For years, research and recommendations on healthy eating focused on foods that have positive benefits for our physical health. Namely, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight – or preventing diseases.
But the power of healthy food goes beyond the physical – it can also impact our brain. Recent research has correlated certain foods with boosted mood, improved concentration and memory.
Keeping your brain in peak condition can be as easy as incorporating strategic foods into your diet. Here are the top foods that contribute to improved mood and cognitive functioning.
1. Fatty Fish
We typically don’t think of fatty foods as healthy for us – but fatty fish are the exception to this rule. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, herring and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Our brains are not only made up of omega-3s but rely on these fatty acids for essential functions like memory and learning ability.
Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been correlated with improved memory and cognitive function and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
There’s even research that indicates eating omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease depression. Conversely, omega-3 deficiencies have been linked with learning impairment and depression, which shows how important it is to regularly consume omega-3s for overall brain function.
Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants that benefit the brain’s cognitive function. Some of these antioxidants have been found to help areas of the brain communicate more effectively, improve memory and help fight back against stressors that impact our brain’s aging process.
Blueberries also help with improved mood. Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, linked to lower depression rates.
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Blueberries are also easy to incorporate into your diet – whether it’s on top of your favorite oatmeal or by the handful as a sweet treat during the day. Blueberries that are flash-frozen offer the same powerful benefits as fresh blueberries, which means you can reap the brain advantages of these berries even when they’re out of season.
3. Dark chocolate
Chocolate is another food that’s not normally considered healthy – but the brain benefits of dark chocolate are powerful. Dark chocolate that contains 70% or more cocoa contains flavonoids that have been shown to help improve memory and slow mental decline.
The flavonoids in dark chocolate also increase blood flow to the brain, which contributes to overall brain health. Additionally, dark chocolate has mood-boosting benefits thanks to its pleasurable taste.
Too much dark chocolate in excess will have adverse effects, so it’s best to enjoy dark chocolate in moderation.
4. Fermented foods
Over 90% of the body’s serotonin, the feel-good chemical, is made in the gut, one of many reasons gut health is essential to our overall health and well-being.
One of the most powerful foods for gut health are fermented foods. Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt are packed with probiotics, which support healthy gut bacteria and can lead to improved mood and increased serotonin levels. A healthy gut also helps with our brain’s stress response and promotes overall brain health.
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When shopping for fermented foods, it’s important to read labels and look at labels to ensure they contain beneficial probiotics.
Good news for oatmeal lovers: Oats have been linked to better mood and improved energy levels. Oats are an excellent source of fiber, which helps keep blood sugar stable and regulate energy levels throughout the day. Not only does this help with energy and focus, but it also helps prevent mood swings and irritability. Oats are also iron-rich, which helps manage symptoms of fatigue and fight against feeling sluggish.
When shopping for oats, selecting an option without sugar will further help with improved mood. Oats containing added sugar can cause blood sugar levels to spike and then dip – which will have the opposite effect on keeping your energy levels stable.
Oranges are a rich source of vitamin C. Just one medium-sized orange can provide you with the daily recommended amount of vitamin C.
Vitamin C has also been linked to plenty of brain-boosting benefits. One study found that people with higher levels of vitamin C had better focus, attention and even decision speed when performing tasks.
Vitamin C also helps fight against brain damage and deterioration as we age. Eating an adequate amount of vitamin C daily can have long-term benefits in fighting against Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and major depressive disorder.
7. Leafy green vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals. They’re nutrient-dense yet low in calories, so foods like kale, broccoli, spinach and collard greens are often recommended for improved physical health.
These nutritional powerhouse vegetables also have cognitive benefits. Rich in vitamin K, beta carotene and folate, dark leafy green vegetables have been shown to help slow cognitive decline. Higher vitamin K intake has also been correlated with better memory.
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When shopping for dark leafy green vegetables out of season, consider flash-frozen versions that still have all the health benefits they do when fresh but can be more accessible and cost-effective during off-season months.
There’s no better option than a handful of nuts when reaching for a midday brain-boosting snack. They are convenient to snack on, but they also help improve mood and memory.
Nuts are a heart-healthy food, and heart health is essential to brain health, which may be why so many studies correlate nuts with improved cognitive function and slower mental decline.
All nuts contain beneficial antioxidants, vitamin E and healthy fats that help brain health. If you’re shopping for nuts and want to select a type with an added advantage, walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids that help with improved cognitive function.
Eating a banana is a great way to kickstart your morning since this popular fruit has many benefits for brain health. For starters, consuming a banana will put you in a good mood since it’s rich in vitamin B6, which helps activate serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain.
Banana’s composition of sugar and fiber also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which helps stabilize mood and regulate energy levels.
When shopping for bananas, consider selecting one that still has green visible on the peel. While it won’t taste as sweet as a yellow banana, bananas with slightly green peels contain prebiotics, which benefit gut health and improves mood as well.
When deciding what to eat, it’s important to incorporate foods that improve mood and support overall brain function the same way we do to support our body’s physical health. Eating a diverse diet rich in the key vitamins, antioxidants, and probiotics will help boost mood, focus, and memory in the present and help fight against cognitive decline and slow the mental aging process.
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