to have more than two or three cups per day. Try and buy organic, fair-trade loose leaf tea from sustainable businesses… my personal recommendation is Camellia Bliss Herbal Teas – they offer a huge line of exclusive healthful and healing teas. Check them out at http://CamelliaBliss.webs.com
10) Chocolate: although it may be better known for its junk food reputation, chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) can actually be quite healthy. It has antioxidants, brain-boosting compounds and just enough caffeine. It will give you a shot of serotonin too, making you feel happier. Dark chocolate is by far the healthiest (and it is also the richest in fibre). One thing that most people don’t realize is that the cacao bean from which chocolate is made is actually a vegetable. This makes it a super healthy choice for mid-day munching. Just be sure to avoid things like white “chocolate” (which contains no actual cacao), and the darker the chocolate (higher percentage of cocoa), the healthier it usually is
11) Olive oil: too many people seem to think that dieting means avoiding all sources of fat… which is completely not true! Avoiding fat entirely can cause mood swings, fuzzy thinking and even insomnia. What you should aim for is a diet rich in healthy fats – which are essential to good memory, clearer thinking and maintaining a balanced mood. After all, your brain is made of fat (bet you didn’t know that…). You just need to watch out for which ones you are allowing into your body. Most processed foods and fast foods use soybean oil, palm oil, corn oil or other Omega-6 fats. Let me state one thing very clearly here: you do not want Omega-6 fats!! Even saturated fat is safer than Omega-6’s[iii]. Eating the wrong fats can alter the communication pathways in your brain, leading to “fuzzy thinking”. So opt for the healthy fats! The way to finding truly healthy fats is actually pretty easy – they can be found in nut butters, olive oil, flax, nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish. Look for organic, local options
12) Garlic: this one is definitely one of the top Heroic Health-recommended foods! Like most vegetables – the fresher the garlic is, the better it is for you. Garlic can be one of the most powerful nutritional weapons on your side in the weight loss and better health battle. It’s great for reducing bad cholesterol and strengthening your cardiovascular system, and it also produces a protective antioxidant effect on your brain. Always opt for organic or local garlic whenever you can, and avoid that pre-chopped and peeled garbage… which surprisingly has zero nutritional benefits
13) Eggs: with protein and healthy fats that will keep your brain running at optimal performance for hours, eggs are a great healthy choice. Your mood may even improve because of the selenium in organic eggs. Choose organic, free-range and vegetarian-fed eggs whenever you can
14) Leafy green vegetables: this is my personal favourite food group! Romaine, kale, spinach, chard, arugula… and the list goes on! Whichever green you choose, eat it daily. Leafy greens are high in iron, which many North Americans are actually quite deficient in. This is a bad thing to be in short supply of, as iron deficiency is linked to fatigue, restless leg syndrome, foggy thinking, irritable mood and other cognitive issues[iv]. As we always recommend, choose organic greens. Try leaving out the meat entirely from a meal here and there, and rely instead on a big, well-seasoned green stir-fry or salad
15) Tomatoes: tomatoes contain lycopene, which is an antioxidant that is particularly good for your brain and that may even help prevent dementia. The weird thing is that you have to cook tomatoes to get the lycopene. No wonder why those of us at the Heroic Health headquarters love tomato sauce so much… Try to eat tomatoes that are local, as always. You can always take lycopene supplements when they are not in season if you feel you need to
16) Pomegranate: if you choose the fruit over the delicious juice, you get the added bonus of a healthy dose of fibre. Pomegranates contain high levels of antioxidants comparable to that found in blueberries, which are essential for maintaining a healthy brain. Feeling stressed? This fruit may help with that too. Just remember that pomegranates are seasonal and not usually local for most North Americans, so enjoy them sparingly and when they are fresh. The rest of the year, you can depend on other berries like acai, grapes and cherries instead
17) Beans: I really feel that beans do not get the credit that they deserve in the nutritional world. They are positively loaded with fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals… plus they are amazingly inexpensive and yummy. Beans give your body a steady, slow release of glucose to the brain, giving you energy all day long without the sugar crash. Always remember to enjoy them in moderation though – just ¼ a cup is fine for one serving. Bored with those everyday yellow and green beans from the produce aisle? Try looking for heirloom varieties, which have a taste that simply cannot be beat
18) Seeds: you may be surprised by the number of types of seeds that are out there and that are really good for you… try sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seed and tahini (which is a tangy, nutty sesame butter. This can be an amazing replacement for mayo or salad dressing) along with the regulars. Seeds contain large amounts of protein, healthy fats and vitamin E, plus stress-fighting antioxidants and minerals like magnesium
19) Nuts: nuts contain protein, high amounts of fiber and they are rich in beneficial fats. If you are looking for an energy boost that won’t evolve into a spike later on, you can’t do much better than nuts[v]. They contain complex carbohydrates and healthy fats and proteins that will not only sustain you, but they will also perk you up. They are a great source of vitamin E as well, an essential component in day-to-day cognitive functioning. Look out though: peanuts have less healthy fats than many other types of nuts. Then again, peanuts aren’t really nuts at all… I just tend to add them to the “Junk Food” group, and leave them at the candy counter or snack bar
20) Cacao nibs: did you know that cacao nibs are among the top five most powerful brain foods? That, and the fact that I (and thousands of others out there) am extremely addicted to this particular food, is a good enough reason for me to put it on this list twice (see #10: Chocolate for more)! They can be incorporated into a lot more dishes than you might originally think (if, like most of us, you were raised on the North American version of a healthy diet). As long as you go organic and fair trade, you are likely getting the real deal
So how many of these foods are you consuming on a regular basis? If you are anything like the majority of people out there, it likely isn’t nearly enough. Mother Nature provided us with this abundant planet, full of all kinds of things that grow from the Earth… and many times, they are overlooked simply because they do not fit into our snazzy 21st-century lifestyles.
The saddest thing is that many people aren’t even aware of what it is that they are doing wrong. So just for public reference: here is a short list of what I think are the top four killers that drain your brain (again, read: OBVIOUS)
1) Nicotine: if this isn’t at the top of absolutely everybody out there’s list, then we are in a sad state of affairs. There is absolutely NOTHING beneficial found in nicotine. It slows blood flow to your brain, and this is an effect that gets worse over time. The slight euphoric feeling that you may experience after smoking it may be a temporary fix, but as a health and fitness professional, you shouldn’t be surprised that Heroic Health in no way supports the use of this stuff
2) Alcohol: head’s up, here’s today’s obvious fact… alcohol kills brain cells. There, I said it. Wow. How do people not know this? It also constricts the production of dopamine. Don’t get me wrong – Heroic Health totally agrees that a glass or two of something healthy like red wine is a good thing, but the thing that most people have trouble with is knowing when to stop. Anything more than a glass or two and you are likely going to suffer from loss of energy and reduced cognitive functioning
3) High carbs: this one is simple: high carbs = low energy. Try to shape your meals so that they contain a lean protein and lots of vegetables instead. You can add all sorts of proteins to salads and it will taste fantastic, plus with all of the varieties of things like hummus out there… I get hungry just thinking about it!
4) White, processed sugars and corn syrup: this is another category that adds absolutely no nutritional value to your diet. They are among the leading causes of obesity and diabetes, and are an absolute killer of your all your efforts to lose weight. The best idea is to simply avoid eating sugary things altogether, but when it can’t be avoided, try and restrict yourself to just a bite or two. It isn’t easy, but nothing in life really is right?
I know that all of this information is overwhelming and a lot to take in. Try re-reading this list slowly when you have some spare time, let it sink in. If you do your own research and find out more about food options that are really good for you or really bad for you, you will be doing great because you are taking steps toward better health (which is, after all, what we at Heroic Health are all about!).
So much thanks goes out to http://www.ecosalon.com for the great information!
[i] Ost, Sara. Published January 15, 2011. Accessed January 4, 2013, from http://ecosalon.com/ignite-your-brainpower-with-the-20-smartest-foods-on-earth/
[ii] Ost, Sara. Published January 15, 2011. Accessed January 4, 2013, from http://ecosalon.com/ignite-your-brainpower-with-the-20-smartest-foods-on-earth/
[iii] Ost, Sara. Published January 15, 2011. Accessed January 5, 2013, from http://ecosalon.com/ignite-your-brainpower-with-the-20-smartest-foods-on-earth/
[iv] Ost, Sara. Published January 15, 2011. Accessed January 5, 2013, from http://ecosalon.com/ignite-your-brainpower-with-the-20-smartest-foods-on-earth/
[v] Ost, Sara. Published January 15, 2011. Accessed January 5, 2013, from http://ecosalon.com/ignite-your-brainpower-with-the-20-smartest-foods-on-earth/