Conversations regarding the importance of food and nutrition - and their impact on our health - are continuously popping up everywhere. From forums to school boards, and the typical household, the last decade has undoubtedly been a culinary journey for all.
By now, we all have a general idea of the foods we need to consume to live a healthy, active, lifestyle. Besides practicing sustainable eating, keeping ahead of the obesity epidemic, and understanding how nutrition is pivotal in preventative health measures, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that changing your diet can also positively affect cognitive abilities inasmuch as to boost brainpower, narrow focus, energize, reduce stress-related symptoms, and improve memory.
According to IQ Innovation Quest, McMaster University’s research newsmagazine, “food may play a more subtle role in actually modulating our behavior by influencing the composition and activity of bacteria hosted by the human body.” Foods like green tea and dark chocolate are known for stimulating chemicals in the brain while eating kimchi promotes healthy gut bacteria.
From the far reaches of the globe, this comprehensive list of everyday foods will surprise you with the brain power they provide. Whether you are looking to get better grades in school or increase your work performance, incorporating these 15 foods into your diet will help make you smarter.
To work smart - you have to eat smart!
19 Smarter: Avocados
All the way from Mexico and parts of South America comes a creamy, buttery-tasting fruit known as the Avocado. This vitamin and mineral enriched food is rich in lutein. In 2017, Tufts University conducted a study of healthy adults, 50 years plus, who ate one fresh avocado daily for 6 months. The results: there was a 25% increase in lutein, a pigment found in avocados and a proven carotenoid vitamin used to promote eye health that also significantly increased memory and problem-solving skills in the test subjects. The benefits stem from the fact that avocados are generally consumed raw, and this static state retains the best offering to the human body.
18 Smarter: Eggs
Poached, over-easy, or even scrambled: most people start their day with eggs. However, eggs might be doing more than powering your body for its morning activities; they may be making you smarter. Eggs contain selenium and chlorine, two substances that are known for boosting memory and sharpening focus. A study at the Boston University School of Medicine found that out of 1,400 participants “Those participants who ate diets packed with plenty of choline performed better in memory tests and were less likely to acquire brain changes associated with dementia than those who consumed less choline in their diets.”
17 Smarter: Dark Chocolate
Good news for those with a major sweet tooth! Yes - it is scientifically proven that chocolate can make you smarter. However, before you run out to the grocery store for your favorite milk chocolate delight, you may want to consider the specific benefits associated with eating dark chocolate. A study published in a recent article by The Telegraph found that, in a sample of 1,000 participants, individuals who claimed to consume dark chocolate at least once per week performed better in a range of mental tests related to memory and abstract thinking than people who do not. The reason for this difference comes down to two main reasons. One, vitamins - chocolate is high in fiber, iron, and magnesium - and two, dark chocolate contains flavonoid, a phytonutrient known for improving blood vessel function - which in turn increases blood flow to the brain and, in doing so, enhances cognitive function and memory.
16 Lose IQ: Tofu
Tofu, a by-product of Soy, and generally considered a healthy food, actually can be harmful if consumed in large quantities. According to an article published by Dr. Axe,“ Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of “The Whole Soy Story,” [states] soy is not a health food, does not prevent disease and has not even been proven safe. Furthermore, numerous scientific studies link soy to digestive troubles, malnutrition, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, as well as heart disease and cancer.” Many studies conducted in countries in Asia conclude that tofu is linked with causing dementia.
15 Smarter: Water
Gulp. Gulp. Gulp. Since our bodies are mostly made up of water, it is always in your best interest to make sure you are drinking enough water. Most people supplement water for a cup of coffee, a can of pop, or other sugary beverages but this bad habit may be putting you at risk of dehydration and mental fog. According to AIFC, “While the human brain is made up of about 75 percent water, the first way that dehydration affects the brain and alters how we think and feel is by slowing circulation. This lowers blood flow, which means less oxygen is traveling to all parts of the body, including the brain.” Hence, as dehydration worsens, cognitive function is the first to be impaired. So think smarter and drink water!
14 Smarter: Açai
Açai, found in Central and South America, is one superfood that everyone should be consumed whenever possible. Not only is acai a super antioxidant, rating higher than all other berries, but it can also help you lose weight, reduce the likelihood of getting cancer and help your skin look fresh and youthful. Eaten fresh or used in powder form, like most berries, acai contains large amounts of omega-3, amino acids, and of antioxidants that can improve your mental clarity. Some people even use acai to help treat depression, cure acne, and help their body recover from physical stresses!
13 Smarter: Celery
Celery is best known for being a crisp and crunchy, low-calorie food, that many of us, at one time or another, have used as a dipping spoon for peanut butter or spreadable cheese - but did you know that eating celery can also make you smarter? Celery is one of the most abundant sources of luteolin, a plant-based compound that helps to reduce the effects of aging on the brain as well as brain inflammation, which many doctors consider to be the leading cause of neurodegeneration. Aside from the long-term benefits of incorporating celery into your everyday diet, in the short term, luteolin has been linked to improving memory and information retention.
12 Lose IQ: Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Over the past three decades, sugar consumption in America has risen by 30%; this means that the average person in America consumes roughly 47 pounds of sweeteners yearly. Quite ironically, many people complain of headaches or sluggishness after eating large quantities of sweets over a short period of time, and so, it is not surprising that eating too much sugar continually, over an extended period of time, can cause a multitude of neurological health problems to memory and the ability to learn. White, brown, cane, coconut sugars, agave, artificial sweeteners, and high-fructose corn syrups, to name a few, should be limited in one’s diet to avoid problems later in life.
11 Smarter: Pickles and Sauerkraut
Sinking your teeth into a crunchy pickle or enjoying a beef stew covered in sauerkraut is more than just a treat for your pallet - these foods are known for improving gut health and may even put a stopper on social anxiety. What exactly about these foods relieves anxiety? Primarily this can be attributed to the probiotics or healthy bacteria used in the fermentation process of the food. According to Matthew Hillimire, a psychologist at the College of William, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut, in turn, influence social anxiety [...] I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
10 Smarter: Berries
It may not come as a surprise that consuming antioxidants keeps your body running at the best of its ability, but did you know that they can also help improve brain function? One of the best ways of making sure you are getting enough antioxidants is by eating foods like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and other berry fruits. In a 2012 study, it was determined that high levels of antioxidants found in berry fruits protect brain cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals. So how many berries should a person eat daily? According to research adults need between 8-11,000 antioxidant units per day which translates to less than 1 cup of blueberries per day and amounts vary between berries. Although jam and pies do contain a lot of berry fruit, the sugar content and cooking diminishes benefits, so try and consume these raw.
9 Smarter: Leafy Greens
Dark-hued leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses. They are full of vitamins A, C, and K and full of minerals like iron, magnesium, and calcium. Most studies suggest that ½ cup of cooked greens and 1 cup raw greens consumed daily is required for optimal benefits. However, leafy greens aren’t the most popular of foods. So how can one increase intake? Simply put, hide those greens in amongst your favorite recipes such as adding greens like spinach and kale to a berry, coconut milk smoothie, or adding swiss chard and turnip greens to your favorite scramble, omelet or frittata. And remember, raw dark greens are a brain superfood.
8 Lose IQ: Carbohydrates
Blood sugar levels are affected by refined carbohydrates, so there’s a reason why you get tired after eating a big bowl of pasta, white rice, potatoes, and white bread. Carbs from these foods are digested by the body faster causing blood sugar levels to spike. These spikes make the body produce more insulin which causes moodiness and tiredness. Unfortunately, the body seems to crave more carbs when people participate in physical exercise, so it is important to ignore those cravings and turn to whole foods to keep those blood sugar levels from spiking.
7 Smarter: Beets
Beets contain high concentrations of nitrates that help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. This increased blood flow to the brain helps boost its overall ability to function on a daily basis. Despite this, beets can be a difficult root to know what to do with. While some people blend them in smoothies or favor them in salads for their district fuchsia color and fresh tasting flavor perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy beets is Borscht! Opt out the sausage for a vegetarian style dish and top it with sour cream, no matter how you choose to eat beets they will undoubtedly leave your mind feeling fresh and aware.
6 Smarter: Green Tea
Like all drinks that contain caffeine, green tea is a stimulant for your brain. Although green tea does not hold as much caffeine as coffee, it has enough to increase cognitive awareness without causing "jittery" effects. However, the real question is whether or not green tea can make you smarter. In an article published by HealthLine, they highlighted two essential components to this answer. First, that green tea contains a substance called L-theanine that increases dopamine to the brain. Second, in the smaller doses found in green tea, caffeine can benefit your mind by blocking a neurotransmitter known as Adenosine which results in improved brain function like mood, vigilance, reaction time and memory. Therefore, in combination, L-theanine and small doses of caffeine are potent at improving brain function compared to most other energy-related beverages.
5 Smarter: Daily Multivitamins
As with all of the cognition-boosting foods present on this list, it is the vitamins they contain and nutritional benefits they provide that makes them a powerhouse for your brain! If you are unable to eat some of these foods on a regular basis, the best and easiest thing you can do to ensure you are giving yourself the best chance possible for success is taking daily vitamin supplements. Highly suggested vitamins to take in supplement form are A, B, C, E, and β carotene as they are particularly crucial for the functioning of your brain and its ability to process information.
4 Lose IQ: Processed foods
Processed foods come under three headings: minimally, moderately and heavily processed foods. It is the latter that consumers need to be wary of. Heavily processed foods are those that are “eat ready” out of the package such as granola bars, cookies, TV dinners, frozen pizzas, ice cream, carbonated beverages, spreadable cheese, and crackers. These foods go through many changes and have a large number of chemicals to preserve their editable state but, at the same time, are very toxic to the human brain. It is important to note that many preservatives, additives, dyes, and artificial flavors are not natural and are derived from laboratory chemical modification that frankly slowly destroy nerve cells over a lifetime which reportedly causes the brain to shrink. These chemicals do affect your behavior and cognitive function in a negative way.
3 Smarter: Olive Oil
The Mediterranean diet comprises mainly of eating loads of fresh raw foods which include fruits and vegetables, nuts and olive oil. While all are equally beneficial to a healthy life, new research suggests that eating a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil may help make you smarter. An article published by Health says that, with olive oil, “you can delay the onset of age-related mental decline with a healthy diet rich in foods with high antioxidant power," said lead researcher Dr. Emilio Ros, director of the lipid clinic at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona. There are many ways to increase your olive oil intake, for example, use raw, combined with herbs, fruit juices, balsamic vinegar and use as a salad dressing or bread dip.
2 Smarter: Oily Fish
Like eggs, one of the many benefits of incorporating oily fish into your daily diet is omega-3 (for more on omega-3 rich foods, check out Pescatarianism). When choosing to eat oily fish or consume fish oil supplements, you are not only giving your physical body energy; you are also feeding your mind. New research claims that the long-term benefits of eating oily fish can reduce the chance of dementia, but, in the short term, it has been linked to improved performance during mental tasks, quicker reflexes, and decreased mental fatigue after completing challenging tasks (like writing an exam).
1 Smarter: Cayenne Pepper
Spicy food is not for everyone, but for those who do enjoy a spicy burrito or extra hot salsa with their nachos, cayenne pepper could be an easy way to improve your cognitive abilities. Besides being a natural fat fighter and pain reliever, hot peppers like cayenne are rich in capsaicin, a compound often associated with reducing stress and increasing focus; not to mention that the brain has many capsaicin receptors which release calming endorphins when stimulated. If you are looking for a fun way to incorporate cayenne pepper into your daily diet try making these delicious spicy chocolate cayenne cookies!